Thursday, October 21, 2010

Latin version of the Necronomicon discovered!

I came across it in Houghton Library at Harvard, which houses the university's collection of rare books. I was consulting a different book but noticed that a tome resting on the reading desk near my own bore the title Necronomicon on its spine. The person consulting it had stepped out of the reading room, and I furtively moved to his desk and sat at his chair. I opened the book to find myself faced with a 17th century edition of the medieval Latin translation that some have claimed does not exist.

Eager to retain some evidence of my encounter–for I know that the university librarians seldom even admit this hideous book is among their holdings, much less grant access to it–I leafed through the first few pages, and my eyes fell upon a piece of poetry set off from the rest of the text. It was the Latin version of the famous couplet that H.P. Lovecraft once quoted in English, and that I now transcribe from memory:
illud non moritur quod polleat usque morari:
temporibus miris, Mors, potes ipsa mori.
The meaning is a bit different from the lines given by Lovecraft. Loosely:
That does not die which may linger for aye:
In strange times, Death, e'en you can pass away.
Notice that the Latin version addresses a personified Death in the second line. There's a play on the sound of the word for "death," mors: that which escapes death has the power to "linger," morari, continuously; in times that are "strange," miris, Death itself can die.

The two words that end the first line, usque morari ("linger continuously"), are a reminiscence of Vergil's Aeneid, book 6, line 487, where Aeneas wishes to linger in the underworld to speak with the ghosts of his dead countrymen:
nec vidisse semel satis est; iuvat usque morari
One look is not sufficient to allay
His wish that he might linger there for aye.
The Latin translator of the Necronomicon must have perceived a connection between the mad Arab's couplet, and Vergil's description of the realm of the dead.

Given the sound play and the allusion to Vergil, it's likely that the Latin takes considerable liberties with the original. If only we had the earlier Greek version...

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