Mustang Souls

“….Our Lord Christ has a palace which has many storerooms and a “cellar of wine” (cf. Sgs. 1:3; Sgs. 2:4), and it is understood to include the spaces of “the fields,” within which, having entered through the gates and admiring them, the blessed Paul gave praise, saying, “O the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” (Rom. 11:33) 

Among its many riches – that is, among the multitude of saints – this palace is understood also to hold mustang souls [animas agrestes], which have been caught by the Church’s hunters from the woods of philosophy, in the net of faith; after being penned up and gentled, they run to and fro through the fields of the Divine Scriptures, and with speed down the literary racecourse, for the enjoyment of the daughters of Jerusalem.”

— Apponius, Explanation of the Song of Songs

  • “agrestis” is kind of a weird word. It relates to “ager,” field, so “agrestis” can mean rural or rustic, or a peasant type of person. But when “agrestis” is describing animals, it means a wild animal, not a farm animal. So I guess it’s basically “stuff not in the city” or “animals of the woods and countryside.”
  • The passage was talking about Songs 2:7, with “the roe deer” and “the harts of the woods,” or possibly talking about she-goats as in the Hebrew. But I’m pretty sure there weren’t deer races or goat races in the ancient world. (Camel races, yes.) I’m guessing/suggesting that Apponius is talking about horses, because he does use a lot of horse imagery.
  • There were people who hunted things like deer or wild horses with nets. You basically hid the nets, made them into a sort of giant corral, got a lot of people to act as beaters to scare the animals into moving into one area, and drove all the animals into them. I assume something like this is being pictured.

UPDATE: Okay, maybe he is talking about goat races.

Apponius tends to bring up an image, and then talk about something else, and then circle back to the image. And yes, he does seem to be talking about either roe deer or some kind of mountain-loving goats. Possibly not so much a racetrack as a path, but all the same! What the heck!

Man, patristics as a window into the ancient world is just so weird.

I still contend that mustangs are as much “agrestis” as “ferus” or “saevus,” or any of the other Latin options for “wild.”

Roe deer are apparently an odd species, because like songbirds they like to live in woodlands that aren’t too dense, and that border on cleared agricultural land. They’ll live in wilderness too, but they have lived alongside humans since Neolithic times. So they really are “agrestis” in the sense of countryside animals. (We don’t really have them in the US, except in deer parks.) They stay in forest cover during the day, and then go into the open at twilight or at night.

They live in most of Europe and in Iran, and in Neolithic times they lived in Jordan. So even though the Hebrew is talking about gazelles and regular deer in Songs 2:7, it’s not that weird for the Latin translator to take it as roe deer and regular deer.

The idea that the daughters of Jerusalem would be able to freely watch roe deer during the day does suggest a deer park, on the grounds of a palatium, where the deer were so tame that they didn’t worry about predators. (Or goats. Or gazelles. Both of which are more daytime species.)

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