Saturday, July 31, 2010

Quidquid latine dictum sit, altum videtur

I have long been a fan of M. R. James, especially his ghost-stories. Like every great original, he inspired many imitators and followers. Among those who have written in a Jamesian vein, Steve Duffy stands out; his anthology The Night Comes On published by Ash-Tree Press is a gem. He genuinely captured the disquieting spirit of James's own contribution to the genre. The only fly in the ointment is that Duffy's professional field is that of an IT specialist rather than an antiquary. So we have the eerie and "flagitious" tale of "The Vicar of Wryde St. Luke", wherein the impious Vicar took up the black arts and profaned his own church. Unfortunately, the highly educated Vicar of Wryde St Matthew quotes Isaiah 28:15 as follows.
Percurrimus foedus cum morte et cum inferno fecimus pactum
This rather ruins the spell that the story had cast up to that point. What he meant to say modo latine was: "we have made a covenant with death and with hell we have concluded a treaty". What he actually said was "we have run through a covenant with death" which means precisely nothing! Percussimus is the verb he was searching for but percurrimus is the form in which the text from Isaiah is found all over the internet, albeit mostly on death metal and "magick" websites. The source appears to be this rather odd book from 1967. As is the way with the information superhighway, one can only take out of it what someone else has put into it, and in this case nonsense in, nonsense out!

In other Latin-related news, I was asked to appear (very briefly and in the background) in this television series. I was one of three "Men of God" dressed as rather grubby Cistercian Monks who had to recite Psalm 114 while King Uther Pendragon died a horrible death. The three of us were recruited for our ability to pronounce a Vulgate psalm fluently, and sound like we knew what it meant. We even persuaded the script-writer that "Alleluia" was not absolutely appropriate for a prayer in articulo mortis. I enjoyed my brief brush with fame, i.e. being unnoticed five feet away from someone famous but I think obscurity is considerably more comfortable and involves less standing around and waiting!