Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Juvenal: watchful windows...



Walking by night through a densely populated city has its dangers and one of these is being hit by some utensil thrown out from a high window. This is one of the many complaints uttered by a friend of Juvenal, when he is about to leave Rome and settle elsewhere. Such danger was not confined to antiquity, but op to the 19th century people were at risk of being hit by stuff thrown out a window, as there was no sanitation and no garbage collection. Easy going times then.

Juvenalis, Satura 3, 268-277.

Respice nunc alia ac diversa pericula noctis:
quod spatium tectis sublimibus unde cerebrum
testa ferit, quotiens rimosa et curta fenestris                   270
vasa cadant, quanto percussum pondere signent
et laedant silicem. possis ignavus haberi
et subiti casus inprovidus, ad cenam si
intestatus eas: adeo tot fata, quot illa
nocte patent vigiles te praetereunte fenestrae.                   275
ergo optes votumque feras miserabile tecum,
ut sint contentae patulas defundere pelves.
    
quod spatium: what distance (= height). The height of building (tectum) was limited to 21 meters.
sublimis: elevated
testa: earthen vessel
inprovidus, careless, reckless
ferio: to strike, hit (Though it was forbidden to throw items from windows on the street, this was often ignored.)
rimosus: full of cracks
curtus: broken
vas vasis (n. plur. vasa vasorum): utensil, pot
quanto percussum pondere signent et laedant silicem: with what weight (pondus –eris, n.) they might mark the impact and damage (laedo laesi laesum,ere) the pavement.
ignavus: sluggish
subiti casus inprovidus: careless for (gen. obj.) sudden accidents
ad cenam: in a world without television and internet, dining with friends was a favourite way of spending evenings.
intestatus: without a will
adeo: indeed
pateo patui: to stand open
vigiles fenestrae: `the watchful windows’, as if the windows are watching passers-by and wait for them to hit them with whatever is thrown out. Note how effectively te praetereunte (when you are passing by) is placed between adjective and verb: watchful – and there is a victim! – windows.
optes votumque feras tecum: pray and carry your prayer with you (as a kind of amulet)
ut sint (fenestrae)
contentae: i.e. they are just pleased (contentus) to throw out the content of the patulas pelves (shallow basins, i.e. chamber pots) and not more harmful stuff.
defundo defudi defusum (-ere): to pour down

Translation by G. G. Ramsay (1918)

"And now regard the different and diverse perils of the night. See what a height it is to that towering roof from which a potsherd comes crack upon my head every time that some broken or leaky vessel is pitched out of the window! See with what a smash it strikes and dints the pavement! There's death in every open window as you pass along at night; you may well be deemed a fool, improvident of sudden accident, if you go out to dinner without having made your will. You can but hope, and put up a piteous prayer in your heart, that they may be content to pour down on you the contents of their slop-basins!