haec dicit Dominus…

All I Ever Wanted + The Plagues (The Prince of Egypt) – Classical Latin

Read on for LOTS of rambling about translation, and the lines from Exodus used.

Scroll down for the verses of Exodus used in ‘The Plagues’

 

For reference, here are the lyrics to the solo parts of these songs:

Omnia Desideria (All I Ever Wanted)

(Moses:)

candida sub luna, emicant memoria aeterna mea omnia desideria.
tura redolentia, elegantes muri marmorei: cuncta desideria!
hic aedes meae: cum patribus et fratre tam nobilibus vivo.
hic aedes meas cum caris ornamentis et thesauris attingo,
et si quem dubitantem peccare declaro!
sum regulus Aegypti: fata meae gentis gloria muris inscripta est.
mihi sunt perfecta desideria, omnia desideria, confecta desideria.

(Regina Tuya:)

hic aedes tuae sunt.
huc te duxit flumen, hic quod esse volebat aedes tuas.
cognita veritate, cur praeterita times?
si tibi favent dei, noli quaerere qua re.

 

Plagae (The Plagues)

Moses:

te vocabam fratrem; olim mihi ut laetus sis comes unum desiderium.
et nunc me rogo quare Deus nos faciat hostes;
neque ut nos inimicos putes ullum desiderium.
hic aedes meae!
tot domus desolatae mihi premunt cordia!
cur tenaci tot insontes damnas pro superbia?
nunc te precor, frater: nolis adrogare nimium!
dimitte populum!
ait Dominus

Rameses:

te vocabam fratrem! cur mihi tantum iacis odium? haec tua desideria?
ita cor ingravet! ne tantae quidem caedis pretium mutet animum!
tuum non dimittam populum!

Moses & Chorus: ait Dominus:

Rameses: numquam dimittam populum! (Moses: dimitte populum!)

 

 

Obviously (if you listen to them) the latter of these two songs is a melodic and thematic reprise of the former. That meant I had to find a phrase for ‘all I ever wanted’ – which is very prosaic English – that would work in both songs. This was harder than it seemed. I wrote The Plagues first, and that was quite simple, albeit, as in English, extremely prosaic:

te vocabam fratrem; praeter ut mihi laetus sis comes nihil voluissem (I used to call you brother; I would have wished for nothing except to have you as my willing comrade) [that sounds less drippy in Latin]

et nunc me rogo … praeter ut me inimicum putes omnia voluissem (And now I wonder… I would have wished for everything except for you to think I hate you*)
* lit. ‘for you to think I was your personal enemy [as opposed to political foe]’

te vocabam fratrem; cur mihi tantum iacis odium? sicne voluisti? (I used to call you brother; why do you hurl such hatred at me? Is this what you wanted?)

‘voluissem’ and ‘voluisti’ fit quite nicely into the rhythm of ‘[what/that] [you/I] wanted’. But to keep this, I had to find something similar for ‘all I ever wanted’ in the song of the same name, and it’s harder to make a longer sentence out of it in that one. So it could only come out as omnia quae volebam (all I wanted), which did fit the rhythm but was not only prosaic but stilted, especially as the title of the song.

So I changed it to omnia desideria (all [my] wishes) and found ways to play with that instead.

 

candida sub luna emicant memoria aeterna mea omnia desideria

The words in italics go together. The sentence taken as a whole (which it can’t be, in the subtitles) means: ‘Gleaming in the moonlight, all of my wishes, which I’ve always had and always will, are at the forefront of my memory.’

I had to write something this complicated because on close scrutiny, the English, although it sounds very nice, is quite vague. ‘Gleaming in the moonlight, cold and clean and all I’ve ever known, all I’ve ever wanted.’ The main problem is that there is no indicative verb, which Latin requires, and the transition in thought is impossible to reproduce in Latin.

