Thursday, June 26, 2008

Ego sum vitis, vos palmites

Ego sum vitis, vos palmites. I am the vine, you are the branches. (John 15:5)

My apologies for not posting last week! If you read the Bestiaria Latina blog round-ups, you know that I've been working on harvesting all the Latin Aesopic fables I could find at Google Books and other online sources... finally telling myself to stop when I reached 4000 fables! You can see the results of those efforts at the Latin Aesopus wiki. I'm going to try to get back to my regular blogging schedule this week! :-)

As I did last week, I wanted to say something about the way Latin is able to rely on parallel structures to reinforce the meaning conveyed by the words themselves. In this verse, the parallelism is very strict: subject pronoun - verb - predicate noun. Precisely because of the close parallelism, it is possible for a word to be omitted in one of the two statements, because the presence of that missing word can be clearly supplied by the parallel structure itself. In this verse, it is a form of the verb "to be" which is omitted: Ego sum vitis, vos [estis] palmites, "I am the vine, you [are] the branches."

The Greek version of this verse is word-for-word the same as the Latin: ἐγώ (I) εἰμι (am) ἡ ἄμπελος (the vine), ὑμεῖς (you) τὰ κλήματα (the branches). In the Greek, just as in the Vulgate Latin, there is a verb in the first statement, but the verb is omitted in the second part of the statement, while being clearly implied by the parallel structure.

In the King James version, however, the verb is stated in both parts of the verb: "I am the vine, ye are the branches." Of course, we can leave out words that are implied by parallel structures in English, too, but the effect is strongly poetic, sometimes disconcertingly so: "I am the vine, you the branches." If you read that out loud in English, you will see that we rely very heavily on a pause between the word "you" and "branches" which takes the place of the missing word; without that pause in English, we don't realize that we've reached the end of the statement. Was there a corresponding pause in the Latin? That is a tantalizing question, and one to which we will never know the answer, alas (barring the development of time travel!). The written record provides all kind of evidence, direct and indirect, for Latin pronunciation, but for something as subtle as pauses between words in a sentence, we don't have any solid evidence to go with at all.

Yet even without solid evidence for the pronunciation in the ancient world, I do still think it is valuable both to read Latin aloud and to listen to it, so here is today's verse read aloud:

365. Ego sum vitis, vos palmites.

The number here is the number for this proverb in Vulgate Verses: 4000 Sayings from the Bible for Teachers and Students of Latin.

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