curia erat serena

Discussion in 'Lingua Latina (Latin)' started by totor, Jul 29, 2014.

  1. totor

    totor Senior Member

    Buenos Aires
    Castellano rioplatense
    Queridos amigos,

    vengo una vez más a molestarlos con una expresión latina cuya traducción no puedo encontrar en los diccionarios on-line: Curia erat serena.

    La frase de donde sale es de Victor Hugo y dice así:

    Ce jour-là, la chambre des lords devait sièger le soir. Curia erat serena, disent les vieux procès-verbaux. En Angleterre, la vie parlementaire est volontiers une vie nocturne.

    Una nota al pie dice que la expresión es traducida exactamente por la frase precedente (la chambre des lords devait sièger le soir), pero necesito saberlo sin duda alguna.

    Chers amis,

    une autre fois, je viens vous déranger avec une expression latine dont je ne peux pas trouver la traduction dans les dictionnaires on-line: Curia erat serena.

    La phrase est de Victor Hugo et la voilà:

    Ce jour-là, la chambre des lords devait sièger le soir. Curia erat serena, disent les vieux procès-verbaux. En Angleterre, la vie parlementaire est volontiers une vie nocturne.

    Une note dit que l'expression est traduit exactement par la phrase précédente (la chambre des lords devait sièger le soir), mais j'ai besoin de le savoir sans aucun doute.
     
  2. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    Curia was the name of the Roman Senate House, used here to mean the House of Lords.
    Serenus means 'serene', 'tranquil', 'placid'; in this context: 'agreeable', 'content'.

    Thus Curia erat serena means 'The House (of Lords) was content': in other words, they agreed that the matter could proceed as proposed.

    Today, when the Lords vote, 'content' is the official term used to express agreement with a motion.
     
    Last edited: Jul 30, 2014
  3. Scholiast

    Scholiast Senior Member

    Reading, UK
    English - UK
    Salvete!

    Of course wandle is right, that the curia here is the House of Lords, and that in the "modern" official parlance, "content" is the term used in that chamber to mean "assent".

    But I suspect in the context that there is more to it. First, contentus would be a more obvious Latin term - and we should remember that the cameral language of the Lords is generally older than that of the Commons, much of it deriving from, indeed some of it still in, mediaeval French.

    Secondly, Hugo's words
    appear to be offering an explanation or amplification of the previous sentence,
    It seems to me possible that Hugo, whose knowledge of English parliamentary procedure and language may not have been as deep as Erskine May's, may have confused serenus with serus - from which of course Fr. soir is derived (and indeed It. la sera): the House was due to sit for an evening session. It would be good to have a comment from a French scholar. Hello fdb?

    Σ
     
  4. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    Contentus would be the more obvious Latin term to translate 'content', but how could such a translation have come about? Have we any reason to think that the English or French term 'content' was original? If not, then there would have been no occasion to translate it.

    If the text of the ancient Parliamentary record has been correctly rendered, then the word is serena. That is our starting point. The fact that it is used by the record may mean that that was the original term. The English 'content' is more likely to be a translation of serena or serenus than vice versa.
    So they do, but it is possible that whatever the proceeding was in this case a motion had to be passed to approve it and the quotation from the record could be the evidence of that.
    That thought occurred to me, but it would mean the error lay with Hugo, not the ancient record: which still remains to be rendered and understood.
     
    Last edited: Jul 30, 2014
  5. totor

    totor Senior Member

    Buenos Aires
    Castellano rioplatense
    Dears Wandle and Scholiast,

    my english is quite bad, but I understood more or less what you said.

    Anyway…
    I think that is quite true, not only the English parliamentary procedure and language but the english language in itself too.

    I thank you very much for your contributions :) .
     
  6. Angelo di fuoco Senior Member

    Germany
    Russian & German (GER) bilingual
    My knowledge of mediaeval French is not very good, but right now I'm reading a Catalan novel from the XVth century ("Tirant lo Blanc"), where in certain contexts the adjective "content" ("dix que era content" - "he said that he was content") means something like "happy with this decision", so it's easy to suppose that in older French "content" might have had the same meaning. No need to make a connexion between "content(us)" and "serenus".
    Hugo certainly did his research, he knew both English and Latin well enough to be able to express his opinion on the first translation of "Les Misérables" and to include Latin quotations or even to play on the meanings of words in the language of Caesar, but sometimes he just wasn't accurate enough and indeed confused "serenus" with "serus".
     
  7. Angelo di fuoco Senior Member

    Germany
    Russian & German (GER) bilingual
    ¿Podrías decirme dónde exactamente se encuentra dicha expresión latina (parte, libro, capítulo)? Así podría averiguar en mi edición qué si hay una nota que diga algo a propósito.
     
  8. totor

    totor Senior Member

    Buenos Aires
    Castellano rioplatense
    That was my doubt and the reason to put my post, Angelo.
    All the meanings of 'serena' ('tranquil', 'placid', 'agreeable', 'content') they not translate 'le soir', but 'serus' did.

    If it's correct that 'la chambre des lords devait sièger le soir' is the translation of 'Curia erat serena (?)', it is then possible that Hugo had a confusion betwen 'serena' and 'serus'.
     
  9. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    Yes, it is.
    There is a need to explain serena in the quoted text. That is our initial data. The meaning 'happy with this decision' fits very well with the context of a decision-making assembly and also with the present-day term 'content' in the terminology of the Lords.
    If he did his research and knew Latin, is it likely he misread the ancient Parliamentary record?
    Or do you mean that, to make his story seem authentic, he simply invented the phrase Curia erat serena, intending it to mean 'The House of Lords was due to sit in the evening' ?

    I assumed that Curia erat serena was an authentic expression derived from actual records and adopted by Hugo for his own purpose. At least that is a question which could be checked.
     
