The joke in my Christmas cracker this year went something like, “What cheese is best for hiding a horse?” Answer: “Mascarpone”. This sets the standard for what follows.
As I may have mentioned once or twice, my time when not teaching or walking the dog this academic year is taken up editing and annotating translations of the Latin newspaper Alaudae, published by Karl Heinrich Ulrichs in the last years of his life from 1889 to 1895. I’ve just finished a primary edit of Issue X (out of a total of XXXIII), January 1890, translated by Phillip Dupesovski, and a selection of its contents might be: discussion of the motto of the House of Savoy, FERT, as found on the edges of nineteenth-century Italian coins; an encounter between a Goliardic poet and an Archbishop based on a twelfth-century poem attributed to the Anglo-Welsh priest/courtier/writer Walter Map; a love poem which makes poignant sense against a poem Ulrichs had written in German 40 years before; and acknowledgement of receipt of a book from Max Müller, proving there was an avid and eminent reader of Alaudae at 7 Norham Gardens, Oxford.
At the end of Issue X there is a poem on coffee, presented with a translation below, and I need some help with it. Cafea is written in hendecasyllables, Catullus’ trademark metre (so a playful form), albeit not consistently respecting Classical rules of versification; or more accurately, following a nudge from Antigone, always a source of illumination, the Catullan hendecasyllables are alternated, pretty much at random, with sapphic hendecasyllables—the latter of which Ulrichs used a lot in his Latin poetry. The poem begins by describing Ulrichs’ morning ritual of brewing coffee over a spirit burner. (Ulrichs spent his final years in very straitened circumstances.) Then the figure MINITANTE appears, sharing Ulrichs’ addiction to coffee to a comic degree, and at the end he asks us to identify her.
I say “her” because that is clearly the gender of Minitante in the Latin. My best guess is that Ulrichs is punning, with a word that could be Latin but make no sense as such in situ, on German “meine Tante”, “my aunt”. The instruction to change a letter, but only one (if we’re understanding him correctly), I take to mean changing the first “i” of “minitante” to “eye”, but not the second, which unstressed could sound like the -e of “meine”. It would be nice to discover that “My aunt” is a regular feature of comic anecdotes, but I have no reason to believe that is true.
Anyhow, I’m inviting better theories, as well as any corrections of my (and Phillip’s) reading of the Latin. If we’ve got it all backwards, we’d be delighted to know!
28.12.2022. In addition to the suggestion in the comments below, two from Twitter. Eric Sheng points out that minutante in Italian can mean retailer or shopkeeper, and that might make better sense of the financial considerations towards the end. Meanwhile Charles Stewart, and independently my co-editor Michael Lombardi-Nash, have pointed out dialectal forms of “meine” that would bring the first syllable closer to “min-“. Editing Alaudae offers a great deal of intellectual fun!