Thursday, May 10, 2007

More homework

If there aren't any objections, I thought I'd cap this evening with another bit of Latin translation, this time from the historian Tacitus, in his panegyric for his deceased father-in-law Agricola. For much of his encomium, Tacitus highlights Agricola's illustrious career as governor of Britain, during which time he subdued the Caledonians (Scots) in 84 CE. Earlier in the text Tacitus noted that the more servile Britons, Hibernians (Irish), and Caledonians had gradually adopted the customs of the Romans during their pacification process: "Little by little they were led to the allurements of vice, the colonnade and the bath and the elegance of dinner parties. And among the ignorant this was called humanitas, when it was part of their subservience."

Still, a large band of allied islanders, perhaps numbering 30,000, managed to come together to mount a resistance to the Romans. Tacitus puts this remarkable speech into the mouth of a Caledonian chieftain, Calgacus, who is rallying his troops before battle (which, if we believe Tacitus, would claim the lives of some 10,000 Britons and only 360 Romans). This is the first and most famous portion:

Quotiens causas belli et necessitatem nostram intueor, magnus mihi animus est hodiernum diem consensumque vestrum initium libertatis toti Britanniae fore: nam et universi co[i]stis et servitutis expertes, et nullae ultra terrae ac ne mare quidem securum inminente nobis classe Romana. Ita proelium atque arma, quae fortibus honesta, eadem etiam ignavis tutissima sunt. Priores pugnae, quibus adversus Romanos varia fortuna certatum est, spem ac subsidium in nostris manibus habebant, quia nobilissimi totius Britanniae eoque in ipsis penetralibus siti nec ulla servientium litora aspicientes, oculos quoque a contactu dominationis inviolatos habebamus. ... Sed nulla iam ultra gens, nihil nisi fluctus ac saxa, et infestiores Romani, quorum superbiam frustra per obsequium ac modestiam effugias. Raptores orbis, postquam cuncta vastantibus defuere terrae, mare scrutantur: si locuples hostis est, avari, si pauper, ambitiosi, quos non Oriens, non Occidens satiaverit: soli omnium opes atque inopiam pari adfectu concupiscunt. Auferre trucidare rapere falsis nominibus imperium, atque ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant.

"Whenever I consider the causes of this war and our situation, I have great assurance that this very day and this alliance of ours will be the beginning of freedom for Britain. For all of you gathered here are unaccustomed to servitude, and there are no lands beyond us, nor even is the sea secure, since the Roman fleet threatens us. And so battle and weaponry, which are honorable for the brave, are in this case the safest recourse even to the cowardly. Earlier battles, when we fought against the Romans with varying success, held out to our hands the hope of relief, since we, the noblest of all Britain and situated in its innermost places, where we could never look upon the shores of slavish people, kept our eyes safe from the disease of domination. ... But now there is no tribe beyond us, nothing except waves and rocks, and the even more dangerous Romans, whose arrogance you can escape only through fawning and meekness. These plunderers of the earth, after they've wasted the entire world through their ravaging, ransack the sea. If their enemy is wealthy, they are greedy; if poor, they are haughty. Neither the East nor the West satisfies them. Alone of all people they lust after wealth and poverty with equal desire. Pillaging, slaughtering, raping -- to these they give the false name 'empire,' and where they make a desert, they call it peace."


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