  1. Whatever is ‘gleaming in the moonlight, cold and clean’ is not specified. I suppose one can assume Moses means the house, but that’s a very strange way to describe one’s house in a supposedly positive manner. If he’s trying to imply he’s come to reconsider his criteria for valuing things, well, Latin wouldn’t do it ironically like that.
  2. What is meant by ‘cold and clean’? Cold in temperature? Aloof? Pale? Clean as in sharp, austere, exuding moral excellence, or simply well washed?
  3. It isn’t clear whether/when ‘and’ is actually separating the sense units and when it’s just inserted for effect. No matter how I did it, in Latin it wouldn’t be clear that ‘all I’ve ever known’ (if I constructed the Latin like that) was referring to whatever was ‘cold and clean’.
  4. If ‘all I’ve ever known’ is referring to whatever is ‘gleaming, cold, clean’, I think Latin, to sound natural, would have to phrase it as ‘all the ___ I have ever known’. Since the English isn’t clear what the previously described object is, the Latin would pretty much have to say, ‘cold things, clean things, everything I knew’. That’s too much of a stretch for the imagination.
  5. ‘All I’ve ever wanted’ is clearly referring to more than what is described coming up to it. I take it to mean, ‘I have never looked beyond this.’ It would have been quite nice translated like that actually but I wanted to keep closer to the English.

The solution went as follows:

  1. I decided to make the whole thing into an indicative sentence with ‘omnia desideria’ as the subject.
  2. I could then translate ‘gleaming in the moonlight’ using an adjective, since there’d be a verb elsewhere. Latin can’t specify a location without a verb part, e.g. you can’t say ‘the house on the hill’, you have to say ‘the house built on the hill’. In this way it is emphatically the wishes that are gleaming, and you have to supply what they are, which is no vaguer than the English XD.
  3. I decided to excise ‘cold and clean’ altogether. It’s simply too unclear what it means.
  4. Now, ‘all I’ve ever known’. This is easy enough to translate literally – omnia quae umquam novi - but I’m 99.9999% sure that doesn’t sound natural. One phrase that comes up a lot when expressing something like ‘as far as we know’ is ex memoria hominum (in living memory) so I decided to work with the idea of Moses’ memory.
  5. Now to pick the verb. emicant means ‘shine out’ and therefore metaphorically ‘stand out’. The nuance was appropriate, and the e- prefix worked nicely with ex memoria (not quite in the same way but it works). In prose, the preposition would be repeated despite the prefix i.e. ex memoria mea emicant, but in verse it’s okay to drop it. Moreover the accent is on the first syllable so it fit nicely in the rhythm.

To know which word is going with which, you have to know vowel lengths. If you read emicant memoria aeterna mea omnia desideria on its own, in that order, it isn’t clear whether aeterna and mea apply to memoria (feminine ablative singular) or desideria (neuter nominative plural). But crucially, in an ablative feminine noun, the final a is long, whereas in a neuter plural it’s short. memoria is elided – memori[a] aeterna - but ae is a long sound so that’s fine; meanwhile, the a of aeterna is clipped short, so it’s obviously not going with memoria.

For ‘sweet perfumes of incense, graceful walls of alabaster stone, all I’ve ever wanted’, I could dispense with a verb since we have had one verb and this can more legitimately be seen as a list. But in that case, the ‘all I’ve ever wanted’ is not quite so intrinsically linked. In Latin it would read as though the first two phrases were examples of Moses’ wishes, which was perfectly fine, but to make this neater I changed the adjective from omnia to cuncta. Both mean ‘all’, but omnia desideria means ‘all the things I have wished for’, whereas cuncta desideria means ‘all my wishes collected together’. Meanwhile tota desideria would mean ‘my wishes in their entirety’.

For me the standout motif of this song is ‘this is my home’ but again, it’s very English. haec domus mea est doesn’t have the same pathos – it sounds like someone pointing out his/her house during a village tour. The word aedes means ‘dwelling’. In the singular, aedis, it means a sanctuary/temple which I thought gave it more majesty. And I left out the verb: hic aedes meae simply means ‘here, my home’. The verb sunt is supplied, even more clearly so by the fact that the Queen’s Reprise includes the line hic aedes tuae sunt (here is your home) which contrasts Moses’ emotional state and the queen’s calmness.

Now for a Latin trick that English can’t do! hic aedes meas cum caris ornamentis et thesauris attingo - the words hic aedes meas are in the same position as hic aedes meae but unlike in the first line, they’re not standalone. English wouldn’t be able to do this because word order has to correspond to the meaning. The Latin sentence altogether means, ‘Here, with my beloved trappings and treasures, I belong to my home,’ and meas depends on the verb attingo. The nuance in Latin is slightly different; it literally means, ‘I reach my home’ so on a wider scale he’s saying that he’s successfully established himself here, but on a simpler level he’s saying he’s arrived at his home, as someone playing ‘Tag’ might slam into whatever tree or building had been designated ‘barley’ (or ‘den’; I called it ‘barley’ as a child anyway).

