Calpurnius, Bucolica V (prelude)


Permalink 01:49:54 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 425 words, 4016 views   English (US)
Categories: Calpurnius' Bucolica

Calpurnius, Bucolica V (prelude)

A merciless work schedule has left little time for detailed reading, and a few sections of this poem have me scratching my head. Here’s an example of the difficulties, with text taken directly from the Latin Library:

at si forte uaces, dum matutina relaxat
frigora sol, tumidis spumantia mulctra papillis
implebit quod mane fluet; rursusque premetur
mane quod occiduae mulsura redegerit horae.
parce tamen fetis: ne sint compendia tanti,
destruat ut niueos uenalis cascus agnos;
nam tibi praecipuo fetura coletur amore.


The opening is clear enough: “If you are by chance unoccupied while the sun burns off the morning chill…". Next, spumantia multra - “foaming milk-pails” (foaming caused by tumidis…papillis - “swollen udders") must be the object of implebit, making the clause quod mane fluet - “(that) which flows in the morning” the subject: “That (milk) which flows in the morning will fill up milkpails foaming from swollen udders.”

An odd phrasing, but at least understandable; Calpurnius is talking about sheep’s milk, and he repeats the same construction in l.35 by making quod occiduae mulsura redegerit horae the subject of premetur. Strictly speaking, mulsura looks like a future active participle: “(soon) to milk", but it makes no grammatical sense here. Stymied, I ended up checking the word in Lewis and Short, and (of course) it’s a hapax legomena which they translate as “(the act of) milking", a definition designed to fit this exact passage. To sum up, quod occiduae mulsura redegerit horae - “Which the setting hour’s milking shall render"–fut. perf. since this milking will occur the evening before premetur the following morning (mane).

Premetur was a bit of a mystery–I grew up in the country but had never visited a dairy farm. A little googling led me to think the word referred to the compression of milk curds to make cheese. This, it turns out, is a huge clue to the scansion problem in line 37, which ends cascus agnos. After some thought, I think cascus - “ancient” should be caseus - “cheese", a commodity (note compendia) that the shepherd can sell. Thus I translate 36-8:

“But show the newborns consideration, lest the profit be so great
that cheese for sale should weaken the snow-white lambs,
for you should tend the brood with special care.”

In other words, if too much milk is used for cheese, the suckling lambs won’t get enough and the flock suffers.

Thanks to the combination of unknown words (mulsura), the unknown details of cheesemaking, and a key misprint (cascus), I puzzled a good hour or two last night just over these seven lines…


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Qui sciet quae quoque sint modo dicenda, nisi tamen in procinctu paratamque ad omnis casus habuerit eloquentiam, velut clausis thesauris incubabit.

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