Monday, November 10, 2008

Sunt rerum lacrimae - updated

Susankay correctly notes in the comments that I altered the word order of the phrase from Vergil's Aeneid. Aeneas said, "sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt." As a great fan of P. Vergilius Maro and his magnum opus, I would never presume to improve on his verse. My intent was to borrow the concept and I did not even trouble my memory for word order. Fortunataely for me, Latin's highly inflected nature allows for flexibility in the sequence of words and grammar remains intact. My sole guideline was the flow of English-style accentuation in the rhythm of my header which borrowed only three words from the master. Sunt lacrimae rerum, pronounced with non-Latin stress and scarce respect for long and short syllables, not to mention standing alone without the rest of the line, strikes my ears as a challenging double amphibrach. The double dactyl was much easier on my internal ear. And that is how it happened.

My friend Susankay has recalled me to due respect for sources and the integrity of tradition. Chastened, I confess my error/sin/sloppiness here to one and all.

Here is a bit from a blog on autism:
sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt

This is line 462 from the first book of the 1st century BC Roman poet Virgil’s Aeneid, the epic poem of how the Trojan prince Aeneas flees from his burning city and journeys to Italy to found a new city that one day will be Rome. If I may offer a less literal translation than “the tears of human things and these mortal matters touch the mind” for sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt :

“These are the tears of what it is to be human
and what mortals do touch the mind.

Aeneas says these lines to his friend Achates as the two behold paintings of the Trojan War in a temple in Carthage (the modern Tunisia). Aeneas is overwhelmed at the sight of the terrible losses of his own family and friends—the lacrimae rerum—of himself, depicted in art (and art by strangers, by a foreign people, the Carthiginians).
For my generation, looking at The Wall is an abstracted yet powerful analog to Aeneas beholding the tragic past of his people and the events of his own life.

I undertand et mentem mortalia tangunt as the whole matter of being mortal, death-destined, finite, tangled in cycles that transcend our knowing - all this profoundly touching not just the mind but the heart and gut. To somehow grasp the richness and agony and bittersweet nature of the whole enchilada simply reaches out and grabs us and holds our attention. At least when we let it.

Veterans' Day is one of those times we deliberately pause to allow all the matters of mortality to affect us.

Let us feel deeply.

Lest we turn to stone.

[Yes, this post was better without words.]
--the BB


susankay said...

I love people who quote the Aeneid -- but isn't it "sunt lacrimae rerum"?

And I hope your cold is MUCH better.

Paul said...

Susankay, quite possibly. I did not remember the source (though I can quote several passages or snippets thereof still) and was going simply for the thought. If we take it as the sentiment rather than a quote, I can squeak buy.

And who can forget: quidquid id est timeo Bushies et dona ferentes?