THE VIGIL OF VENUS
The Pervigilium Veneris—of unknown authorship, but clearly belonging to the late literature of the Roman Empire—has survived in two MSS., both preserved at Paris in the Bibliotheque Nationale.
Of these two MSS. the better written may be assigned (at earliest) to the close of the seventh century; the other (again at earliest) to the close of the ninth. Both are corrupt; the work of two illiterate copyists who—strange to say—were both smatterers enough to betray their little knowledge by converting Pervigilium into Per Virgilium (scilicet, “by Virgil"): thus helping us to follow the process of thought by which the Middle Ages turned Virgil into a wizard. Here and there the texts become quite silly, separately or in consent; and just where they agree in the most surprising way—i.e. in the arrangement of the lines—the conjectural emendator is invited to do his worst by a note at the head of the older Codex, “Sunt vero versus xxii”—“There are rightly twenty-two lines.”
This has started much ingenious guess-work. But no really convincing rearrangement has been achieved as yet; and I have been content to take the text pretty well as it stands, with a few corrections upon which most scholars agree. With a poem of “paratactic structure” the best of us may easily go astray by transposing lines, or blocks of lines, to correspond with our sequence of thought; and I shall be content if, following the only texts to which appeal can be made, my translation be generally intelligible.
It runs pretty closely, line for line, with the original; because one may love and emulate classical terseness even while despairing to rival it. But it does not attempt to be literal; for even were it worth doing, I doubt if it be possible for anyone in our day to hit precisely the note intended by an author or heard by a reader in the eighth century. Men change subtly as nations succeed to nations, religions to religions, philosophies to philosophies; and it is a property of immortal poetry to shift its appeal. It does not live by continuing to mean the some thing. It grows as we grow. We smile, for instance, when some interlocutor in a dialogue of Plato takes a line from the Iliad and applies it seriously au pied de la lettre. We can hardly conceive what the great line conveyed to him; but it may mean something equally serious to us, though in a different way.
 Facsimiles of the two Codices can be studied in a careful edition of the Pervigilum by Mr Cecil Clementi, published by Mr B.H. Blackwell of Oxford, 1911.
Cras amet qui nunquam amavit; quique amavit cras amet. Ver novum, ver jam canorurn, vere natus orbis est; Vere concordant amores, vere nubunt alites, Et nemus comam resolvit de maritis imbribus. Cras amorum copulatrix inter umbras arborum 5 Inplicat casas virentes de flagello myrteo: Cras Dione jura dicit fulta sublimi throno. Cras amet qui nunquam amavit; quique amavit cras amet.