The translation? “In so many places and by so many fires does Nature burn the countries of the earth.”
That’s fucking gorgeous, the Latin rolls off the tongue, the English is fantastic too, and it’s also a perfect epigraph for the epic fantasy I’m working on now. The deep abiding satisfaction of coming across something so lovely stayed all through my dreams and is still here in mornlight.
I read Pliny before bed every night. Every once in a while, I get to wishing it was Caesar instead, because the ol’ dictator really had quite the winning literary style. But then I roll across some of the crazy-ass shit Pliny writes about, and it makes me out-and-out gleeful.
Colophone in Apollinis Clari specu lacuna est cuius potu mira redduntur oracula, bibentium breviore vita. Amnes retro fluere et nostria vidit aetas Neronis principus supremis, sicut in rebus eius retulimas. (Loeb Classical, translated by H. Rackham.)
The first sentence deals with an oracular shrine where drinking from the river shortens your life but gives you powers of prophecy, which is a story idea if I ever heard one. The second is a mention of Nero’s death, and of rivers running backward to mark the occasion. “Even our generation has seen,” he says, and adds, “as we have recorded.” Of course this Pliny, being the Elder, survived Nero and was a personal friend of Vespasian, so it would be de rigeur for him to add a subtle jibe at Terrible Nero since it was impolitic, to say the least, to do otherwise. (Much as it was impolitic to refer to Mary Queen of Scots’s legitimacy in Elizabeth I’s time.)
One of the fascinating things about Pliny is that he had a scientific bent, and he wrote down what seemed reasonable and verifiable to him. It was perfectly possible for the Mephitic Caves to be the work of a god taking sacrifices without requiring human agents to kill said sacrifice. Stranger things happened. Of particular interest is Pliny’s listing of “what is known” about earthquakes and the like.
Anyway, those two sentences in juxtaposition delighted the hell out of me a couple nights ago.
Roll out of bed, do yoga, feed cavy and dogs, down my breakfast while Duolingo-ing French and Spanish, make coffee. Retreat to office, do Rosetta Stone Latin. End with pacing around my office swearing at Caesar, as one does. Latin is fun, and it stretches the brain to wait for the absolute end of the sentence before everything else makes sense. I have to find the right bookmark for the Loeb edition I’m using to work my way through, now.
Bookmarks are important. There are some that grow into my experience of reading a book so fully that I keep them perpetually with the volume, the connection deepening each time I reread or pick up a book for reference. Others remind me of particular things in my life while reading a certain book. When one opens a paper book, one doesn’t just dive into the bare story, there’s a whole collage of inner and outer events, references, and emotions that surround one again. Or maybe it’s just me, but any ephemera in my library holds a specific meaning to me. I don’t just stick a receipt in for a marker, it has to be a receipt with some connection.
Yes, I know, I’m strange. I’ve made my peace with it.
Anyway, my swearing at Caesar isn’t because the Latin is bad. Far from. I just swear because I started out with Pliny, whose rhythm is completely different, so it’s like learning to read all over again. When I attempt Ovid there will no doubt be much swears, many angst. Plus I’m sure some of Caesar’s assumptions will be incredibly eyeroll-worthy. Not that some of Pliny’s aren’t, far from. Let’s face it, Roman records are heavily skewed towards sexist, racist asshats as a matter of course.
Speaking of Pliny, I just ran across his assertion that earthquakes are the result of air trapped in the earth, which gives flatus an entirely new dimension. This led to me in bed, giggling hysterically at the notion, imagining the ribald jests at Roman dinners. I’m absolutely certain one or two of Pliny’s friends read this and made fart jokes at him for YEARS.
Anyway, excelsior, onward, and all that. I took a semi-holiday yesterday, filled with errands and volunteering, so now I have to look at the reshuffle and see if I want to write the bakery witch story OR the vampire smut novelette next. Choices, choices.
But for now, I’ll brush my teeth, knock off another page of Caesar, and go for a run.