21 April 2015

Ad cenam agni providi/Ad regias agni dapes

Low Sunday has passed; we are now again using hymns in our Office. If you are accustomed to the Liturgia Horarum, and if you look in a 1961 Breviary, you will get a shock when you got to the Office Hymn for Vespers during Eastertide. Instead of Ad cenam agni providi you will find Ad regias agni dapes. This text is the piece of elegant Renaissance Latinity which Urban VIII substituted for the the fifth century text previously in use. The problem Pope Urban had with the original is that it was written when Latin was still a spoken language, a living and vivid vernacular, and its text is therefore, from the point of view of classical purists, full of irregularities. For example, it treats stolis albis candidi [bright with white garments] as if it were istolis albis candidi (eight syllables): ist- is how they pronounced st- in the 'Vulgar Latin' period*. Like many popular and subclassical texts, strongly influenced by a basically 'oral' culture, the original form of this hymn has anacoloutha, diminutives, and 'intolerably' erratic systems of accented syllables. All this is why I like it. I even have a personal theory that the author was a considerable poet who actually used 'irregular' accentual patterns to emphasise words.

Urban's gang of resurrected Horaces so rewrote the second stanza that not a word of the original remained ... but perhaps by this point I have lost non-latinists. Never mind. If you have your English Hymnal [the finest English Language hymnal there is; one of the Patrimony's principal gifts] to hand, you can find the original, translated by the incomparable John Mason 'Patrimony' Neale, at 125. You will find the Urbanist replacement at 128. You may feel that both, in their different ways, are good hymns. In my opinion, you are right, at least as far as the Latin original of 128 is concerned (the great Adrian Fortescue disagreed: for him, there was not one single good word to be said for Pope Urban's hymns, and their elimination, he felt, should be the first element in a reform of the Breviary). I just happen to feel that Sacrosanctum Concilium of Vatican II was indeed wise to mandate the restoration of the original texts of the hymns (although the Dom Anselmo Lentini's 1968 revisers, foolishly, did straighten out the rhythms a bit). The Benedictines, incidentally, never did adopt the Urbanist texts.

Moreover, the Renaissance version can miss things. Neale was convinced that the old text's description of Christ's blood as 'rosy' (roseo: 'light pink', because Roman roses were not modern cultivars) is explained by that fact that if a body is totally drained of blood, the last few drops are ... pink (how did he know? Was he right?).

*Grandgent writes thus about this prosthetic vowel: "The earliest Latin example is probably iscolasticus, written in Barcelona in the second century; it is found repeatedly, though not frequently, in the third century; in the fourth and fifth it is very common: espiritum, ischola, iscripta, isperabi ..." Isidore of Seville in the seventh century was the first to comment on it. It has, of course, left innumerable marks upon the lexicography of the Romance languages (e.g. stella became istella which became estaile which became etoile).


Andreas said...

The Breviarium Romanum: 1568 editio princeps has it as: “ad cenam agni providi / et stolis albis candidi.”

The 1986 edition of the Liturgia Horarum has it as: “ad cenam agni providi / stolis salutis candidi”. - fere idem.

I am not a fan of the humanistic revisions some of which went to such extremes as the redefinition of the Trinity as a “triforme numen olympi” and of the Blessed Mother as “Dea Felix” and a “nympha candidissima”. Brrrrrrrr! “Quod non fecerunt barbari fecerunt barberini.”

“Classicists” would probably approve some of the lines of the “Veni Sancte Spiritus” re-written by Zacharia Ferreri as: “xenophanis ceu lesbii / te iambicis attollimus”. Fortunately, the Barberini Pope made it “optional” and the option lasted but a few years.

For classicists, Latin is a cadaver to be sliced open in front of the admiring students who will nod quietly: “we have never seen such organs before”.

Walter said...

I always enjoy your insights into Latin hymnology; especially your comments about Lentini's. Just got his 'Hymni Instaurandi....' from a library discard sale.

I agree with Andreas on those renaissance preferences for pagan Roman words applied to the Trinity & Our Lady ! Lentini truly detested them himself. I find them quaint, but dangerous !

Timothy Graham said...

Some medical back-up for Neale's claims about "rosy" drops: it is all to do with homeostasis - the life force tries to maintain a sufficiently steady state in the body to keep vital functions running. So if one loses blood suddenly, one doesn't have time to speed up manufacture in the bone marrow and replace it - and if one's blood volume drops too much, one's cardiovascular system will collapse and the heart stop completely. This is where homeostasis comes in: there are blood volume and pressure sensors in the brain & neck that cause hormones to be secreted, allowing lots of fluid from one's tissues to cross the cells lining the blood vessels, and quickly boost the blood volume. Hence in sudden blood loss, the blood becomes more dilute and paler. It is observable: I've seen it in A&E when taking blood samples from people haemorrhaging badly.

Tyler Williams said...

I can't for the life of me find a literal, non-rhyming translation of any of these hymns. I just want to understand the Latin! I don't want any English "replacements"!