Friday, May 30


A Marian Hymn: O Decus Ecclesiae Virgo; And Some Problems of Translation

A recent concert I attended wound up to a grand finale composed of a positively hallucigenic setting of this marvelous Marian text by the Fleming Heinrich Isaac (c. 1450-1517). The trick, though, is I suspect the translation given in the program had a bit of ICELese dynamic equivalency to it, and I'm curious to know what the real deal is. The translation below is slightly altered, for even I could tell, with my virtually nil Latin skills, there was something funny about it. Part of it may have to do with Latin punning that I am not fully registering--for instance, "being of the sea," tu marina, being a play on Maria being the Latin for "seas." The biggest mystery for me is maxima preses, which is rendered, either heretically or just hyper-poetically, in the accompanying English translation as "true goddess" [?!] when I assume, based on my essentially non-existent Latin and some tinkering with a nice online translator, it means something closer to "protector" or "guardian." I've also found an alternate version elsewhere, further confused by the fact the cantus firmus may well be singing something slightly different (Mary rules virgines and not naves, virgins, not ships, for instance).

This is pretty basic Latin, but I have the Latin skills of a sixth-century monoglot Barbarian who has learned all he has from hearing the mass, and nothing else. The fact many others in our culture, those in higher authority than I, have a similar lack of fluency with the language of Rome, speaks volume about our impoverished civilization.

O decus ecclesiae Virgo, O gloriosissima mundi salve,
Et cardine gloria magna chori dive,
Domus magni reverende et maxima preses,
Summe pates grata innumeranter manu.

Tu spes care Venus,
Tu marina, tu regula in te naves,
Que tu firma columna, Dei.
Te laudant omnes et plaudant undique turbe, spargitur,
In lato nomen in urbe tuum,
Sic habeas, quecumque precatus pura voluntate.
Sic vitae ditans det tibi det tibi secla Deus,
Ut pia purpurea tingit tua tempora amictus, ambiat
Et sacrum sicut diadema caput. Amen.

O Splendor of the Church, O Virgin, greatest glory of the world, Hail!
You, O mighty, central glory of the heavenly bodies,
Revered mansion, and true protector,
Made known in the highest degree through the innumerable acts of your gracious hand,
You, the Holy Venus, hope of mortal flesh,
Being of the sea, you yourself rule your ships,
Which you strengthen with the pillar of God.
All peoples prause you, and multitudes everywhere applaud you.
Your name is spread far abroad in the city.
Thus, we pray that you may receive every sort of prayer with good-will,
And thus we pray that at bountiful God may grant to your care the generations of man,
Since purple justice tints your brow,
And a garment like a crown encircles your sacred head. Amen.

Thoughts? Anyone out there know what this really says?

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