Category Archives: Translations

St. Ephrem’s Dragons

St. Ephrem, Epiphany Hymn 8, verse 16:

“In the beginning, the Spirit of fruitfulness
brooded on the waters,
and they conceived and gave birth
to dragons, fish, and birds.
The Holy Spirit brooded on the waters of Baptism,
which gave birth to mystical eagles –
pure virgins and guides of the Church;
and mystical fish –
celibates and mediators, of course;
and mystical dragons –
those clever ones, of course,
who are made as simple as doves.”

This Syriac hymn takes advantage of both the Genesis translation of sea creatures as “dragons,” and the Greek notion that giant serpents are dragons.

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Heavenly Warrior Dragons

More good Christian dragons! This one is sort of a punishing one, however. It sounds like the Irish kenning of “dragon” for “great warrior” has crept into the story, and they’re talking about a warrior angel.

However, this is from the Vita S. Kannechi, the Life of St. Cainneach of Aghaboe. He was a busy guy — hung out with St. Columba, became famous in Scotland as St. Kenneth or St. Canice, and bopped around the continent a bit before coming home. This was pretty typical for a roaming pilgrim Irish monk back in the day. However, this life was written in the 8th century, so the dragon story is not necessarily anything contemporary to the guy. (The Life of Columba that mentions Cainneach is very contemporary, however.)

Vita S. Kannechi, c. 9:

“Therefore St. Cainneach promised to spend the future, his sepulture, and his resurrection in this offered city with the above-mentioned king. But having frequently visited the saint, the angel of God who had predicted his resurrection in Ireland, rebuked him for the incautious promise. So then St. Cainnech was in anguish, between his promise and the angel’s word.

“But the Lord, the True Judge, helped him. For a fiery dragon descended from Heaven and cut off the outside toe of St. Cainneach’s right foot. St. Cainneach left his toe there, fulfilling his promise; and obeying the angel’s word, he went back to Ireland. Indeed, this above-mentioned king was afterwards a wonderful man and a bishop.”

Only the Irish would link dragons and pinkie toes.

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St. Ammon’s Dragon Guards

St. Ammon or Amun was an early Christian monk who lived in Nitria, Egypt. He and his wife were forced into an arranged marriage while young. On their wedding night, they agreed to remain celibate together, and kept the vow for eighteen years. After that, they mutually consented to get away from their families’ plans: his wife keeping the house and inviting other vowed virgins to stay there, and him heading out to the desert to be a hermit. Other people heard of his holiness, and tons of other hermits camped out in his area, just as with the popular St. Anthony of Egypt. This caused St. Anthony to invent monasteries for men, and he passed the idea along to St. Ammon for keeping a dull roar among his several thousand hermits. It all went well, and his feast day is October 4.

In this story, we see a bit of the Greek “dragon = big python snake” and a bit of a more Western approach. We also learn that Egyptian desert dragons are scary, but not always bad, and that snakes listen better than people do (as St. Martin of Tours also complained).

Anyway, this story is from St. Rufinus of Aquileia’s Historia Monachorum, chapter 8. (PL 21: 420, 14 – 422, 4.):

I don’t believe that what we heard about Ammon, from a certain holy man we saw in the wilderness in the place in which he had lived, should be omitted. And so when, having parted from the blessed Apollonius, we proceeded to the part of the wilderness opposite Meridianum, we saw a dragon’s huge dragging tracks across the sand; his size had appeared so great that it looked like some treetrunk had been drawn through the sand. So that as we looked, we were struck with huge terror.

But the brothers who had escorted us encouraged us to dread nothing at all, but to rather to take hold of faith and follow the dragon’s track. ‘For you will see,’ they said, ‘how much faith may prevail, when you would have quenched it out of us. For we kill many dragons and snakes and vipers* with our hands; for as we read it written that the Savior allows those believing in Him “to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and upon all the power of the enemy.”‘ (Lk. 10:19) But with them saying this, we dreaded more and more because of the fragility of our faithlessness, and we asked them not to want to follow the dragon’s tracks, but rather that we might proceed straight on the road. Yet one of them, impatient, had followed the dragon with alacrity. And when he had found its cave not far off, he called us so that we might have gone to him and seen the end of the business.