I really like fata meae gentis gloria (the foretold glory of my race) although I hate singing any variation of fatum. I tell myself that it won’t sound silly to anyone other than English speakers…

The most nuanced part of this song is the ‘all I ever wanted’ at the end. I think the Latin is a lot stronger than the English. I decided to do this because it isn’t quite possible to say, ‘Surely this is all I ever wanted?’ in Latin in that many syllables. To construct a phrase with ‘desideria’ would require a sentence meaning more or less, ‘I have all my wishes,’ but to do that, even if you were very clear about whose wishes they were (since Latin frequently omits possessives), the temporal sequence of the sentence would be very fuzzy, so you’d have to replace desideria with a verbal phrase to elaborate it – quite literally, ‘all I ever wanted’, but the natural way to word that would be: nonne omnia quae desideravi nunc habeo (surely I now have everything I’ve wished for). nonne mihi sunt omnia quae volui – ‘surely I have everything I’ve wanted’ – just isn’t elegant. And anyway, we’re trying to avoid the construction omnia quae [verb]

The other way to say this naturally in Latin is to say ‘all my wishes have been fulfilled’. And that’s what I did, only with a twist. The words are:

mihi sunt perfecta desideria, omnia desideria, confecta desideria

‘This is what I want, all I want; all I’ve ever wanted’

That’s how I’ve rendered it in English, but it doesn’t really say that – it’s just a similar progression into uncertainty. It says: ‘my wishes are fulfilled [certain], all my wishes; my wishes are fulfilled [less certain]’. The difference is in the verb, perfecta vs. confecta. Both perficio and conficio are compounds of the verb facio, to make, and both can be translated as ‘fulfil’ in English, but while perficio acquires the nuance ‘perfect’, a secondary meaning of conficio is ‘wear out’. So the first ‘my wishes are fulfilled’ is a confident assertion, ‘I have everything I’ve ever wanted and it’s great’, while the second suggests, ‘I have everything I’ve ever wanted and now I’m starting to think it amounts to nothing’. That’s implied in the English, I think, but it’s implied more clearly in the Latin, even though the Latin could still be translated back into English as two variations on, ‘I have all I ever wanted.’ Mwahaha.

A few notes on the Queen’s Reprise… Obviously the repeated hic … huc … hic is very emphatic. cognita veritate is an ablative absolute which I feel I have rather been neglecting lately. And finally, for the line ‘When the gods send you a blessing’, I initially wrote si dei ferunt dona, ‘when the gods bring gifts’, which is the obvious way to say it and very close to the Italian as it happens, but I realised that with the previous line ending in times (you fear), it reminded me too much of timeo Danaos et dona ferentes (I fear the Greeks, even when bearing gifts) from the Aeneid. I don’t actually think that was entirely inappropriate but I wanted to avoid allusions entirely so I changed it.

 

Onto The Plagues! I loved recording this song. The singing is awful and you can hear my accent but that’s not the point XD. There’s a line where the audio and video skip a bit, but that’s because I had to mash together the English instrumental and the Hebrew choruses. Not fun. But anyway, as I keep saying, the performance value isn’t the point ;D

Not much to say about the solos here; they’re quite straightforward, so I’ll just translate literally the parts that I couldn’t in the subtitles:

olim mihi ut laetus sis comes unum desiderium: once, for you to be my glad companion [was] my only wish

neque ut nos inimicos putes ullum desiderium: and [I had] no wish for you to think we [were] personal enemies

In both cases, a relative clause beginning with ‘ut’ (so that…) is treated as a noun, that corresponds to the word ‘wish’.

Moses acknowledges that he and Rameses are hostes, political enemies, but denies that they are inimici, personal enemies. He’s saying that he has nothing against Rameses but they happen to be on opposing sides.

