Sunday, December 18, 2005

Locus amoenus

The Latin poet Tiberianus, who flourished about 335, composed a nature poem, ‘Amnis ibat inter arua ualle fusus frigida…” Called in English by various titles (‘A Woodland Scene’, ‘The River’) it is a classic depiction of the locus amoenus, a pleasant place. Its components are a broad river, flower-sprinkled grass, mossy caves, a shady grove, singing birds and a soft zephyr, all of which, the poet says, would delight whoever strayed there. The poem is given in Latin below. There is a translation in The Penguin Book of Latin Verse (ed. Frederick Brittain) - unfortunately out of print. I would have a go myself but sadly, despite calling myself Plinius here, I know no Latin.
AMNIS ibat inter arua ualle fusus frigida,
luce ridens calculorum, flore pictus herbido.
caerulas superne laurus et uirecta myrtea
leniter motabat aura blandiente sibilo.
subter autem molle gramen flore adulto creuerat:
et croco solum rubebat et lucebat liliis
et nemus fragrabat omne uiolarum suspiritu.
inter ista dona ueris gemmeasque gratias
omnium regina odorum uel colorum Lucifer
auriflora praeminebat, flamma Diones, rosa.
roscidum nemus rigebat inter uda gramina:
fonte crebro murmurabant hinc et inde riuuli,
antra muscus et uirentes intus myrtus uinxerant,
qua fluenta labibunda guttis ibant lucidis.
has per umbras omnis ales plus canora quam putes
cantibus uernis strepebat et susurris dulcibus; hic loquentis murmur amnis concinebat frondibus,
quis melos uocalis aurae musa zephyri mouerat.
sic euntem per uirecta pulcra odora et musica
ales amnis aura lucus flos et umbra iuuerat.
This ideal landscape is simply described: the poem has no gods, no singing shepherds, no wandering poet. Rather than provide an empty stage for us to project imaginary actions and encounters, it sketches a natural objective correlative for a sense of peacefulness and perfect happiness.
As far as I know there is still little biographical information about the poet Tiberianus. The Oxford Book of Latin Verse (1912) had five verses ascribed to him.


snarlerson said...

Whilst your examples are always interesting, a reader might be forgiven for thinking that the medieval period was devoid of an appreciative attitude to nature and what is now called the ‘built environment’. Illuminations in manuscripts and miniatures show quite clearly that this is not so. Nor is there a desert in the literary world. FitzStephen’s praise for London’s beauty is well known. But how about this from Goscelin, Historia major sancti Augustini, Patrologia cursus completus, series latina, ed. J-P Migne (Paris, 1844-64), 80, col.51. A Flemish monk, Goscelin , wrote of England in the closing years of the eleventh century thus;-

“There stretch before you the most fertile fields, flourishing meadows, broad swathes of arable land, rich pastures, flocks dripping with milk, spirited horses and flocks. It is watered by fountains of leaping spray, bubbling streams, notable and excellent rivers, lakes and pools crowded with fish and birds and the coming and going of boats all well suited for cities and people. Groves and woods are in leaf, field and hill full of acorns and woodland fruit, rich in game of all kinds”
(The translation is by Robert Bartlett, 2000, 287)

Plinius said...

This is very interesting, although always one wonders how idealised such descriptions were. You might be interested in the recent post on Sycharth Castle.