Yet another of the brothers who dwelt nearby in the desert hurried to meet us, and forbade us to follow the dragon, saying we could not endure his appearance, especially because we were not used to seeing anything such as that. Truly, he said that he himself frequently saw that same beast of incredible devastation, and that it was fifteen cubits long. And when he had advised us against approaching the place, he hurried himself to pull away, recall, and turn back the brother who had awaited us, prepared for the beast’s killing and unwilling to depart unless he had killed it.

When he would have come to us, he refuted our faintheartedness and faithlessness. So arriving at his little cell, we rested, received by him with much love. Truly, he told us that in this place where he always stayed had been a certain holy man named Ammon, whose disciple he had been; through Ammon, the Lord had done many things of power. And so he told us this one, among others.

“Frequently,” he said, “thieves came to him, carrying off the bread from him which was the only thing he ate, and was what he stored for his most continent way of living. And when he had suffered this annoyance frequently, on a certain day he proceeded into the desert; and coming back from there, he ordered two huge dragons to accompany him; and then he ordered them to stay at his monastery door, and they went in and guarded him. The thieves came according to custom, and saw what the guards on the threshold were, so that the dragons saw them; and [the sight] made them unable to move or think; they lost the power to speak and they collapsed immediately. When the old man realized this, he went out and found the thieves half-dead, and coming near and rousing them, he rebuked them, saying, ‘You see how much stubborner you are than these beasts; for they obey us according to God, but you neither fear God nor go blush to disturb the life of God’s servants.’

“Nevertheless, bringing them into the cell, he set the table and asked that they take food. Truly, with pricked hearts and their whole minds, they turned away from brutality; in short, they did better than many who began to serve the Lord earlier. For they did such great penance that after a few seasons, they also could do the same signs and the same works of power [as Ammon].

“Afterwards, at a different time, with a certain most immense dragon having laid waste to the neighboring regions and killed many, the inhabitants of that place came to the above-mentioned Father, asking him that he might kill the beast for their region; and at the same time, that they might persuade the old man to mercy, they brought a shepherd’s young son with them who had been terrified out of his mind by only a sight of the dragon, and had felled and been carried off, unable to move and swollen, from only the dragon’s breath. Then he restored health to this boy, indeed by anointing him with oil.**

“Meanwhile, he would promise nothing to those urging him to kill the dragon himself, as if one who could not help them with anything. But rising early, he went off to the beast’s sleeping place, and fixed his knees to the earth, begging the Lord. Then the beast began to come against him with a huge attack, sending out foul snorting and hisses and rattles. But fearing nothing of this, he said, turning toward the dragon, ‘May Christ, the Son of God, Who shall destroy the great whale, destroy you.’*** And when that old man spoke, immediately that direst dragon also vomiting poison with every breath, blew up, bursting down the middle.

“But when the neighboring inhabitants would have gathered and wondered at it, unable to bear the violence of the stink, they got together an immense mass of sand over it — with Father Ammon still standing by, because not even when the beast was dead did they dare approach it without him.”

* Vipers: literally, “horned serpents,” a translation of the Greek “cerastes”. It all means “vipers.” There’s a specific species in Egypt that has little scales standing up above its eyes and looking like horns.

** Anointing him with oil: Presumably, oil of the sick. The Anointing of the Sick is plenty ancient.

*** “Who destroyed the great whale” — Isaiah 27:1. “In that day the Lord, with his hard and great and strong sword, shall visit Leviathan the bar serpent, and Leviathan the crooked serpent, and shall slay the whale that is in the sea.” Also, since Christ compared Himself to Jonah, and since He was in the belly of Sheol for three days and nights when He was dead, Hell is the “great whale,” and Hellmouth has often been portrayed looking like a stylized whale mouth, in pictures of Jesus leading out the Patriarchs and Matriarchs.

