Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Fable 4: Mus Rusticus et Mus Urbanus

Here's the next fable with a kind of running commentary that is not entirely possible within the confines of the forthcoming book from Bolchazy-Carducci. This will be Fable 4 in the book: De Mure Urbano et Mure Rustico. For more information Fable about this fable, see the Discussion Forum for this fable at the Aesopus Ning.
Mus Rusticus, videns Urbanum Murem rus deambulantem, invitat ad cenam depromitque omne penum, ut tanti hospitis expleat lautitiam. Urbanus Mus ruris damnat inopiam urbisque copiam laudat, secumque in urbem ducit Rusticum. Qui, inter epulandum attonitus insolitis clamoribus, cum intellexerat periculum quotidianum esse, dixit Urbano Muri, “Tuae dapes plus fellis quam mellis habent. Malo securus esse cum mea inopia quam dives esse cum tua anxietate.”
Mus Rusticus,
= The noun mus is clearly related to the English word "mouse" through a shared Indo-European inheritance, and the same root is found in the words for mouse in the Indo- branches of the family, such as Persian and Sanskrit. In terms of a direct borrowing from Latin, consider the diminutive musculus, "little mouse," which gives us the English word "muscle," so called from the way it looks like a little mouse running beneath the skin. There was a precedent for this already in Greek, where the word for mouse, again μῦς (genitive μυός) was used to refer to "muscle," hence the English medical term "myo-" referring to muscle, as in "myocardial," etc. The Latin musculus also gave us "mussel," referring to the shellfish; the two words, "muscle" and "mussel," shared an identical spelling in English until the late 19th century.

videns Urbanum Murem
= As often in Aesop, where the fable is based on an antagonistic relationship between two characters, both characters have now been introduced in the first words of the fable.

rus deambulantem,
= Notice that the verb can take a direct object, "strolling the countryside," "strolling through the field." Don't be fooled by the superficial similarity in form: rus (ruris) is a neuter noun, unlike mus (muris).

invitat ad cenam
= You will often see the spelling coena in Latin, although this is what is called a "hypercorrection." In later Latin, for many speakers there was no clear distinction in sound between e, ae and oe, you will find the same word spelled variously: cena, caena and coena. The archaic Latin spelling was caesna, and the classical Latin spelling is cena. (You will see this same confusion in the spelling of other words, such as caelum and coelum, etc.

depromitque omne penum,
= The penum, the store of food kept in the inmost part of the house, was guarded for the Romans by the Penates, the gods of the inner part of the house. You can see this same root in the word penetrare, as in the English "penetrate."

ut tanti hospitis expleat lautitiam.
= Notice how the genitive phrase with its noun, "the luxurious lifestyle of such a great guest," wraps around the verb. The Latin lautitia is from the root lavare, "to wash," with the idea being something that is washed is neat and clean, and thus elegant. From the same root we get the English "lavish."

Urbanus Mus
= The country mouse was the subject of the first sentence, and now the city mouse will be the subject of the second sentence.

ruris damnat inopiam
= Again the noun phrase is wrapped around the verb.

urbisque copiam laudat,
= In an elegant variation there is a parallel construction, but with a slightly different word order: instead of genitive-verb-noun, you now have genitive-noun-verb, with the verb in an emphatic position. The praise was no doubt fulsome.

= This is a compound word, in inverted order: secumque = et cum se.

in urbem ducit Rusticum.

= Notice the substantive use of the adjective, rusticum, "the rustic" (i.e. the rustic mouse, the country mouse). The substantive use of adjectives in English always sounds a bit archaic or formal, while they are used quite naturally in Latin, which generally prefers to omit any word which can be easily supplied from context.

= As often in Latin, the relative pronoun is found here at the beginning of the sentence - or, in more abstract terms, this use of the relative pronoun blurs the distinction of just what a sentence really is. Grammatically speaking, the choice to capitalize the relative pronoun and make it the beginning of the sentence is an editorial choice. Grammatically, this is a relative clause like any other.

inter epulandum
= The use of the gerund (verbal noun) with the preposition inter indicates 'while (something is happening)." There is no passive sense about the form at all; it is extremely important not to confuse the gerund as if it conveyed a passive sense; it does not. The gerund is active in meaning. If you are puzzled as to how a form could sometimes convey a passive sense (in the future passive participle) and an active sense (as here in the gerund), it may be helpful to consider the gerund to be an impersonal form. As often, impersonal verbs may be passive in form simply in order to avoid stating the subject, while active in meaning (dicitur, "it is said" means something equivalent to the English "they say" - the significance of the form is not passive as opposed to active, but rather impersonal as opposed to personal). Compare the similar development of the supine, which is clearly active in meaning (but impersonal), as opposed to the perfect passive participle.

attonitus insolitis clamoribus,
= Note the use of the negating prefix in- with the adjective solitus: in-solitus, "un-accustomed." This use of the negating prefix in- with an adjective formed from a verbal stem reveals the source of some ambiguities in the use of the prefix with adjectives on the one hand, and with verbs on the other hand (compare invito in this story, for example, where the prefix is not negating at all!). Historically, the negating prefix in- is related both to English un- and to the alpha-privative negation found in both Greek and Sanskrit (as reflected in English words a-moral, an-archy, etc.).

cum intellexerat
= Note the use here of the indicative with cum, indicating the time when soemthing happened; when he had understood, the country mouse spoke up!

periculum quotidianum esse,
= An accusative plus infinitive construction to express indirect speech, or what you might call here indirect thought, since this is what the mouse was thinking. The noun provides the subject of the sentence, with the adjective in the predicate.

dixit Urbano Muri,
= As often, the last words spoken by one of the characters in the fable itself express one form of the "moral of the story."

“Tuae dapes
= Compare the simple word cena, "dinner" with the word here, meaning "feast" or "banquet."

plus fellis quam mellis habent.
= Note the rhyming quality of the moral here. Both fellis and mellis are partitive genitives: "more (of) bile" = "more bile."

= This interesting verb is a contraction of magis volo, with the magis able to introduce a comparative phrase (see quam below for the completion of the comparison).

securus esse cum mea inopia
= Notice here that the predicate adjective securus agrees with the subject of the verb malo. The infinitive here is not taking a subject of its own; instead, it is a complement to the verb malo, which supplies the subject in the nominative case (implied ego).

= This completes the comparison introduced by malo.

dives esse cum tua anxietate.”
= Notice the parallel construction with securus esse cum mea inopia, with both the word forms and word order in perfect parallel.

Here is the illustration of the fable by Francis Barlow:

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Euthyphro said...

Salve Laura-

I just wanted to drop you a line and let you know how much I appreciate the work you put into your blog. Your fables, especially the commentary, have been extremely helpful to me with my own Latin studies.


Nos Libri Quia Librae Sunt Nostrae Cogationes!

Laura Gibbs said...

Thank you so much for your nice note! For me, the chance to write stuff in the blog like this is great - when I was finishing up the manuscript for the nice editor at Bolchazy-Carducci, I was able to trim it down and keep it nice and short, knowing I could publish all my random thoughts here at the blog for anyone who is interested. I always learn new things when I work through a fable like this, either from looking at the vocabulary or syntax or the meaning of the story itself! :-)

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed the philological notes here - you have packed a great deal of interesting information in here. Thank you.

Brian Kelly