From the Wombat list (thanks, John and Paul!), a fine piece of macaronic verse (see this old LH post):

A favorite Christian warning against book theft from a library is this extraordinary and bilingual example, in which the curse is enlivened with “detail, sound effects and justification… for each line begins in Latin and ends in German.” This example is from Marc Drogin. “Anathema! Medieval Scribes and the History of Book Curses.” Totowa, NJ: Allanheld, Osmun & Co. 1983. Page 71, and is a curse found written inside a book in a Medieval monastery against the theft of the book:
Hic liber est mein (This book belongs to none but me)
Ideo nomen scripsi drein. (For there’s my name inside to see,)
Si vis hunc liberum stehlen, (To steal this book, if you should try,)
Pendebis an der kehlen. (It’s by the throat that you’ll hang high.)
Tunc veniunt die raben (And ravens then will gather ’bout)
Et volunt tibi oculos ausgraben. (To find your eyes and pull them out.)
Tunc clamabis ach ach ach, (And when you’re screaming “oh, oh, oh!”)
Ubique tibi recte geschach. (Remember, you deserved this woe.)
Lee Hadden

I’ve bolded the poem itself to make it stand out more from the translation; I think we can all understand the sentiment.


  1. Garrigus Carraig says:

    Splendid. How many candles do I have to light to get me a JPEG of the original?

  2. marie-lucie says:

    The translation is quite fancy compared to the poem itself.

  3. m-l: It pretty much had to be in order to rhyme and scan like the original at all. As a teenager, I quoted a bit of Sayers’ translation to an Italian Dantist (he’d never read his poet in English translation), and his general view was that it was far too formal and “poetic” to match Dante’s flexible and colloquial style.
    To be fair, Sayers was extremely conscious of this, and aware of the limitations imposed on a translator by the nature of the material and the tractability and intractability of the two languages. From her introduction:

    I ought to say a few words about the translation. It is not, of course, Dante; no translation could ever be Dante. He himself said in the Convivio that he detested translations — a fact which adds an acute feeling of compunction to the translator’s other difficulties, and doubles the embarrassment of counting up the already existing translations with which any new version has to compete. (But since the Dante of the Commedia had re-learnt charity since writing the Convivio, and was eager above all things that his poem should bring as many people as possible to salvation, we must hope that he forgives us all.

    I have stuck to the terza rima, despite the alleged impossibility of finding sufficient rhymes in English — it is, after all, less exacting in this respect than the Spenserian stanza, which nobody dreams of calling impossible. In prose a greater verbal accuracy would of course be attainable; but for the general reader this does not, I think, compensate for the loss of speed and rhythm and the “punch” of the rhyme.

    [Explanation of terza rima snipped.] Blank verse, with its insidious temptation to be literal at the expense of the verse, has little advantage over prose and, though easier to write badly, is far more difficult to write well; while the rhymed couplet, or any stanza-form other than Dante’s own, involves the placing of stanza-breaks at places where he did not choose to place them. I agree, therefore, with Maurice Hewlett that, for the translator, the choice is “terza rima or nothing.” I have used all the licence which the English poetic tradition allows in the way of half-rhyme, light “Cockney”, identical, and (if necessary) eccentric rhyme [...].

    [Long elision.]

    As regards diction and syntax, I have interpreted liberally the phrase “in modern English” which applies to the present series of translations. The vocabulary and sentence-rhythms of verse are not, and never can be, exactly the same as those of contemporary prose. I have considered the whole range of intelligible English speech to be open to me, excluding, however, at one end of the scale, words and forms so archaic as to be unintelligible, and at the other, “nonce-words” and up-to-the-minute slang. I have tried, that is, to steer a discreet middle course between Wardour Street and Hollywood, and to eschew “Marry, quotha!” without declining on “Sez you!” I have tried to avoid, as far as possible, Latinized inversions (especially when they involve ambiguity), poetic clichés, and sudden drops into slang or bathos — bearing in mind, however, that Dante’s own style moves continually from the grand manner to the colloquial, and that nothing could be more unfair to him, or more unlike him, than to iron out all his lively irregularities into one flat level of dignified commonplace [emphasis added].
    [...] Where sense, metre, and rhyme would accommodate themselves indifferently to either an ancient or a modern phrase, I have plumped for the modern, especially if the passage was humorous or conversational. For example, in Inf. xxi. 127 [«Omè, maestro, che è quel ch'i' veggio?»], where the candidates for admission were :

    “Sir, I don’t like the look of this one bit”


    “Master, this prospect likes me not a whit

    the context seemed to call for liveliness rather than for archaic dignity.

    After careful consideration, however, I decided to use the ancient “thee and thou” throughout, rather than the modern “you”. For one thing, it is important to be able to distinguish in certain passages between the singular and the plural, and in others, between the intimate “tu” and the ceremonial “voi”. And further, the word “thou”, which was commonly used in speech up to the beginning of the nineteenth century and in verse to the beginning of the twentieth — and which, indeed, is alive in North-country speech to this day [1949] — provides, as it were, a kind of link between the ancient and modern speech-forms, and a test of what forms can be linked in the same phrase without a too-jarring anachronism. “Thou art tired and weary” is poetic common form; an eighteenth-century person might have said “th’art fagged”; it is conceivable that a North-country airman might even to-day say “th’art brassed-off, lad”; what is inconceivable is that anybody should say “thou art brassed-off, methinks.” In such matters, the ear and taste of the translator must be his guides, and if he gets into trouble with his critics, he must console himself by remembering that Dante himself used not only learned, obscure, and Latinized expressions, but also many provincial and dialect forms, and such an abundance of colloquialisms as to be severely censured by eighteenth-century pundits for his lowness, vulgarity, and lack of proper dignity.

    He has been scolded also for his love of puns and conceits, and internal rhymes and chimes, such as were fashionable in his day. They are part of his style, and I have done my best to reproduce them where it was possible, as also to preserve some of his alliterations. Thus the play on the word “Salse” in Inf. xviii. 127 [«Ma che ti mena a sì pungenti salse?», lit. "What brings you into such a pungent sauce?"; "Salse" was the name of a famous prison in Bologna] is represented by a playful evocation of the name of Wormwood Scrubs [namely, "What wormwood pickled such a rod," said I, / "To scrub thy back?"]

  4. a book in a Medieval monastery
    Interestingly, all the references (e.g., here and here; another item in it here) I can find are to an 18th century schoolboy’s notebook in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum (#28670). Was it copied from an earlier book? He also copied down Otto tenet mappam, madidam mappam tenet Otto.

  5. Surge puer mane früh,
    Quando pastor pellit Kuh.
    Quando pastor pellit Schwein,
    Debes iam in schola sein.

  6. dearieme says:

    What a childish game. And how very pleasing it is.

  7. Otto tenet mappam, madidam mappam tenet Otto
    Latin palindromes are essentially a cheat, since you have so much leeway with word order. That’s one of those listed here. One of my favorites is Subi dura a rudibus, the polite and proper predecessor of the cod-Latin illegitimis non carborundum est, or “don’t let the bastards grind you down”.

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