There is such a thing as a Nubian Spitting Cobra and a Red Spitting Cobra, both of which are found in Egypt. Maybe that’s what’s meant by the poison breath?

Here’s a translation of all of The History of the Egyptian Monks. Unfortunately I didn’t find it until after I did mine!

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St. Simon Stylites: Dragon Veterinarian

Well, now that I know that the Greek “drakon” was seen as being a sort of big python snake, this kind of story makes a lot more sense! So as part of my continuing research into Good Christian Dragons, I present this story that shows both a saint healing a dragon, and that snakes trust saints as Adam-like stewards of Creation.

St. Simon Stylites is a pretty well-documented guy; he was a Byzantine celebrity, even. He lived alone in the ruins of an old Greco-Roman city, on a little railed platform he built on top of an 80-foot-high pillar. (There isn’t much left of it.) So mostly he stayed on top of the pillar, although occasionally he would come down his ladder and stand on the base of the pillar to do things or speak to someone. Technically he was a hermit, but the place was always getting swarmed by visitors, so he ended up becoming a sort of hermit/preacher/advice guy. He let men come inside the little wall around his pillar and come up the ladder to his platform, so he even had disciples come up there to learn from him.

From Chapter 10 of the Latin translation of the Vita S. Simeon Stylites (PL 73, 330, 7-24):

“In this time an exceedingly large dragon dwelt near [St. Simon Stylites] in northern parts, where no grass grew; and a stick got stuck in its right eye. And behold, that blind dragon came and drew near to the little dwelling where the man of God was staying, dragging itself along; it lay there with its head abased and its body all curled around itself in a ring, as if asking for a favor. On seeing this, Blessed Simeon immediately removed a cubit-long stick from its eye. And on seeing this, everyone glorified God, yet fled from it in awe. But the beast coiled up around itself and remained immobile in one place until all the people had passed. Then getting up, it adored the monastery doorway* for almost two hours and then went back to its den; and it hurt no one.”

* The door in the little wall around the pillar.

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Translation: Ecce Fulget Clarissima (Medieval Hymn to St. Patrick)

I was going to do some more Aurelius stuff, but my Canty CD of a medieval office for St. Patrick came yesterday. So suddenly, it’s March 17th in July! (It’s also been recorded on Schola Gregoriana Maynooth’s album Saints and Scholars.)

“Ecce fulget clarissima” is a fairly widespread hymn in medieval lit books, but I had never heard the melody before. It’s an interesting one. Push it one way and it sounds like a medieval dance tune; push it the other way and it’s an Irish ballad tune or slow air. A lot of medieval chant hymns are like this — a bit catchier than other sorts of chant, and probably composed more for popular use rather than as a strictly monastery product.

Canty’s literal translation seems to be based on the Wright and Stokes one in The Writings of St. Patrick, which is fine. But I had a few different ideas about it, most notably that “baptismate” is not to be translated in this case as Baptism, but as Flood. The water motif in the poem seems strongly tied to St. Patrick’s famous kidnapping and enslavement by Irish raiders; whereas his Baptism is not famous at all. I also saw some Biblical references, so I wasn’t shy about pointing them out. You’ll also notice a couple places where I merged two verses into one, in the translation. There’s no point spinning out a song that’s this long already.

Ecce fulget clarissima
Patricii solemnitas,
in qua carne deposita
felix transcendit sidera.

Behold, the brightest solemnity:
St. Patrick’s Day shines brilliantly.
Happy, he left his flesh today,
And past the stars he slipped away.

Hic felici prosapia
ortus est in Britannia
perceptoque baptismate
studet ad alta tendere.

Born to a happy family,
Risen from Britain by the sea,
Swept off by slavers on the flood,
He strove to reach the heights in snow and mud.

Qui mox a pueritia
divina plenus gratia
vitam cepit diligere
dignitatis angelice.

Soon as he passed from boyhood’s days,
He was full of divine grace,
Taking a life up that he came to love –
Worthy of angels up above.

Sed futurorum prescius,
clemens et rectus Dominus
hunc direxit apostolum
Hybernie ad populum.

