Faustian Latin VI – Faustus (all except the oath)

Most of the Latin in Doctor Faustus is spoken by Faustus himself, and some he glosses himself:


Béne dissérere est fínis lógices.

In the next line, Faustus asks “Is to dispute well logic’s chiefest end?” which just rephrases this as a question. Literally, it means “To dispute well is logic’s end” (‘end’ meaning ‘aim, goal, purpose’ – there’s no ‘chiefest’ in the Latin). I believe Marlowe would have used soft G and soft C in the last word, like this. The Romans would have used hard G (not = J) and hard C (= K), but Marlowe didn’t know that. Of course English ‘logic’ has soft G and hard C, so logices is going to sound awkward however it’s pronounced.


Úbi désinit philósophus, íbi íncipit médicus.

This means “Where the philosopher stops, the doctor begins”, which has always puzzled me: does it mean that the philosopher only theorizes, while the doctor acts on his understanding of human nature? (Rather like Marx’s “philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways, the point is to change it”, but applied to single human beings rather than the whole world?) It should sound like this.


Súmmum bónum medicínae sánitas.

This means “The highest good of medicine is health”, and Faustus paraphrases it in the next line (“The end of physic is our body’s health”). It sounds like this.


Si úna eadémque res legátur duóbus,
álter rem, álter valórem réi, et cétera.

This is the kind of obvious, common-sense law that anyone could figure out without going to law school or even reading a law book: “If one and the same thing is left/willed/bequeathed to two [heirs], one [should receive] the thing, the other the value of the thing, etcetera” – it’s not actually a complete sentence, because Faustus is too bored to finish it. (Verbs usually go last in Latin, and this one is omitted, so “one the thing, the other the value of the thing . . . – duh! ‘should receive’, but I can’t be bothered to finish the thought!” It should sound something like this, but maybe more bored and perfunctory.


Èxhaerèditáre fílium non pótest páter, nísi, et cétera.

This is not boring obvious law, like the previous example, but tedious technical law: “A father cannot disinherit a son unless” – presumably, unless he makes the statement in just the right technical form, with the proper number of witnesses, to avoid legal challenges. Faustus interrupts himself because the details are boring, though not obvious to non-lawyers. It should sound something like this, but again more bored and impatient.


Stipéndium peccáti mors est.

As Faustus says, this means “The reward of sin is death” (or “the payment” – stipendium is related to ‘stipend’.) Good Biblical Latin, from Romans 6:23, but taken out of context. It sounds like this.


Si peccásse negámus, fállimur,
et núlla est in nóbis véritas.

Again, Faustus paraphrases: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and there is no truth in us”. Again, a direct Biblical quotation, from John 1:8. Fallimur could also be translated “we are deceived” (by someone else – not hard to guess who that would be) or just “we are mistaken”.) This should sound something like this.


(Faustus’ long complex oath will be analyzed in my next post.)


Quin rédis, Mèphistópheles, frátris imágine?

“Why don’t you return, Mephisopheles, in the image of a friar?” (Literally, “of a brother”, but he means the religious kind.) It sounds something like this.


Cònsummátum est.

“It is finished.” (The Latin participle is the same word as “consummated” in English, but “It is consummated” sounds a little too sexual and marital to me, unless you want to go that way in depicting the relation between Faustus and Mephistopheles.) As commentators note, this is a blasphemous quotation of the last words of Christ on the cross. It should sound like this.


Hómo fúge.

Homo is not ‘man’ as in ‘male human being’ but ‘man’ as in ‘mankind’ – it means a human of either gender. (‘Human’ and ‘humane’ both comes from the Latin adjective corresponding to homo, while ‘virile’ comes from the adjective for vir, which is the Latin word for male human being. The whole does-man-mean-male-or-include-both-sexes question is entirely a problem of the English language, not Latin.)

The sentence is hard to translate plausibly: “Flee, human”? – sounds like an alien in a bad sci-fi movie. “Flee, person”? – awkward. “Flee, man”? – misleading as to gender and awkwardly hippie-sounding. However translated, it should probably sound something like this.


Sítu et témpore?

“In place and time?” – the phrase is technical-scientific-philosophical. (Situ is related to English ‘site’ and tempore to ‘temporal’, ‘temporary’, and ‘contemporary’.) It should sound like this.


O lénte, lénte cúrrite, nóctis équi!

As with Mephistopheles’ first quotation, this is an entire line of Latin verse, specifically Ovid, Amores 1.13.40, in which Ovid (or his poetic persona) asks the goddess Night (or Dawn? not quite clear) to extend the night so he and his girlfriend will have more time for love-making. Literally, “Run slowly, slowly, o horses of the night” (or “of Night” if that’s the goddess meant) – winged horses pulling a divine chariot – very pagan and not at all Christian.

Following Roman rules for a so-called elegiac pentameter, the rhythm is long-long-long-long-long long-short-short-long-short-short-long, and sounds something like this. If we give the words their proper prose accents, it (fortuitously) makes a decent English-style iambic pentameter, with an extra syllable in the fourth foot and another at the end. (Do they still call that a feminine ending?) It would sound something like this. I prefer the latter for Marlowe, and they don’t sound as different as I would have thought.

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As always, questions or remarks may be submitted as comments. The first will be moderated, but once you’ve had one approved, they will go through immediately, unless you do something to make me ban you.

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