Recently I found this line adapted by Kierkegaard from the Aeneid. In this case "Regina" is a bit of a grim pun as K's fiance (the engagement with whom he had recently broken off) was called "Regine." The website I found it on says, "Queen, the sorrow you bid me revive is unspeakable," but translate goes with "it is strange that you order me to renew my pain" -- both of which are uniquely apt as a quotation on K's part. Are either of these correct? Are there other, better translations? All help is appreciated :)


1 Answer 1


Is the "translate" you mention Google Translate? If so, note that it's horribly inaccurate. That's but one link of several that demonstrate how inept that software is with Latin (and truth by told quite a few languages). You can search the site for more.

My guess is that Google Translate is stumbling over the lack of punctuation. In modern editing, you'd typically see commas around regina, since it's a direct address.

Infandum me iubes, regina, renovare dolorem.

The basic sentence structure here is iubes (second person singular) followed by the accusative + infinitive clause, indicating oratio obliqua: you order [accusative] [to do something].

There can be some ambiguity as to what's the subject and what's the object of the infinitive in oratio obliqua, but in general, context can suggest which reading is correct. In this case, Kierkegaard is quoting Vergil's Aeneid in one of its most famous passages, when Dido asks him to recount the destruction of Troy. Like Odysseus before him in the Odyssey, he is somewhat reticent to provide a full account of his ordeals because of how harrowing they were. He lost his wife (rather left behind!) and rushed out of the gates while all the Greeks were slaughtering the Trojans.

There's nothing in this context that would make Aeneas himself "unspeakable" (and in fact he is the speaker!) but it's easy to see why someone might clam up when finally relating this story for the first time.

Besides context, word order is often the next best indicator. Since the me comes before the dolorem, it's probably the subject, and the latter is the object: you order [iubes] me to revive/renew/restore/repeat [renovare] pain [dolorem].

Finally, with infandum ("unspeakable," literally "to be unspoken"), while plain style would see it go closely with the word it modifies, what we see here is a chiastic structure, with infandum and dolorem forming a pair. Similarly me and renovare form a pair as a subject and verb in oratio obliqua and then iubes and regina form a pair as the subject and verb in the main clause.

Placing the infandum at the front also serves to highlight the word. Words at the very beginning and very end of a sentence in Latin tend to receive the most emphasis, and it's not surprising then then Vergil would start and end the chiasm with these two words.

So a straightforward translation would be:

You, Queen, order me to renew an unspeakable pain.

But to really get the point of the word placement, you'd have to break syntax a bit:

It's an unspeakable pain, oh queen, you order me to renew.

In this second translation, the outermost part of the chiasm goes first, and the innermost goes second, though the direct address to the queen feels comfortable in English placed between a main clause and its subordinate clause.

  • Also, the ending of infandum would have to be different if it were agreeing with me in this syntactic role, right? (Or does iubeo treat the one receiving the command as an accusative?) Mar 13 at 21:19
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    @LukeSawczak Nope, although not as common among commands, iubeo can indeed take the one receiving the command as an accusative. It wouldn't be ablative (the only other option).
    – cmw
    Mar 13 at 21:51
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    One small thing about wording: it's Vergil (not Kierkegaard) (in Aeneid II.3) who opts for the chiastic placement of infandum...dolorem. It is strange to me why Kierkegaard decides to add me and to transpose regina and iubes.
    – brianpck
    Mar 14 at 18:42
  • @brianpck Of course it is! I knew it sounded familiar. That's almost an embarrassing lapsus memoriae.
    – cmw
    Mar 14 at 19:29

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