But the Lord, knowing what would be,
The Ruler who guides mercif’lly,
Brought this apostle by His Hand
Back to the people of Ireland.

Erat namque hec insula
bonis terre fructifera,
sed cultore ydolatra
mergebatur ad infima.

Oh, for that island was full of good ground,
Ready to bear fruit when seed had been found.
But it was drowned deep in idolatry;
That turned it to the worst ground that could be.

Ad hanc doctor egregius
adveniens Patricius
predicabat gentilibus,
quod tenebat operibus.

Confluebat gentilitas
ad ejus sacra monita
et respuens diabolum
colebat regem omnium.

Patrick came out to the peoples to teach
And practice all of the good works he would preach.
To hear holy prophecy, clans came flowing,
To spit out the Devil and take God as King.

Gaudebatque se liberam
remeare ad patriam,
qua serpentis astutia
olim expulsa fuerat.

And he rejoiced to see Ireland free,
As he went home to the Father’s country.
The old serpent’s cunning and subtlety
He’d driven out of Ireland already.

Qua propter, dilectissimi,
huius in laude presulis
psallamus Christo cordibus
alternantes et vocibus.

Ut illius suffragio
liberati a vitio
perfruamur in gloria
uisione angelica.

So, most beloved, in this prelate’s praise,
Let’s sing to Christ — heart and voice in turn raise.
So, when from vice by his prayers we’re set free,
The angelic vision we’ll know in glory.

Laus sit patri in filio
cum spiritu paraclito,
qui suo dono gratie
misertus est hybernie.

Praise to the Father and to the Son
And to the Spirit, the Three in One.
His gift of grace from His Own Hand
Has shown His mercy to Ireland.

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Translation: Te Deum Laudamus

I wrote this up a couple of weeks ago, but didn’t post it. One of the guys over at The New Liturgical Movement blog was complaining that the tune “Thaxted” (that Holst thing, aka the tune for “Land of Hope and Glory”) was way too popular in his neck of the US woods. Since it’s very far from that popular around here, I had to think of something annoying to do with it. :) I don’t know why the “Te Deum” came to mind. I also didn’t realize that the 7-verse version of “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name” is actually a translation of the “Te Deum” too. So this is a pretty redundant project, but that’s nothing new in hymnody.

The scansion and rhyme stinks and there’s several unresolved problems with the lyrics (especially the end, which only a choir director with an elaborate arrangement could love), but it’s pretty singable. (If I do say so myself.) So here you go. It’s as literal a translation as I could manage.

Lyrics: Maureen S. O’Brien, 9/24/08
translating “Te Deum Laudamus”
Music: “Thaxted”, Holst

You, O God, we praise, we praise You, confessing You are Lord.
You, Eternal Father, whom all worlds do worship and adore!
To You, all heaven’s angels, all the host of Powers rejoice,
And Cherubim and Seraphim cry out with ceaseless voice:
“Hooooly, Holy, Holy,
Lord Go-o-od of Hosts,
Heaven and earth are full of
Your glory’s majesty!”

The Apostles’ glorious chorus and the lauded Prophets sing,
And the Martyrs’ whiterobed army their praises to You bring.
To You, around the wide world, testifies your Bride holy:
To the Father of unmeasured and unending majesty,
To Your true and worshipped, worthy
and sole-begotten Son,
And the Holy Spirit, Paraclete:
One in Three and Three in One.

You, King of Glory, Christ, forever are the Father’s Son.
When You chose to set men free, a virgin’s womb You did not shun.
And when You had beaten death’s sting, Heaven’s Kingdom You flung wide
To all believers; glorious, You sit at the Father’s right.
To-o be Judge, You will come again.
We beg You now indeed,
Help Your servants whom You have redeemed
With Your Precious Blood, in need.

Count them with your saints in glo-ory. O save your people, Lord.
Bless Your legacy; reign over them, exalt them evermore.
Each and every day we bless You, and at all times praise Your Name.
Lord, kindly grant, this day, to keep us free from sin and shame.
Have mercy on us, Lo-o-ord,
Have mercy on us.
Have mercy on us, Lo-o-ord,
Have mercy on us.

