The November Poems in the Chronography of 354

Four manuscripts of the Chronography contain an image for this month.  This includes the Barberini manuscript, with the poems.

Here is the 4-line poem (tetrastich):

Carbaseos post hunc artus indutus amictus
Memphidos antiquae sacra deamque colit.
A quo vix avidus sistro compescitur anser
Devotusque satis incola, Memphi, deis.

After this, arms limbs clad in a linen cloak,
He worships the sacred things and goddess of ancient Memphis:
The greedy goose is hardly kept in check by him with a sistrum,
And has been entirely devoted by the householder to the gods, O Memphis.
And, just enough, the ‘dweller’ devoted to the gods, O Memphis.

The “dweller” is perhaps the sacred snake in the temple, depicted in the image.

The 2-line verse (distich) is as follows:

Frondibus amissis repetunt sua frigora mensem
Cum iuga Centaurus celsa retorquet eques.

Gone are the leaves, and its frosts reclaim the month,
When the rider Centaurus turns the great plough the centaur-knight Sagittarius shakes off the lofty yoke Plough.

I’m not sure of the sense of the second line here.

Probably the most faithful of the renaissance copies is R1, Ms. Vatican Barberini lat. 2154 B, fol. 22r.  The tetrastich is in the margin at the right – plainly a later addition -, the first line of the distich at the bottom.

MS. Vatican Barberini lat. 2154 part B, folio 22r. November.

Here’s the obviously redrawn image in the 16th century Vienna manuscript 3416, folio 35 (online here):

MS Vienna 3146 f.35. November.

The Brussels Ms, fol.202r:

And finally the Berlin copy:

From Divjak and Wischmeyer, I learn that November is associated with the cult of Isis and the festival of the Isaia.  The depiction is of a bald-headed priest of Isis, wearing a linen robe and holding a sistrum in his right hand.  On either side of the arm are two pomegranates, with stalks and leaves.  Below these is a goose.  In his left hand he holds a plate, from the middle of which a sacred snake rears up.  There are objects on the plate – possibly leaves or fruits. To the left is another pomegranate, and then an altar, on top of which stands an animal head, a jackal, as in Anubis, with a cloth base and some kind of plate in the middle of the neck, perhaps a hinge?  Is it perhaps an Anubis mask, worn over the head?

(For more information on this series of posts, please see the Introduction to the Poems of the Chronography of 354).

UPDATE: 10 Nov 2022: Correction to translation of Distich, thanks to Suburbanbanshee.
UPDATE: 28 Nov 2022: More corrections to both, thanks to Alexander MacAulay.
UPDATE: 29 Nov 2022: And resolution on the tetrastich from Diego – thank you.


9 thoughts on “The November Poems in the Chronography of 354

  1. “iuga” is yoke, so surely it’s

    “The Centaur-knight shakes off the lofty yoke” —

    Except… “iuga” also means Libra, the Scales (or the beam that makes a balance scale) and Centaurus is a constellation quite close to Libra.

    Libra is right over the Centaur’s head, and to the left. Probably refers to the apparent rise and set of stars in November.

  2. Are ‘artus’ not more likely to be limbs rather than just arms? ‘Devotus’ agrees with ‘incola’ rather than ‘anser’ and the noun phrase is also dependent on ‘compescitur’. The tenant may be the sacred snake depicted in the illustrations.

    Centaurus eques is Sagittarius and ‘iuga’ a synecdoche for plaustrum ‘plough’, so Ursus Major, northern constellations, unlike Centaurus and Libra. For the argument and supporting citations, see A. E. Housman, Disticha de Mensibvs. The Classical Quarterly, Vol. 26, No. 3/4 (Jul. – Oct., 1932), pp. 129-136, who at p.135 writes “Now the hour when men take most notice of the stars is nightfall; and the first constellation to come forth after sunset in northern latitudes is the Great Bear, ‘quam septem stellae primum iam sole remoto producunt nigrae praebentem lumina nocti’, Manil. I 620f. At Rome 1900 years ago on a November evening it made its appearance low upon the northern horizon, ceasing to descend and beginning to rise again: Centaurus iuga celsa retorquebat. Arabia in the course of the same month witnessed phenomena corresponding to the difference in latitude: Pliny n.h. II, 178 ‘Septentrio . . .in Arabia Nouembri mense prima uigilia occultus segunda se ostendit’.

  3. Thank you so much for that material on Sagittarius and the Plough – that makes far more sense of it all.

    I agree about artus=limbs. But I’m afraid I can’t put together the last two lines of the tetrastich, then. If “devotus incola”, nominative, then what’s the verb?

  4. I agree that the incola must be the snake that lives in the temple. The verb would be the same: “the goose is kept in check, and (so is) the tenant dedicated to the gods”. satis perhaps has to be seen as parallel to vix: “the goose is barely kept in check, and the snake (is kept in check) just enough”.

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