Monday, January 15, 2007

Scatological ending to Milton's end-times

About a week ago, I encountered my Latin limits in a blog entry and called on Michael Gilleland for his translation services, and I have received an email from him just this morning with the following message:

That was the full message, but the subject heading read "The Sphinx and the Sphincter," so I already knew what to expectorate.

You may recall that I was wondering about a passage appears in a PMLA article, "Milton as Satirist" (PMLA, Vol. 51, No. 2, Jun., 1936, pp. 414-429), written by a certain John Milton French (of all names for a Milton scholar to bear!). French cited -- without translating -- a scatological academic exercise written in Latin by Milton. As a reminder, here again is the Latin passage with French's prefatory remarks to the effect that the passage is best left untranslated:

[S]ometimes his [Milton's] jokes are most becomingly related ... in the original Latin. For instance, he threatens that if he sees someone not laughing he will suspect the man has decayed teeth or has eaten so much that he dares not put extra strain on his belly, ne praecinenti ori succinat, et aenigmata quaedam nolens affutiat sua non Sphinx sed Sphincter anus, quae medicis interpretanda, non Oedipo, relinquo; nolim enim hilari vocis sono obstrepat in hoc coetu posticus gemitus: solvant ista medici qui alvum solvunt.

I noted in my earlier post that there appears to be a pun on Sphinx and Sphincter in Milton's Latin but that my own Latin isn't refined enough to translate it ... so I turned to Gilleland for his more refined Latin skills.

Michael, however, is a librarian, and he found a scholar with fewer compunctions than French, Bromley Smith, who gives the larger Latin context to my quote (rendered in blue, of course) and then the translation:

Et jam fingite, Auditores, quamvis non sint Aprilis Calendae, festa adesse Hilaria, matri Deum dicata, vel Deo Risui rem divinam fieri. Ridete itaque & petulanti splene sustollite cachinnum, exporrigite frontem, & uncis indulgete naribus, sed naso adunco ne suspendite; profusissimo risu circumsonent omnia, & solutior cachinnus hilares excutiat lachrymas, ut iis risu exhaustis ne guttulam quidem habeat Dolor qua triumphum exornet suum. Ego profecto si quem nimis parce diducto rictu ridentem conspexero, dicam eum scabros & cariosos dentes rubigine obductos, aut indecoro ordine prominentes abscondere, aut inter prandendum hodie sic opplevisse abdomen, ut non audeat ilia ulterius distendere ad risum, ne praecinenti ori succinat, et aenigmata quaedam nolens affutiat sua non Sphinx sed Sphincter anus, quae medicis interpretanda non Oedipo relinquo; nolim enim hilari vocis sono obstrepat in hoc coetu posticus gemitus: Solvant ista Medici qui alvum solvunt. Si quis strenuum & clarum non ediderit murmur eum ego asseverabo tam gravem & mortiferum faucibus exhalare spiritum, ut vel Aetna, vel Avernus nihil spiret tetrius; aut certe allium aut porrum comedisse dudum, adeo ut non audeat aperire os, ne vicinos quosque foetido halitu enicet.

And now, my hearers, imagine that, although the first of April is not here, the feast of Hilaria, set apart for the mother of the gods, is at hand; or that a divine ceremony is due the God of laughter. Accordingly, smile and raise loud laughter from your saucy spleen; smooth your brow; yield to wrinkled nostrils, but do not be hanged on your hooked nose; let all places resound with most immoderate laughter; and let a more unfettered cachinnation evoke joyous tears, so that, when these are exhausted by laughter, grief may not have even a little drop to adorn her triumph. I, assuredly, if I shall behold anyone laughing with his jaw stretched too sparingly, will say that he is carefully concealing teeth that are scurfy and rotten and darkened with smut, or jutting out in unsightly ranks; or that in the course of breakfast to-day he so stuffed his paunch that he dare not swell out his belly with laughter, lest not his Sphinx, but his sphincter anus, accompany his mouth in its incantations, and against his will babble some riddles, which I pass over to the doctors, not to Oedipus, for interpretation; for I am unwilling that the groan of a posterior by its cheery voice should make a din in the assembly. Let the doctors who relax the bowels loosen up these questions. If anyone does not utter a loud and distinct roar, I shall assert that he breathes out such deep and deadly exhalations from his jaws that neither Aetna nor Avernus emits anything more noisome; or that he certainly has not long since eaten either garlic or leeks; so that as a result he dare not open his mouth lest he kill some of his neighbors with his stinking breath.

This translation by Smith (along with the Latin) appears on pages 226-229 of The Works of John Milton, Volume XII (edited by Donald Lemen Clark, Columbia University Press, 1936).

For example, on a recent Milton List thread, scholars have been discussing Milton's sense of humor, and one scholar noted that Professor Nicholas Clary, of St. Michael's College (Winooski, Vermont), had related an

Since Milton addressed his "hearers" (Auditores) in the passage above, then I'll assume that this Latin exercise was what Professor Nicholas Clary (St. Michael's College, Winooski, Vermont) was referring to in his anecdote about the young Milton's scatological jokes in an officially scheduled postprandial Latin discourse at Christ's Church in which the student Milton had spoken in Latin for an hour or so about the topic of farts to other students too sated on food and drink to catch his off-color references -- and thus suffering too excessively from the very matter of his topical discourse to notice that they were the collective butt of his obscure humor ... as I noted previously.

My scholarly curiosity is sated, so I'd better heed that warning from the archangel Michael:

But Knowledge is as food, and needs no less
Her Temperance over Appetite, to know
In measure what the mind may well contain,
Oppresses else with Surfet, and soon turns
Wisdom to Folly, as Nourishment to Winde. (PL 7.126-130)

I wouldn't want to suffer -- or force others to suffer -- from an insufferably inflated mind.


At 6:54 AM, Blogger Daniel said...

Salve Jeffery!

I've got a question about the latin root of an English word. Hopefully it will be easier to answer than my "question" from a few months back.

The word "salvo" is a word used for when a military plane dumps a bunch of bombs out of its hatch. My question is, how is the root of this word "Salve", which the Romans used to greet one another, meaning literally, "May you have good health!"??

Any thoughts?

At 8:28 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

This one's easy enough. I didn't know the connection, but I found the answer quickly enough.

Go to the Online Etymological Dictionary and check "salvo."

You can also read Wikipedia's site on "salvo."

You'll see that the conection of "salvo" to dropping bombs comes from its other military meaning, i.e., to fire a volley of weapons as a salute. This, in turn, is rather easily seen to derive from the use of "salvo" as a greeting.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 11:57 AM, Blogger Daniel said...

Thanks, I added that etymological dictionary to my favorites.

At 6:47 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

You're welcome. I just hope that my reasoning led to the etymological truth ... but empirical fact can always speak against my view.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *


Post a Comment

<< Home