Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Mise agus Pangur Bán! I and white Pangur!

Learning Biblical Greek is like a cat hunting a mouse, plenty of concentration, some frustration, and then the delight of finally ‘getting it’; at least that’s how one medieval Irish monk described it! 

Greek paradigms in MS Stift St. Paul Cod. 86b/1
A fragmentary manuscript dating from around the year 800 preserves an Irish student’s study notes for his upcoming Greek exam. Filled with Greek paradigms and vocabulary it resonates with any student of the Biblical languages. The manuscript is famous for a humorous poem in Irish that compares the student’s study of Greek with his pet cat’s pursuit of mice. Pangur Bán, as his cat was called, was a diligent student of hunting mice. He was persistent, practiced every day and most importantly, he enjoyed it! I think those are good habits for any student. Stokes printed the original Irish text in volume II of Thesarus Paleohibernicus, Robin Flower’s translation is perhaps the most famous.
I and Pangur Bán, my cat
'Tis a like task we are at;
Hunting mice is his delight
Hunting words I sit all night.

Better far than praise of men
'Tis to sit with book and pen;
Pangur bears me no ill will,
He too plies his simple skill.

'Tis a merry thing to see
At our tasks how glad are we,
When at home we sit and find
Entertainment to our mind.

Oftentimes a mouse will stray
In the hero Pangur's way:
Oftentimes my keen thought set
Takes a meaning in its net.

'Gainst the wall he sets his eye
Full and fierce and sharp and sly;
'Gainst the wall of knowledge I
All my little wisdom try.

When a mouse darts from its den,
O how glad is Pangur then!
O what gladness do I prove
When I solve the problems I love!

So in peace our tasks we ply,
Pangur Bán, my cat, and I;
In our arts we find our bliss,
I have mine and he has his.

Practice every day has made
Pangur perfect in his trade;
I get wisdom day and night
Turning darkness into light.

Pangur Bán poem: MS Stift St. Paul Cod. 86b/1

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