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Inspirational Reads

Friday Morning Latin Lesson, Vol. LXXX

August 6, 2010

Apparently, it was clown week this past week. Might as well wrap it up with a little bit of a dead language, right?

The word "clown" doesn't appear until about the sixteenth century and comes to us through a Scandinavian language (either Icelandic or Swedish, probably) that meant "rustic, clumsy." This is not to say that clowns did not exist in antiquity. As theatre was a very common pass time for people of ancient cultures, there was usually a character that would be dressed in an odd fashion--usually with an enormous codpiece--who was written into the theatrical piece as a means of comedic relief.

In ancient Rome, there were various types of characters like this utilized in performance art. However, a more common place to find a clown would be in the houses of nobles, where they would perform and entertain for the noble family and guests. We might think of this more as a jester, but it was still an early form of clowning: funny clothes, painted faces, sarcastic commentary on current political scandals.

Also kept in the homes of Roman nobles were--for a lack of a better term--circus freaks. Typically, these were people born with some sort of birth defect, and while it might seem a little cruel to think of these people as being performance art, they were thought to have been gifted with these...physical the gods and therefore they were to be shown favor. Plus, these people, who probably wouldn't have been able to find any kind of work, were housed and fed by the nobles who kept them as performance "guests", we'll say.

And though it's not Roman, the ancient Egyptians used to capture pygmies, dwarves and midgets, keep them in the royal courts, and make them dress up as the gods and then wrestle.

Pagliacci (Italian for "the Players") is a famous opera centered around clowning, with the aria "On with the Motley" or "To Perform...Put on the Costume" (the latter being a more literal translation) being one of the world's most well-known musical pieces from an opera. Also, it sparked the joke from the Watchmen (themselves deriving their name from a piece of sarcastic Roman literature) ending with "But Doctor, I am Pagliacci!"

Good joke. Everybody laugh. Roll on snare drum.

My favorite clown will always be the Joker, who uses the traditional white-face and makeup to hide his identity from the Gotham city police force and Batman (naturally). I like the Joker because he's a more deep character than most give him credit for being. The toy gimmick is a little ridiculous, I just enjoy how he swings between being crazy and batshit crazy (pun intended), and you know you're in trouble when batshit crazy joker shows up. Avoid any magic tricks he offers to show you.

And since I'm discussing the Joker, here is this:

Cur tam gravis es?

Pronounced: "Koor tahm grah-wees ess?"

I'm sure you can guess, but the translation is in the hovertext nonetheless

I thought I'd never have the opportunity to hit you with this one. I learned it a while ago through various "alternative" Latin books and sources. How serendipitous that clown week rolled around and allowed me to finally share this nugget with you:

Minutus cantorum, minutus balorum, minutus carborata descendum pantorum.

Pronounced: "Mean-oo-toose cahn-tore-oom, mean-oo-toose bah-loh-room, mean-oo-toose cahr-bohr-ah-tah day-send-oom pahn-tore-oom."

Bubbly translation in the hovertext., that's not seltzer in my pants...

Perhaps I've said too much.

And I would be remiss if I didn't throw this one out there for you all (mostly because, in an oxycodone-inspired haze last night, my wife helped me translate it):

Non possum dormire; Falisci me edent...

Pronounced: "Noan poh-soom door-mee-ray; Fah-leese-key may eh-dant..."

Translation, as always, in the hovertext

A note on the word "Falisci". The Falisci were a group of people from the area just north of Rome in what is now southern Tuscany. They allied themselves with the Etruscans and resisted Roman rule for as long as possible. Finally, when the Romans were victorious over the Etruscans, the Falisci were conquered. However, when the Punic Wars were rolling (I believe the second Punic war), the Falisci rebelled against Roman rule. The Romans put a stop to that once they had taken care of the latest Carthagenian/Phoenican issue, and then moved all of the Falisci out of their traditional home into an area that could be less-well defended.

This is all important because the Romans enjoyed what were known as "Fescinnine verses", which came from the area where the Falisci lived. Fescinnine verses--none of which survive today, but which are alluded to in other writings--were performed by people dressed in what is essentially clown outfits. Some were parodies of current issues, mocking individuals both political and social, used a sort of "free verse" in their form, and ofter were delivered sing-songy or in rhyme and were, sometimes, improvised to improve the comedic stylings of the verses.

The second Latin phrase above would probably be along the lines of a Fescinnine verse.

Therefore, I took a bit of a stretch and used "Falisci" to broadly cover the term "clown" in this sense. Another, perhaps more traditional word for "clown" in Latin is "fossor", which means "grave digger" or "miner", but also can be used for "clown".

And, let's see: discussing Batman, a ridiculously hot woman in an equally ridiculous costume, and a Simpsons reference. Yep, I think that about covers everything. Awesome. Good jokes.

Curtains. Fade to black.


Jennifer said...

Only you would tie together a woman in a sexy clown costume and a latin lesson.

Nej said...

All-time favorite Bart Simpson scene EVER!!!! I say that all the time when people talk about clowns.

Creepy f*ckers.



Wynn said...

God awful clowns. Fuckers. There's no shape of costumes or disguises that creep me out as fast as clowns. And I haven't seen It. It's just in my bonemarrow. Brrrr.

DEZMOND said...

I was never into clowns, probably because they were not a part of the culture I grew up in, but I do love court jesters, especially the Shakespearean ones (KING LEAR one was the best one ever).
When it comes to Joker, if you ask me, the only great Joker was and always will be Jack Nicholson :)

Pearl said...

This is exactly why I come here.


SkylersDad said...

This was amazing, you somehow weaved together about 5 things that have no business being in the same discussion, and did it masterfully!

Scope said...

Ah, I see you also managed to find the elusive "sexy clown". I had to stretch to "mime" when I was doing my clown week posts.

Sully said...

I suspect the rodeo clowns of using some sort of mime controll.

clowny clown clown

Sara said...

Every time I think of clowns, I think of the part in It where that creepy man slithers out from under the bed while the person is sleeping. That is the reason that I ran and jumped into my bed from across the room as a kid. Because I definitely don't still do that. That would just be embarassing.

What? Stop judging.

Lisa-tastrophies said...

Sorry, clowns in any language are scary as sh*t to me