My European home was in the Belgian province of Liège, the capital city of which bears the same name. We visited this city in our early travels, and I took the following pictures there in Saint Bartholomew’s cathedral. The tombs in the walls intrigued me with their worn Latin inscriptions, and even though I had studied Latin for two years, I was only able to read the words Hic jacet, which signify “Here lies…”
The goddess worshipped at the ancient Roman-British resort Aquæ Sulis was none other than Sulis Minerva, an entity based on the Roman goddess Minerva but having characteristics of the Celtic goddess Sulis. When the Romans happened upon the hot springs there, they naturally thought of Minerva as the one who made hot water bubble forth from the ground, and when they found that the natives regarded Sulis as the keeper of the spring, they saw a chance for religious unity.
Travelers from all over the Roman Empire visited the magnificent baths and the settlement that grew up around them, and many took part in a unique method of prayer to the goddess. Instead of voicing their prayers aloud, they scratched the words upon a flattened piece of lead or pewter, then folding it up and throwing it into the Sacred Spring. Although one has been found written in the British Celtic language, most were in Latin. I found this very interesting, but I was shocked when I began reading the prayers themselves. Instead of addressing their goddess with reverence, the prayers were stated in a very straightforward way, in a language that was almost commanding. And more striking than this was that nearly every prayer was a curse. “I curse him who has stolen my hooded cloak, whether man or woman, whether slave or free, that…the goddess Sulis inflict death upon…and not allow him sleep…now and in the future,” such were the inscriptions on these petitions to the goddess.
How could these people be so bold, and so cruel? Perhaps the boldness had to do with the privacy that this medium afforded them. They could be confident that no human eyes would ever read those words (so they thought), and they trusted that Sulis Minerva would read them and deliver the vengeance that they sought. But why such cruelty? We may never know, but I dare say that while we might never dream of praying to our God to curse other people, thoughts of ill-will do cross our minds at times.
I have begun a personal project to digitally type-set all of the music I’ve written using Lilypond, a music engraving program that prints very elegant music.
This is my first offering: “Voces Tacitae,” the first true song I wrote. I had fiddled around with Music Ace, but those compositions could hardly be called melodic. This song, on the contrary, I wrote for soprano and bass (so that my sister and I could sing it), and is a minor version of a tune that had been floating in my mind for some time before I wrote it down. The lyrics are in Latin, and based on the refrain of a bilingual poem I had written (you can read the original poem on my Spanish blog).
Although this song is simple, it means a lot to me. It expresses the emotion one feels when looking at ruins left behind by ancient peoples, and thinking of how they lived and how their previous grandeur has diminished.
Poetry by Edward Bickersteth, Jr. (1875)
Music by George Caldbeck and Charles Vincent (1876)
Peace, perfect peace, in this dark world of sin?
The blood of Jesus whispers peace within.
Peace, perfect peace, by thronging duties pressed?
To do the will of Jesus, this is rest.
Peace, perfect peace, with sorrows surging round?
On Jesus’ bosom naught but calm is found.
Peace, perfect peace, with loved ones far away?
In Jesus’ keeping we are safe, and they.
Peace, perfect peace, our future all unknown?
Jesus we know, and He is on the throne.
Peace, perfect peace, death shadowing us and ours?
Jesus has vanquished death and all its powers.
It is enough: earth’s struggles soon shall cease,
And Jesus call us to Heaven’s perfect peace.
Peace, perfect peace, ’mid suffering’s sharpest throes?
The sympathy of Jesus breathes repose.
Today you get two for the price of one. Some time back I translated this song into Latin (and I say translated in quite a loose way, since translating a song involves taking many liberties). The tune is called “Pax Tecum,” but to my knowledge no Latin version of the hymn has existed until now.
Pax tecum, ambula cum Domino,
Et ipse diriget gressus tuos.
Pax vobiscum perfecta Domini,
In sanguine Jesu purgamini.
Satis erat, transibimus brevi,
Ita quales oportet nos esse?
As English speakers, I think we often do not appreciate the great linguistic diversity that exists within our native language. All languages have their loanwords, but English has been more extroverted than most, to the point that it has departed drastically from its Germanic brethren. It is true that most of our everyday vocabulary is Germanic, but whenever we want a new technical word we have two Classical languages at our disposal: Latin and Greek.
Derivitives from these tongues are more numerous than you might think. I can’t believe anything that’s incredible, but it would be rude of me to call you cenocephalic. Alumni come from campuses (or should it be campi?) and it’s no wonder that platypuses have wide feet (platypodes, I suppose).
Anyway, I just wanted to encourage you to dig up the roots whenever you feel the urge for etymological excavation. I hope you find diversion in this activity! (Id est have fun!)