Carmina Burana

Medieval poems from Bavaria, set to music by Carl Orff

Carmen, carminis (neuter) is a song, poem or incantation. The Carmina Burana is a collection of 228 carmina written in the 13th century and found in the monastery of Benidiktbeuren in Bavara in 1803. Carl Orff put some of them to music in 1937. One of these, In Trutina was sung by Charlotte Church in her CD Voice of an Angel (1998). Two other songs on the CD are sung in Church Latin as well. The text follows:

In trutina mentis dubia
fluctuant contraria
lascivus amor et pudicitia.
Sed eligo quod video,
collum iugo prebeo:
ad iugum tamen suave transeo.

The vocabulary you will need is this. Trutina, -ae (f) is a balance or scales; mens, mentis (f) is mind; dubius, -a, -um means uncertain or wavering; fluctuare is to waver or hesitate; contrarium, -i (n) is an opposite or reverse; lascivus, -a, -um is playful or wanton; amor, -is (m) is love; pudicitia, -ae (f) is bashfulness or chastity; eligo, eligere, elegi, electus is to choose; collum, -i (n) is neck (also collus, masculine); iugum, -i (n) is yoke, also the yoke of matrimony; prebeo, prebere, prebui, prebitus means to hold forth or to offer. The classical spelling was praebeo, and this shows a frequent change in later Latin. tamen means nevertheless or still; suavis, - e (sweet). Incidentally, suavium, -i (n) is a kiss, and suavior, suaviari is to kiss. Suaviolum, -i (n) is a little kiss, and an example of a diminutive, with the diminutive ending -olus, and the typical neuter gender of a diminutive.

Libra, -ae is another word for scales, which gave rise to librum, -i, pound, and thus the abbreviation lb. for pound, and the symbol £ for the pound sterling. It is the name of a zodiacal constellation, which in classical times was known instead as iugum, and consists of the claws of Scorpio, -onis (m!), as evidenced by the Arabic names of its two prominent stars, Zubenelgenubi and Zubeneschamali. Scorpius, -i is an alternative spelling. These words also refer to a dart-throwing artillery engine. Incidentally, words whose nominative ends in -ius often had the genitive with only one i until the first century, as in Vergilius, Vergili, the accent remaining on the -gi- in both cases.

In translating anything, you need the words. Even in this short piece, many of the words were new. With a Latin-English dictionary and your knowledge of how words are inflected, you could look up all the words yourself, and set them down as I have just done for your convenience. All the words we have met here are worth knowing, or at least worth the acquaintance. Most of them suggest English words, and it is valuable to note these connections. Some will also suggest the proper meaning, others will not. Some of the English words will have come more or less directly from Latin (sometimes from when English was invented), others through another language, and some will simply be cognate, that is, related through a common ancestor. Noticing the connections will help your English as much as your Latin.

Given the words, translating In Trutina should be easy for you. First recognize the cases, and keep them firmly in mind. This is an essential step; merely making something more or less logical from the words may or may not give you the meaning. When you have a translation, check that the case usage is consistent. Any conflicts are a sign that you have misunderstood something; when you get it right, it will click into place. Keep trying to make sense as the words are written, without rearranging them to suit English word order, which usually cripples the Latin.

In the next lesson, a literal translation of In Trutina will be given so that you can check your understanding. The English may well be clumsy, but the reason is to show the process of translation. Then you can make a literary translation, keeping only the thought and style, not the exact words. Note that this medieval poetry definitely depends on accent for its rhythm, and the endings of the lines rhyme, the first three ending in -ia and the last three in -eo. Such "rhyming" was considered very bad form in classical poetry.

How would you say: "Give me a little kiss, girl (or boy)!" If you are talking about songs, the verb cano, canere, cecini, cantus (sing) will be useful. The Aeneid, as edited, begins with the famous line arma virumque cano (do you recall what the -que does?). This is the middle of the sentence that Vergil originally wrote, saying that he previously wrote about peaceful and gentle things, but now.... The editors liked the bolder beginning, and Vergil could not object, being dead.

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Composed by J. B. Calvert
Created 3 July 1999
Last revised 6 October 2000