9 December 2023

Treading the Serpent underfoot

Dom Gueranger commends, on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, the Hymn Ante cibum by Prudentius. I didn't inflict it upon you yesterday because I didn't want to put you off your food. 

But ... if it's a matter of finding early 5th century verse ... well written ... to go with baroque and rococo art ... say, with Tiepolo or Rubens  ... Prudentius is indeed your one-stop place to visit. modo cernua femineis/ Vipera proteritur pedibus. The stuff of a thousand counter-reformation paintings, and hymns! All good mega-triumphalist fun. But ... he takes the imagery further, and describes the Serpent and its vomit: virus inerme piger revomit/ Gramine concolor in viridi. If you don't know Latin, follow your nose, follow your instinct ... revomit means ... yes ... And Gramine means grass and concolor means same-colour-as.

Prudentius moves on from Serpentine Vomit to other animals. The Wolf ... trepidat. And why should a Wolf be terrified? Because of the sweetie little flocklet of white lamblets ... they are so dangerous. They are impavidae, so the mournful wolf blunders (obambulat) about amongst them ... and obambulat is an interesting word.

Prudentius has Vergil in mind: Geo iii 538. But what about Ovid: in Met ii Juppiter, disguising himself as a bull so as to ravish Europa, mugit et in teneris formosus obambulat herbis. What a good thing that the beast is sexy and the grass so soft! And in book XIV, the blinded Cyclops totam fremebundus obambulat Aetnam/ praetentaque manu silvas, et luminis orbus /rupibus incursat, foedataque brachia tabo, in mare protendens gentem execratur Achivam ...

Yes; for Naso the verb suggests slapstick; and blind-man how-amusing-you-bumped-int-that rock-slapstick. Nasty?And so on. A nice picture of the lambs bossing around (imperitat) the lions.

Enough of pre-lapsarian images. In the next day or two, I hope to explain to you why I have sometimes been a bit doubtful about what Pius IX did to the Immaculate Conception Liturgy.


No comments: