Saturday, May 17, 2008

Obscure Phrases

Now don't get me wrong, I love the Vulgate, and love saying my prayers in Latin - which reminds me, having had a lazy off-colour day, I must soon hie me to the chapel for to read today's Office - but some of its phrases are... unusual. For instance, Psalm 67(68):16-17a, according to the Psalter, and as the Douay hath it -

... * Mons Dei, mons pinguis:
Mons coagulatus, mons pinguis: * ut quid suspicamini montes coagulatos?

...The mountain of God is a fat mountain. A curdled mountain, a fat mountain.
Why suspect, ye curdled mountains?

Question mark indeed! What does this mean?

I recently picked up an Orthodox translation of the Septuagint Psalter, which rather unhelpfully renders the Greek thus:

ὄρος τοῦ θεοῦ ὄρος πῖον ὄρος τετυρωμένον ὄρος πῖον
ἵνα τί ὑπολαμβάνετε ὄρη τετυρωμένα...

The mountain of God is a butter mountain, a curdled mountain, a butter mountain.
Why suppose ye that there be other curdled mountains?...

This curious text I've been praying all week, as part of the psalms at Matins of the Pentecost Octave.

From what I know of the Byzantine interpretation of a like phrase in the Septuagint of Abbacum/Avvacoum iii, 3a (that's Habacuc or Habakkuk) -

ὁ θεὸς ἐκ Θαιμαν ἥξει καὶ ὁ ἅγιος ἐξ ὄρους κατασκίου δασέος...

God shall come forth out of Thaeman, and the Holy One out of a mountain overshadowed and densely wooded.

(which the Vulgate simply gives as Deus ab austro veniet, et Sanctus de monte Pharan, interpreting not the second but the first Hebrew word)

- this second obscure text is understood as prophesying Christ's birth from the Holy Virgin, who indeed is overshadowed by the Holy Ghost and brings forth the Holy One of God (cf. St Luke i, 35).

To return to the psalm at issue, I know that fatness is a symbol of richness and blessedness, but the text is still left rather hard to comprehend. At least it's fun!


Mark said...

Oh that's funny! The Psalmist had a sense of humour...

You know, there is a "Dictionary of the Psalter" available.

By the way, apologies if I asked you before (but I remember confusing you with another Joshua): how do you squeeze in Matins? Do you anticipate it?

Mark said...

PS very confusing looking this up. Think you mean Psalmus 67, Exsurgat Deus...

Joshua said...

Oops! Yes, I mean Psalm 67. I made the mistake - now corrected on the post - of writing Psalm 103, because I was thinking of the three psalms used at Matins all week, and confusing their numbers.

Joshua said...

If I were good, I'd anticipate Matins; but all too often, as today, I leave it till later when I have enough time to pray it.

Mark said...

Thanks for that; I was curious. I don't always get to pray the matins Psalms, but always read the readings (in fact, these days, I don't get to the other offices too, but pray that changes!).

By the way, a Douay-Rheims commentary I found online says this:
"Why do you suppose or imagine there may be any other such curdled mountains? You are mistaken: the mountain thus favoured by God is but one; and this same he has chosen for his dwelling for ever."

Also, was very upset to see how the Anglicans gloss it, from Cranmer and BCP (1662) onwards:
"As the hill of Basan [not mentioned in this verse!!!], so is God's hill; even an high hill, as the hill of Basan".

Joshua said...

I think the answer is in the Hebrew, which I deliberately didn't cite:

...har-’ĕlōhîm har-bāšān har gaḇənunnîm har-bāšān:
lāmmâh təraṣṣəḏûn hārîm gaḇənunnîm...

[a mountain of the Lord, a mountain of Bashan, a mountain of peaks, a mountain of Bashan:
why look askance, mountains of peaks...]

Apparently "bashan" means 'fruitful" or something to that effect - hence "fat" I suppose - but as for "peaks" being rendered as "congealed" or whatever, who knows?

Fr. Aidan said...

The mountain of God is our Lord Jesus Christ. He is called a "fat" mountain because He is rich in grace and mercy. He is called curdled, because the nomadic peoples could carry the curdled products with them more easily and our Lord is available to us and with us at all times, no matter where we go or what we do. "Ut quid suspicamini montes coagulatos?" might be put into the Texan language as, "Why do y'all start thinkin' that there's [other] curdled mountains out there?" In other words, why do we start thinking there is some other thing that could replace our Lord and Saviour in these capacities? If indeed the comma is in the Douay after "ye," that would be a typo; montes coagulatos cannot be a vocative here because that would be "montes coagulati." Hope this helps.

Joshua said...

Thank you, Father! Of your charity, please pray for me, as I will for you.

aletheis said...


I know this is a terribly old post, but I am currently working on the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library edition of Jerome's Vulgate with Challoner's translation en-face. I found your post by searching "montes coagulati" after finding another reader's interpretation of "montes coagulatos" as vocative. I was sans a Vulgate with critical apparatus, and thought someone may have posted online about it. Thanks for doing so!

I can answer the question as to whether the Douay-Rheims 1609 translation & Challoner's 1750 translation print commas before "ye." Neither do.

Douay-Rheims 1609 has "Why suppose you curded mountaines?" and the note here makes clear that "curded mountaines" is not vocative: "Ye that are not of this Church, doe in vaine and erroneously imagine, that anie other mountaines are vnited." [I kept Douay-Rheims' odd punctuation when typing out that note.]

Challoner 1750 has "Why suspect ye curdled mountains?" and his note also necessitates taking the phrase as accusative: "Why do you suppose or imagine that there may be any other such curdled mountains? You are mistaken: the mountain thus favoured by God is but one: and this same he has chosen for his dwelling for ever."

The early translators didn't take it as vocative (good job, D-R & Challoner!). I hope this has been useful for you, if a bit outdated.

Feel free to contact me with any questions about the DOML Vulgate, which might be of interest to you & your readership.