Updates, Live

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Poem in Old French - and a Poem in Basque

Caballero y Escudero
ca. 1650
(shared from, Veterodoxia)
no copyright infringement intended

An engraving from some three hundred sixty years ago (joined by a text written in a refined antiquated French) led me to have a glimpse into the Basque language! How could be that ?!! Let me say, it was a fantastic adventure, roller coaster would be an appropriate name.

I have read some place that once upon a time Devil himself wanted to tempt the Basques, but firstly he had to learn their language. After years of effort he gave up. Seemingly Basques are the only people immune to any devilish temptations. Good for them! On the other hand, obviously the Devil didn't know how to use Google Translator.

But let me tell you the story as it has been unfolded.

I found the image above this morning, on the Facebook page of Veterodoxia (where one can find always something of great cultural interest): a very old engraving, French as it seemed, however related more to the Spanish universe of hidalgos and their fights with windmills and stuff. A caballero and his escudero, but, my God, what a  gavroche image, deconstructing any myth and any history lesson about knights and their greatness!

On the bottom of the engraving some rhymes, as I said in a refined antiquated French:

La vielle a la main et l’espee au costé,
Pour ne point déroger a ma valeur antique;
Ie morgue le Destin avecque gravité,
Et fais le Capitain monté sur ma bourrique.
Bien que mon sort cruel me deût combler d’ennuis,
Et qu’aujourdhuy pour moy la guerre soit mauvaise;
Ie rends graces à Mars en l’estat oú ie suis,
De ce qu’il a sauvé le moule de ma fraise

The author of this engraving (and maybe also of the rhymes, or just commenting the rhymes, whichever comes first) was somebody named Mathieu (his signature was at the very bottom: Mathieu excudit. Cum Privil. - which would translate to something like Mathiew printed it, all rights reserved).

The Veterodoxia page indicated a probable date for the engraving (1650) and a comment, this time in Spanish: El caballero español, cojo y ridículamente montado en un borrico, ha cambiado su habitual guitarra por una cinfonía, símbolo de la mendicidad (the Spanish knight, lame and ridiculously mounted on a donkey, has changed his habitual guitar to a hurdy-gurdy, symbol of begging).

That this engraving was a very ironic (to put it mildly) comment to the great history of Spanish knights, that would be beyond any doubt. That it was coming with that superb flavor of good old days French, it was also crystal clear. But what about cinfonía and what about that vielle (la vielle a la main)?

Good question. The help came unexpectedly from someone who was able to learn Basque language from scratch (no relation to anything disputable intended): Caroline Phillips was born in California, moved to the South of France and learned Basque and Spanish, speaking them fluently. Plus she is passionate about antiquated musical instruments. So, the weird word is hurdy-gurdy, a stringed instrument that produces sound by a crank-turned, rosined wheel rubbing against the strings. French name it la vielle à roue. Italians name it la ghironda, Spaniards name it la ghironda or cinfonía.

Egunsentia, Oihan, goizero da sortzen
Maitatzeko girela digula aitortzen
Hain hurbil bihotzaren taupada urruna
Maitatzeko ez bada alperrik duguna

That's Basque language! Here is an English rendering:

Oihan, every morning the dawn appears
Confirming that we are here to love each other
The beating of a heart far away yet so near
Means nothing if it has no one to love

(La Española - or Hispaniola)


Post a Comment

<< Home