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I'm trying to read the opening (Latin) poem of Robert Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy.

Here's a link to the page in the edition.

The title is Democritus Junior ad Librum Suum. For some reason Burton refers to himself as "Democritus Junior".

The poem starts like this:

Vade libur, qualis, non ausim dicere, fœlix
Te nisi fœlicem fecerit Alma dies.
Vade tamen quocunque lubet, quascunque per oras,
Et Genium Domini fac imitere tui.
I blandas inter Charites, mystamque saluta
Musarum quemvis, si tibi lector erit.

Apart from wondering

  • whether libur is some strange vocative of liber
  • why alma is capitalised
  • what mystam might mean, and whether it is masculine (going with quemvis)

... the main thing I'm puzzled by is this expression "Et Genium Domini fac imitere tui"

The thing is, it is remarkably close to the French or Italian construction meaning "to cause someone to do something" i.e. "...fais imiter le génie de ton maître".

But imitere, with an "e", is not imitare, the infinitive. And is in fact the 2nd sing. subjunctive passive present. So on the face of it it appears to mean "make (act such) that you may be imitated". I'm trying to get my head around this because if we have a passive verbal form, how come we can have a noun in the accusative?

Is it the case that this "fac imitere" construction sort of becomes an "honorary active form", thus justifying the accusative "Genium"? Or have I got it completely wrong? Is this a quite common construction, or rare?

NB there is a 17th Century English translation of this poem in this edition, possibly by Burton himself. But it is such a loose, flowery translation it doesn't really help me answer the question.

If the consensus among experts is that imitere is in fact a misspelling of imitare, that would be a very useful thing to know.

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    If possible, please include a link or image of the exact edition you're using. That way we can verify "libur" for "liber." Commented May 6, 2022 at 16:28
  • Given other spelling oddities, like foelix for (presumably) fēlix, I wouldn't be too surprised if libur and imitere were similarly unorthodox spellings.
    – Draconis
    Commented May 6, 2022 at 16:42
  • Link to page added. Commented May 6, 2022 at 16:52
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    @Draconis, foelix is a common early modern hypercorrection. Authors of this time were aware that in many words, classical "ae" and "oe" had been contracted to "e" in the middle ages. Sometimes they incorrectly "restored" a longer reading. "Caeterum" is another common hypercorrection. Commented May 6, 2022 at 17:01
  • @Kingshorsey Also, if I remember right, hasn't "coeli" (for caelī) become standard in some of the liturgy?
    – Draconis
    Commented May 6, 2022 at 17:10

1 Answer 1

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libur pro "liber" false positum (cf. hanc editionem)

Alma dies = dies propitius, faustus, secundus

mystam (cf. Graece μύστης) = sacerdotem

fac imitere - imitor is a deponent verb, so all its finite forms are passive though active (or middle) in meaning. Thus, it can take an accusative object. As you correctly surmised through analogy with French/Italian, fac plus a subjunctive is an imperative form: Make sure you imitate.

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  • Thanks for explaining all 4 points. Wow. Commented May 6, 2022 at 17:02
  • I'd only add that mystam does go with quemvīs, but the latter isn't masculine, it's common gender, non-exclusive. Why he chose the common gender pronoun when the Muses are all female is another question. One good possibility is to avoid confusion with quamvīs 'however much; albeit'. Commented May 6, 2022 at 21:48
  • @Unbrutal_Russian I interpreted mystam Musarum as someone who cultivates or is devoted to good literature, i.e., a learned person, whom Burton hopes will be a reader of this book. Humanists invented all kinds of congratulatory titles for their readers. BTW Anatomy of Melancholy is absolutely wild in its freeform adoption of classical literature into an almost stream-of-consciousness narrative. Commented May 6, 2022 at 22:31
  • Oh, right, of course it's mysta Mūsārum - I thought it referred to the Muses appositionally, probably due to the line-break/syntax. Commented May 6, 2022 at 22:58

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