May Your mercy on us be, O Lord, for we have hoped in You.
May Your mercy on us be, O Lord, for we have hoped in You.
In You, Lord, I’ve put my hope; I will not be dismayed.
In You, Lord, I’ve put my hope; I will not be dismayed.
Amen, Amen,
Amen, Amen,
Amen, Amen,
Amen, Amen.


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Translation: “Il Cantico del Bene” by St. Joseph of Cupertino

St. Joseph of Cupertino, a Franciscan poet? Yes, there’s more to our favorite flying saint than levitation, bilocation, and miscellaneous wonderworking! He also wrote poetry, according to his hometown’s website. In fact, his hometown — which prefers the spelling “Copertino” — apparently sells some kind of CD of musical settings or music-backed recitations of his poetry.

Here’s one of his most famous works, the “Canticle of the Good” (“Il Cantico del Bene”), along with my attempt at a translation. I don’t speak Italian and have relied on Google Translate, so ‘attempt’ is the word.


Chi fa ben sol per paura
non fa niente e poco dura.

Whoever does good ’cause he’s too scared not to
Does nothing hard, though he really ought to.

Chi fa ben sol per usanza
se non perde, poco avanza.

Whoever does good ’cause good habits stayed,
Won’t get lost, but no progress made.

Chi fa ben come per forza
lascia il frutto e tien la scorza.

Whoever does good only when forced to it
Eats rind, leaves fruit to rot where he threw it.

Chi fa ben qual sciocco a caso
va per l’acqua senza vaso.

Whoever does good with a random flail
Goes to fetch water without a pail.

Chi fa ben per parer buono
non acquista altro che suono.

Whoever does good to look good to friends
Buys himself nothing but noise in the end.

Chi fa ben per vanagloria
non avrà già mai vittoria.

Whoever does good just for empty pride
Has made himself play on the losing side.

Chi fa ben per avarizia
cresce sempre più in malizia.

Whoever does good only out of greed
Makes his malice grow and lets it feed.

Chi fa ben con negligenza
perde il frutto e la semenza.

Whoever does good in a careless way
Will lose both fruit and the seed, I’d say.

Chi fa bene all’indiscreta
senza frutto mai s’acquieta.

Whoever does good to the indiscreet
Gets no peace and no fruit that’s sweet.

Chi fa ben per solo gusto
mai sarà santo né giusto.

Whoever does good just for his own pleasure
Will become just and a saint — When? Never.

Chi fa ben sol per salvarsi
troppo s’ama e non sa amarsi.

Whoever does good just for his salvation
Loves none but himself in God’s whole Creation.

Chi fa ben per puro amore
dona a Dio l’anima e il cuore
e qual figlio servitore
sarà unito al suo Signore.
Gesù dolce Salvatore
sia lodato a tutte l’ore
il supremo e gran Motore
d’ogni grazia donatore.

Whoever does good purely out of love
Gives heart and soul to his God above.
And what’s the servant son’s reward?
To be united with his Lord.
O Jesus, sweet Savior,
Each hour may we praise your favor,
O great, supreme Mover,
Of every grace the Giver.

St. Giuseppe Desa of Copertino, pray for us!


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Translation: “Horis Peractis Undecim”

This Mozarabic hymn is apparently sung on Fridays (on even weeks) in the current form of the Liturgy of the Hours. Awesomely enough, it’s a hymn thanking God for the end of the work week and hoping for an eternal payday!

Thanks to Hymnos Debitos Canamus, for bringing the song to my attention and translating it literally. I wonder what the tune is?

Horis Peractis Undecim
Lyrics: Anon. (Mozarabic Trad.)
Singable translation: Maureen S. O’Brien, 7/11/08

Eleven hours’ duty done,
Day heads t’ward ev’ning at a run.
Let’s pay back some of what God’s due,
With willing minds and music, too.

The day work now is gone and past
For which, Christ, you employed us last.
Your gifts of glory are the same
As promised to those who first came.