I find nolis adrogare nimium very difficult to translate back into English! The word adrogare means ‘interrogate’ or ‘demand’. But its participle, adrogans, comes to mean ‘arrogant’. So I reckon the best way to translate this is actually, ‘Don’t push your luck,’ but I couldn’t bring myself to write that!

ita cor ingravet can mean ‘so let my heart be hardened’ but it can also mean ‘let Him harden my heart’. This ambiguity is meant to be accidental on Rameses’ part, but deliberate on mine, because in the Bible it’s actually God who hardens Rameses’ heart. Another indication that Rameses is not entirely in possession of his own faculties when he says this is that it’s the only line, out of all his and Moses’, that echoes the words of the Vulgate, other than the dimittere populum parts, but they’re equally classical.

And I think that’s it. The chorus is entirely taken from Exodus, so there’s not much to say other than to quote the lines, but there is one part where the style is very classical, that is worth note:

erit mea super equos / manus tuos, super boves / et pestis gravis in oves

Altogether this means, ‘My hand will be upon your horses, upon your oxen, and a grievous pestilence upon your sheep.’ But the words are arranged so that manus (hand) and tuos (your) are next to each other, to reflect the meaning: this is known as pictorial word order.

Another brief note: because I felt that the lines ‘I send my scourge, I send my sword’ and ‘I send the swarm, I send the horde’ were chosen to rhyme with ‘Lord’, likewise I chose the lines for rhyme/assonance with ‘Dominus’, and I looked slightly further afield in Exodus to lines that described different plagues.

The line erit vobis clamor magnus, ‘there will be a great cry among you’ is actually spoken by Rameses in the film, but in Exodus it is God who says it. DRAMATIC IRONY! I thought it was appropriate to make this explicit because Rameses also says ‘let my heart be hardened’, which is again a line from Exodus that is not actually spoken by the Pharaoh (who, alas,  as far as I can gather, probably isn’t even Rameses).

 

Lines from Exodus used in ‘The Plagues’ (translation is my own)

8:3 et ebulliet fluvius ranas quae ascendent et ingredientur domum tuam et cubiculum lectuli tui (And the river will bubble over with frogs that will come up and enter your home and your bedroom and bed)

8:5 extende manum tuam super fluvios et super rivos (Extend your hand over the rivers and streams)

8:24 et venit musca gravissima in domos Pharaonis (And there came a very grievous swarm of flies into Pharaoh’s houses)

8:29 noli ultra fallere ut non dimittas populum (Don’t deceive any more, in not letting my people go)

8:32 et ingravatum est cor Pharaonis ita ut ne hac quidem vice dimitteret populum (And Pharaoh’s heart was heartened, so neither this time would he let the people go)

9:2-3 quod si adhuc rennuis et retines eos, ecce manus mea erit super agros tuos et super equos et asinos et camelos et boves et oves pestis valde gravis (But if you refuse and hold back [my people] still, behold, my hand will be upon your fields, and upon your horses, donkeys, camels, oxen and sheep, a very grievous plague)

9:14 mittam omnes plagas meas super cor tuum super servos tuos et super populum tuum ut scias quod non sit similis mei in omni terra (I will send all my plagues upon your heart, upon your slaves and your people, so you’ll know that there is none like me in all the earth)

9:15 nunc enim extendens manum percutiam te (I will stretch out my hand and strike you)

9:23 Dominus dedit tonitrua et grandinem ac discurrentia fulgura super terram (The Lord sent thunder and hail, and lightning running over the land)

9:24 et grando et ignis inmixta pariter ferebantur tantaeque fuit magnitudinis quanta ante numquam apparuit in universa terra Aegypti (And the hail and fire mixed together were driven on, and they were of such a scale as had never before been seen in all Egypt)

10:13 mane facto ventus urens levavit lucustas (In the morning, a burning wind raised the locusts)

10:15 devorata est igitur herba terrae et quicquid pomorum in arboribus fuit quae grando dimiserat nihilque omnino virens relictum est (So all the plants of the land were devoured, and any fruit that the hail had left on the trees, and nothing at all was left of green)

11:6 eritque clamor magnus in universa terra Aegypti, qualis nec ante fuit nec postea futurus est (There will be a great cry in all Egypt, such was never before and will never be again)

 

‘Thus saith the Lord’ is a rendering of the words haec dicit Dominus, but that’s impossible to get into the rhythm so I went for ait Dominus which is more classical but does mean ‘speaks the Lord’.

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