SHEFFIELD CLASSICAL ASSOCIATION
Sheffield Classical Association
John Owen (c. 1564-1622) was famous in his day throughout Europe for his Latin epigrams, which were based on those of the Roman satirical poet Martial. He was a curmudgeon, whose trademark sentiment is (Epigram 1.58, to his friend Edward Noel):
‘Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis’:
quomodo? fit semper tempore peior homo.
‘Times change and we all change with them along’;
How? Human beings just go from wrong to wrong!
This is thought to be the form of the epigram known to Haydn when, over a century later, he prefaced his Symphony No. 64 with the words ‘Tempora mutantur etc.’
Owen’s Latin deserve to be translated so that people can enjoy his brilliance, even if the age in which he lived was no more politically correct than that of Martial. Compare and contrast:
Difficilis-facilis, iucundus-acerbus es idem:
nec tecum possum vivere, nec sine te.
Tough/kind you are, the joy/bane of my heart.
I cannot live with you, nor live apart.
Libertas-carcer, pax-pugna, dolenda voluptas:
spes metuens, mel-fel, seria-ludus: Amor.
Enslavement-freedom, conflict-peace, hell-heaven above,
Hope-trepidation, bitter-sweet, work-play: that’s Love.
Orpheus uxorem raptam repetivit ab Orco.
duxit ab inferno femina nulla virum.
Orpheus retrieved his wife from Death, they tell.
What wife has ever saved her man from Hell?
Owen 7.106: to his friend Theodore Prince:
Uno non possum, quantum te diligo, versu dicere;
si satis est distichon, ecce duos.
A single verse can’t speak my love for you;
So here’s a couplet — if two lines will do.
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