You call us in now for the pay
You give us toward that future day.
Aid us in labor, and restore
Us when our work is done once more.

This is a more or less literal singable translation. However, the second verse didn’t work very well in the first way I did it, because it didn’t make you think of the scriptural allusion. So a little less literalism this time.

PS — I know it’s Mozarabic because it’s in Volume 27 of the Analecta Hymnica Medii Aevii. This volume was on “Gothic Hymnody: The Mozarabic Hymns of the Old Spanish Rite”. (I don’t know much German, but I can get that part.) And if you’re wondering why “Gothic”, it’s because the Visigoths ruled Spain and Portugal for a while. (They didn’t go away; they melted into the Celt/Iberian/Everybody in the Roman Empire stew.)

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Translation: Excerpt from “Ditie de Jehanne d’Arc” by Christine de Pisan

It’s a beautiful fact that Christine de Pisan, author of The City of Ladies, etc., lived to see St. Joan of Arc saving her country and wrote a poem about it while it was still going on. (I don’t think we know if she lived to see Joan captured or executed; it hadn’t happened yet when she wrote this. I’ve kinda cheated by making the “examination by the Dauphin’s guys” also refer to “torment in prison by the Rouen guys”.)

This is just a tiny excerpt from late in the poem. I’m not even trying to translate it in a scholarly, accurate way; I’m trying to turn this excerpt into a hymn for St. Joan. So I’ve taken some serious liberties — and obviously, no present tense as in the original! (Or snarky comments about the English, either.)

Remember D-Day, and the liberation of France.

Excerpts from “Ditie de Jehanne d’Arc”
by Christine de Pisan
Translation: Maureen O’Brien, 6/6/08

Oh, Esther, Judith, and Deborah,
They were women of great worth
And through them, God worked as restorer
Of His people’s freedom on earth.
And I’ve heard of other ladies,
Wise and skilled, to whom God gave aid
And through whom He worked many wonders –
But He has done more through this Maid.

By a miracle, by an angel,
And by God’s almighty command,
Sent to France’s true king to help him
And to put the crown in his hand,
She was tried by priests and wise men,
To catch her in lies and in sin.
But now history sings of her rise, and
Her great cause was destined to win.

And her lovely life showed with beauty
She was in God’s favor and grace.
By the way she lived out her duty
She showed many, clearly, God’s face.
For no matter what she was doing,
She kept her eyes fixed on the Lord
Whom she prayed to, and whom she called on,
Serving Him in deed and in word.


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Fun with Translation: Distiches on Baptism by Pope St. Leo the Great

On St. Venantius’ Day, Fr. Z posted some distiches (couplets) written by Pope St. Leo the Great, in the man’s pre-papal days. Fr. Z then challenged his readers to translate them.

My Latin isn’t good, so I leaned on the translations provided. Inevitably, this meant I messed up. Here’s a revised version of my translation.

From seed the Holy Spirit’s sown,
A nation springs to be His Own –
Bound for the Heavens. God’s Breath sighed
On waters, and they fructified.
Our Mother Church, still virgin, there
Children conceived by Him does bear.
All you reborn within this spring,
Hope for the Reign of Heaven’s King!

The happy life is not for those
Born only once. The spring arose
To wash the world and wet what’s dried
With water from Christ’s wounded side.
O sinner who’d be purified,
Plunge underneath the sacred tide!

It takes the old man, makes him new.
If you’d be innocent, then do
Be washed in this bath from your sin
And from your father’s deep within!

Those reborn know no parting wall –
Font, faith, and Spirit same for all –
So in their union, they’re made one,
And none need fear their sins, no, none
Despite their count or kind. Don’t faint!
Who’s born in this flood is a saint!


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Never Say Never — “On Eagle’s Wings” in Latin

Probably Holy Whapping has already done this, but it’s good fun for me.

