7

In searching the phrase gravis ambitus (an attempt to render "tense/harsh/difficult atmosphere"), I found an interesting poem by Pietro Crinito (Latin ode on his long sickness and approaching death). just before the end we read this part:

Non ille cuiquam flebilis occidit,
Quem vitae honestas, et fidei decor,
Inter sacrarunt numina Caelitum,
Expertem gravis ambitus.

I can't make sense of this part grammatically (cuiquam dative of occidit? numina the subject or object of sacrarunt?, Expertem gravis ambitus?) nor, I can decipher the overall meaning of this part.

My primary focus in this question is to understand what is gravis ambitus (if it indeed the case that those are to be taken together). but a translation/explanation of the grammar of this part would be greatly appreciated.

1 Answer 1

3

Understanding theological poetry like this requires a lot more than knowledge of grammar. There is a whole ideological culture behind these kinds of writings which has its own symbology and idioms. So, unfortunately, you have to know or figure out the different relevant pieces of Catholic ideology to be able to parse poetry of this kind.


In the first sentence cuiquam is the agent of flebilis. So, the literal meaning is "That one dies not lamentable to anyone," or more figuratively as we would say in English "He dies not lamented by anyone".

Quem refers to the subject of the previous clause (ille). So, the subject of the previous clause is the object of the next clause (because quem is accusative).

numina refers to the divine powers of heaven in Christian theology

caelus is the sky. Caelus is the ancient personification of the sky. In Christian theology Caelitum is the personified abode of the sky, the "temple of the heavens".

honestas and decor are the subject of sacrarunt. Therefore, it says:

...whom the honesty of life, and the propriety of loyalty, consecrated among the divine powers of the temple of the heavens...

Expertem modifies quem, the subject of the stanza (ille). gravis ambitus is in the genitive and is the classification of Expertem (destitute of...). ambitus literally means something canvassed. To canvas means to walk around and petition people. By extension it means any perimeter. In Christian theology it refers to the "compass of the heavens". In other words, the sun and the planets revolve around the earth, so they constitute the perimeter of the universe. Hence, in theology the ambitus is the cosmos. However, here, the word is being used metaphorically. Erasmus described Satan as auctor ambitus iniqui (the author of sinful pride). So, in other words, Erasmus characterizes Satan as the wonted ambitus---somebody who wants to possess the whole universe. Thus, in Catholic ideology, the term ambitus signifies the cardinal sin of Pride. Hence, altogether the stanza reads literally as follows:

That one dies not lamentable to anyone,
     Whom honesty of life, and propriety of loyalty,
     Have consecrated among the divine powers of the Temple of the Heavens,    
     (Who is) Destitute of oppressive pride.

or more figuratively,

He dies not lamented by anyone,
Whom honesty of life, and propriety of loyalty,
Have consecrated among the divine powers of the Temple of the Heavens,
One destitute of oppressive pride.

9
  • 3
    Cuiquam is a dative of reference (or a dative of (dis)advantage, if you prefer), not an agent, and ambitus just meant 'vanity' in Classical Latin as well—your attempt to connect it to the cosmos is unnecessary (and you yourself must realise that it's unsupportable). It's not really pride as a cardinal sin (typically superbia), but it's similar, obviously. I'd say you've basically got it otherwise.
    – Cairnarvon
    Sep 20, 2022 at 4:46
  • @Cairnarvon I did not mean to imply that cuiquam was Dative of Agent, I simply said "agent of flebilis" meaning the one doing the lamenting. I know that ambitus could mean vanity in the classical period, but my understanding is that extending its use for Pride, specifically, was an invention of Erasmus. The difference between pride and vanity is that vanity is caring what other people think of you, but pride is what you think of yourself. In the theology of Erasmus, Pride is one of the seven deadly sins, but vanitas is only a secondary sin. Sep 20, 2022 at 7:30
  • 2
    @TylerDurden, It is just the case that strong claims/assertions deserve strong evidence. To say that "ambitus signifies the cardinal sin of Pride" is a strong claim. On the face of it, I would say the term ambitus gravis is rare, and I do find the adjective gravis makes it much less probable that ambitus in this context is a specific refence to something.
    – d_e
    Sep 20, 2022 at 8:24
  • 4
    Caelitum is genitive plural. The phrase numina caelitum is much more a callback to classical imagery (typical of the Renaissance) than traditionally Christian imagery. I would also translate expers in a less strong way, e.g. "who had no part in grave ambition."
    – brianpck
    Sep 20, 2022 at 13:30
  • 4
    I can't find the commentary you're referring to, but superbia has always been the traditional word for pride (Cassian, Aquinas, Dante, every stained-glass window I've seen--to name a few). Erasmus himself uses ambitus/ambire in the "ambition" sense in his Encomium Moriae, where he also uses superbia to mean pride. Point being: if you think it specifically means pride, I'd appreciate a quote that shows that. Otherwise, great translation
    – brianpck
    Sep 20, 2022 at 13:32

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.