Saturday, August 20, 2016

Learning Latin with the Liturgy: Introit of Psalm 138 (139)

This is the first of a series of posts grammatically describing the Latin of assorted liturgical texts. This text has been sent in as a request. In the future I will add passages I am personally fond of, as well as others which readers would like to see a grammatical treatment of.

The Introit of Psalm 138

Mihi autem nimis honorati sunt amici tui, Deus: nimis confortatus est principatus eorum.

This text appears among the liturgical propers of a number of saint days and has been set to music numerous times. The key element is the celebration of God's "friends" (amici). 

The Introit is itself verse 17 of Psalm 138 (Hebrew 139).

The concept of the Saint as the "Friend of God" is first attested in the Hebrew Bible. Abraham is called the "Friend of God" (2 Chron 20:7).

In the New Testament, Jesus calls his Disciples "friends" on the night in which he was betrayed (John 15:15).

Interestingly, if you look at typical English translations, there is no mention at all of "friends" in this verse (139:17 in the Hebrew). That is because English translations direct from the Hebrew interpret the word in question, רעיך  (rey'ekha) as coming from an otherwise unattested word meaning "counsel." The same consonants רעיך  (rey'ekha) were interpreted by the Jewish scholars who translated the Septuagint as coming from the much more common word רע (rea'), meaning friend, companion. St. Jerome certainly followed this interpretive tradition when he rendered the word as amici tui, "your friends." 

Here is a grammatical description of the Latin of this text.

 Latin Text followed by literal English translation.

Mihi autem nimis honorati sunt amici tui, Deus: nimis confortatus est principatus eorum.
 To me, however, your friends are exceedingly honored, O God. Their principality is exceedingly strengthened.

The Vulgate version contains three variants from the Introit. In place of honorati, confortatus, and est, the Vulgate reads honorificati, confirmati, and sunt respectively. I will explain all the terms and issues in the chart below.



Latin
English
Parsing
Grammar Points
Mihi
To me
Dat. sing. pronoun
ego, mei
autem
however

conjunction
nimis
exceedingly

adv.
honorati
honored
nom. pl. masc. past part.
honoro, honorare, honoravi, honoratus
[honorificati]
honored
nom. pl. masc. past part.
honorifico, honorificare, honorificavi, honorificatus



The verbs honorare and honorificare are essentially synonymous, with no different understanding between the Introit and Vulgate
sunt
are
3rd pers. pl. pres. ind. verb
sum, esse, fui
amici
friends
nom. pl. masc. noun
amicus, amici
tui
your
nom. pl. masc. poss. adj.
tuus, tua, tuum
Deus
O God
Voc. sing. masc. noun
Deus, Dei
nimis
exceedingly

adv.
confortatus
strengthened
nom. sing. masc. past part.
conforto, confortare, confortavi, confortatus
[confirmati]
strengthened
nom. pl. masc. past part.
confirmo, confirmare, confirmavi, confirmatus



The verbs confortare and confirmare are synonymous. St. Jerome’s original renders it plural to agree with the noun prīncipātūs, which he understands as nom. pl. of a 4th decl. noun.
est
is
3rd pers. sing. pres. ind. verb
sum, esse, fui
[sunt]
are
3rd pers. pl. pres. ind. verb
sum, esse, fui



St. Jerome has a plural verb to agree with the plural noun prīncipātūs
principatus
principality
nom. sing. masc. noun
prīncipātus, prīncipātūs
[principatūs]
origins
nom. pl. masc. noun
prīncipātus, prīncipātūs
eorum
their
gen. pl. masc. dem. adj.
is, ea, id


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