So, by popular demand of the comboxes of The New Liturgical Movement:


Pinnas Sicut Aquilae
To the tune of: “On Eagles’ Wings” by Michael Joncas and the Bible

Latin Lyrics: Maureen S. O’Brien and the Vulgate

VERSE 1 (Psalm 90/91):

Qui habitat in abscondito,
in umbraculo Domini,
Qui habitat in umbraculo
Domini commorabitur,
dicens Domino “spes mea –
Deus meus, confidam.”

CH: (Psalm 40/41, Isaiah 46:4, Matthew 13:43)

(Et) adsumet pinnas sicut
aquilae et faciet
te fulgere sicut sol;
portabat te in pugillo, pugillo.

VERSE 2 (Psalm 90/91)

(Li)berabat de laqueo venantium,
de morte insi
Veritas eius, scutum.
Sub alis eius, sperabis.


VERSE 3 (Psalm 90/91):

(A) timore nocturno, non timebis;
a sagitta volante.
A latere tuo cadent
(mille), non adpropinquabit.


VERSE 4: (Psalm 90/91)

Quia angelis suis mandabit de
(te in) omnibus viis tuis –
in manibus
portabunt te, ne
offendat pes tuus ad lapidem.


Pretty much straight from the Vulgate, albeit with some chopping; but Latin is pretty easy to rhyme and rearrange. I’m afraid I paid no attention whatsoever to the quantities, though.

Now, in the original song, you’ll notice that it’s not “my God in whom I trust”, as in the psalm, but “My Rock in whom I trust”. I’m pretty sure that this is entirely for valid songwriting reasons (nice hard sound, “rock”). But if you find it easier, feel free to sing “Petrus meus, confidam.” It would even be strangely fitting, after last week!

I do not apologize for changing other bits to hew closer to the psalm, like “And famine will bring you no fear”. Also. the Vulgate does say that God’s truth will be our shield and protection, not His faithfulness. (Just so you know that I’m not making this stuff up.)

I do apologize for not solving all the English version’s scansion problems. Variable numbers of syllables put to the same piece of music are fine in a folksong learned orally, but they are a royal pain in a hymnal.

UPDATE: Slightly revised to deal with some of the problems noted above. Besides the obvious edit in the first verse, I also added “te” to the chorus in a couple places. (Which actually comes in handy to smooth out the scansion, as well as adding more purty internal rhyme.) I like the first line of the chorus better without a “te”, but you can put one in between “et” and “adsumet” if that’s what you really want. You can also change “dicens” to “dicet” (present or future), if it’s really bothering you, as one of the Vulgate translations does say it that way.

Sorry for the deficiencies of the audiofile; but it’s just for proof of concept, and it was recorded at 7 AM.


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“Inventor Rutili” – Hymn for Lighting the Easter Fire

“Inventor Rutili” is the first three verses of Prudentius’ “Hymn for the Lighting of the Lamps”. In the Sarum Rite, two cantors would trade off lines of it, and then the whole choir did something I didn’t understand. (What does “answer the verses” mean?)

It has a lovely chant tune, which the current translations don’t fit very well. Being stupid about going to bed on time, I have allowed myself to be drawn into writing a new translation. Filler phrases that are not in the original poem will appear in italics. You can listen to my rendition of the original Latin lyrics here and my mp3 of my translation here. (Although I’ve fiddled a bit with the translation since I posted the mp3 of it. Sorry.)

“Inventor Rutili”
Translated by Maureen S. O’Brien, 1/17/08

Inventor of red-gold light, o honest guide through night,
You give each season time; each waits its turn in line.
The sun’s plunged into the black; Chaos charges to attack.
For your faithful in the night. O Christ, bring back the light.

In Your court, King divine, countless the stars that shine.
You decorate the sky; lamp-like, the Moon up high.
Still You teach us to hit flint on steel to look for it –
One tiny spark alone, born from the heart of stone.

You did this to make us see our hope of light must be
In the solidity of Christ’s Body.
Rightly Our Lord we call Rock, strong against ev’ry shock.
All our tiny tongues of flame spark from Him. Praise His Name.

Btw, you might want to see a comparison of other translations in Bryn Mawr Classical Review.


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Psychomachia Invocation

This is the bit where the classical tradition invokes the Muses. Prudentius invokes Someone else, of course!

