Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Moselle

Has every river had its poet? The poet of the Moselle is Decimus Magnus Ausonius (c. 310-395), born at Burdigala (Bordeaux), who celebrated the river and its surrounding countryside in his Mosella. Ausonius was a poet who liked lists and the Mosella includes a description of the river’s fish: chub, trout, salmon, perch, pike... However, as this article on the Mosella fish catalogue by Vincent Huninck suggests, Ausonius is unlikely to have observed these fish directly, drawing instead upon “a marginal, almost forgotten tradition in ancient didactic poetry, the subgenre of 'poetry on good food' of which the Greek Archestratus was the founder.”


This original post was rather short so I am adding here a few extracts from a Loeb English translation avilable online by Hugh G. Evelyn White M.A., sometime scholar of Wadham College, Oxford.  Here, Ausonius wonders what the river thinks of itself...
'Thyself how often dost thou marvel at the windings of thine own stream, and think its natural speed moves almost too slowly! Thou with no mud-grown sedge fringest thy banks, nor with foul ooze o'er-spread'st thy marge; dry is the treading down to thy water's edge.'
Here he describes the transparency of the water.
'Thou through thy smooth surface showest all the treasures of thy crystal depths a river keeping naught concealed: and as the calm air lies clear and open to our gaze, and the stilled winds do not forbid the sight to travel through the void, so, if our gaze penetrates thy gulfs, we behold things whelmed far below, and the recesses of thy secret depth lie open, whenas thy flood moves softly and thy waters limpid-gliding reveal in azure light shapes scattered here and there: how the furrowed sand is rippled by the light current, how the bowed water-grasses quiver in thy green bed: down beneath their native streams the tossing plants endure the water's buffeting, pebbles gleam and are hid, and gravel picks out patches of green moss.'
And here is a river landscape, where the water reflects the trees (Hesperus is the evening star).
'Yon is a sight that may be freely enjoyed : when the azure river mirrors the shady hill, the waters of the stream seem to bear leaves and the flood to be all o'ergrown with shoots of vines. What a hue is on the waters when Hesperus has driven forward the lagging shadows and o'erspreads Moselle with the green of the reflected height! Whole hills float on the shivering ripples: here quivers the far-off tendril of the vine, here in the glassy flood swells the full cluster.'

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