Translation by Maureen O’Brien, 1/7/08

Christ, You always kindly gaze upon the heavy cares of man,
Whom You cleanse with power both Paternal and Your Own, but One –
One the God we worship under one Name or the other,
yet not alone, Christ, because You are God out of the Father.

Explain to us, Commander, how to drive faults from a soldier.

The mind can arm and armor us. Out of the chest’s deep cavern,
it sallies forth whenever self-sedition muddies senses,
and inner conflict saps the sickened soul. Then the defender
will watch within our breasts for any stirred up fury’s blade edge;
it parries with a better skill. Precisely so, good Leader:
You have not bereft the weak-nerved of the mighty Virtues,
nor left Christworshippers behind for ravaging by Vices.

Call for a cavalry troop, a relief force;
Fight Your way through into the besieged body.
Build a siege engine of excellent devising
to storm through the sarcasm-taunts of the heart.
May it be potent to battle attackers
for You, and to conquer for You.

The winning plan’s present, if while they’re at hand
it’s permitted to write down what’s been pointed out –
the Virtues’ appearances and their fight versus
unfriendly forces.

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Psychomachia Preface, Version 1.1

I smoothed out the meter quite a lot. Now I feel better.

The faithful old man who’d be first to believe the Way,
Abram, the father come lately of blest seed,
whose name was made greater by an added syllable
(called “Abram” by parents, “Abraham” by God),
who called the pledge of his age victim, leading
to altar for sacrifice whatever’s wanted;
who with a sweet heart, who tenderly, offered
in trust to the One God what He had entrusted –
he urged us on to fight our profane nations;
so the advisor makes himself example.

Not even the marital offspring begotten
by mother of virtue’s born pleasing to God — till
the Spirit, warloving, by many a slaughter,
wins over the targeted heart to His service.

Cruel kings by happenstance had captured Lot;
he lived in the immoral criminal cities
Gomorrah and Sodom, a foreigner favored
as kinsman of influence, honored with glory.
By bearer of bad news, Abram was awoken.
He heard his near kin’s fate was to be war captive,
to slave for barbarians in rigid chains.

He armed three hundred and three-times-six servants;
they fell on the enemy’s rear to wreak slaughter
on them, hugely hindered by richness of treasure and
parade home of prisoners of high rank they held.

So Abram himself unsheathed iron, and God-filled,
drove the proud kings into flight, weighted down
with their loot. He tread them underfoot, broke the chains, freed
the booty: gold, girls, children, necklaces, dishes,
herds of mares, garments, and heifers.

Lot stood up straight and he kneaded
his neck, freed from his broken collar.
Abram, who broke up the foe’s march of triumph,
came back with his brother’s famous son recovered,
lest the bloodline of the faithful be stolen
by the brute force of the wickedest princes.

Yet fresh from the slaying of so many men,
a priest gave him celestial bread –
a priest of God also a powerful ruler,
source whose secret unutterable spring
sprang up from nowhere — Melchizedek, whose race
and ancestors none know, knew much of the One God.

A triformed trinity of angels soon revisits
the huts of the hospitable old man, and already
the gift of a son in a mother’s shriveled up womb
astonishes Sarah. Blood flees her face — rejoicing
in an heir, and also repenting snorted snickers.

Here in a figure is foretold the Line by whom
our lives are reshaped into infantry
standing on watch, our faithful hearts armored.

But all our bodies have been partly captured
by filthy things, and they serve Lust as her slaves.

From the house, forces are gathered to free us.
We are rich people with plenty of servants –
if the three hundred, and twice nine that’s added,
can be recognized as a mystical figure.

Soon Christ Himself, who is the True Priest
of unutterable Parent but His sole-begotten,
offering blest victuals to the victors,
will walk into the heart’s chaste little cottage,
finding the Trinity guests given honor.

Then the Spirit in married embrace makes
the faithful espoused soul, so long without offspring,
fertile to seed everlasting. In labor,
the woman late-dowried then will fill
the house of the Father with a fitting heir.

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