    Last edited: Jul 30, 2014
  10. totor

    totor Senior Member

    Buenos Aires
    Castellano rioplatense
    Se trata de L'Homme qui rit, Angelo, Libro octavo, Le capitole et son voisinage, casi en la 3ª o 4ª página del primer capítulo.

    La oración comienza exactamente como la transcribí.

    Aquí tienes una edición on line:
    http://www.ebooksgratuits.com/blackmask/hugo_homme_qui_rit.pdf

    Si buscas Curia erat serena vas a encontrarlo en seguida.
     
  11. Angelo di fuoco Senior Member

    Germany
    Russian & German (GER) bilingual
    Mistakes happen. A friend of my once told me that she didn't like "Notre-Dame de Paris" because of inaccuracies like talking about food made of maize (corn bread or something of sorts - I don't remember exactly) when it was a clearblatant anachronism, since the action of the novel takes place before 1492.
    I have yet to read a parlamentary record, so I cannot check whether the sentence "curia erat serena" is to be found anywhere (I'd probably have to go to London in order to do that).
    I can't tell for sure whether Hugo misread something like "curia erat sera", or if he made a slip of pen, or if he made "curia erat sera" adopt a meaning it cannot have in correct Latin. Give the context of the sentence, the sentence before ("devait siéger le soir") and after ("vie nocturne"), it is highly improbable that "serena" in this context means "untroubled", "consensual", "able to decide", so a connexion to "content" in the modern-day terminology of the House of Lords seems out of place to me. Ergo, I propose to choose from the other options you propose.
     
  12. Angelo di fuoco Senior Member

    Germany
    Russian & German (GER) bilingual
    Gracias. En mi penúltima estada en París me compré "L'Homme qui Rit" en la colección Folio Classique (Gallimard, 2002) y me pareción buena idea consultarla. Desgraciadamente, en las notas por toda explicación sólo se lee la traducción "l'assemblée avait lieu le soir", el redactor no se pone si la frase es latín correcto o menos.
     
  13. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    Serenus basically means 'clear' or 'bright'. It can also mean 'tranquil', 'placid' and in some contexts 'favourable'. Unfortunately, it does not have any meaning connected with serus, 'late'.

    Curia erat serena can thus be understood as meaning 'The House of Lords was content' and it is not impossible to think that that Latin phrase was a medieval formula still in use in the seventeenth century and that the modern expression 'content', which is the word used by the Lords to vote for a motion today, was derived from that.

    Curia erat sera, however, hardly makes any sense. Curia means literally the House or Chamber itself; by extension, it means the body of members assembled there. If we hold on to this extended meaning, then the idea of an evening session, 'the House was sitting late', could be expressed by Curia sedebat sero: (but not by Curia erat sera).

    Scholiast's suggestion that Hugo intended Curia erat serena to mean 'the House was due to sit for an evening session' could mean that he had simply invented the expression himself; or it could be that Curia erat serena was a genuine Parliamentary term (meaning 'the House was content') which he had found in old records and had misunderstood, thinking it meant 'the House was due to sit for an evening session'. Either way, it would be a mistake by Hugo.

    The only way to avoid the conclusion that Hugo has made a mistake here is if we can accept two propositions:
    (1) that Curia erat serena is a genuine former Parliamentary expression meaning 'the House of Lords was content';
    and (2) that Hugo used the phrase intending it to have that meaning.
     
    Last edited: Jul 30, 2014
  14. Angelo di fuoco Senior Member

    Germany
    Russian & German (GER) bilingual
    My Latin-Italian diccionary tells me that "curia" has, amongst other meanings, "adunanza del senato, senato". Adunanza means "reunion, meeing, gathering, assembly", so according to that diccionary the hypothetical sentence "curia erat sera" could actually make sense.
     
  15. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    Curia can mean the assembly of the Senate - that is, the body of members - but not the session of the Senate.
    The adjective serus, when applied to people, means that they are late, in the sense of acting too late (not acting late in the day).
    Thus curia erat sera would have to mean that the body of members was late: they all arrived late at the chamber, for example. This does not seem very realistic.
     
  16. Angelo di fuoco Senior Member

    Germany
    Russian & German (GER) bilingual
    Well, you and my Latin-Italian dictionary are at odds with each other.
     
  17. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
  18. Scholiast

    Scholiast Senior Member

    Reading, UK
    English - UK
    Salvete iterum!

    With all respect to wandle's experthood in Latinity, I think he is trying to impose a degree of precision which is not to be expected from Hugo, however well-educated in Latin he was himself, and especially when this is something he slips en passant into a work of fiction, rather than in a piece of academic research into English parliamentary documents or institutions. If we go back to the original query, and the entire context...
    ...it is clear that the last sentence is explaining, for the benefit of French readers unfamiliar with English parliamentary procedure, that sessions were habitually held during the evening. Neither then nor now was it necessary for any special motion to be tabled or voted upon (in the Lords with a "content"/"not content" vote) to authorise this - it was, and occasionally still is, normal.

    Now of course as wandle says, there is no etymological connexion between the adjectives sērus and sĕrenus, but particularly as Hugo had no access to L&S (indeed, what Latin-French resources were available to him?), it would be an easy mistake to make to assume that serenus was an adjectival cognate of the late Lat./It. noun sera (soir). This would obviate wandle's objection...
    as what Hugo would then have thought he was writing was "The [session of the] House was vespertine".

    Slips of this kind have been common enough since antiquity, especially on the part of authors with partial knowledge or half-remembered school-classics. I need cite only the "paschal pun", for one egregious example.

    Σ
     
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2014
  19. Angelo di fuoco Senior Member

    Germany
    Russian & German (GER) bilingual
    Well, when Hugo was writing "L'Homme qui Rit", he was in exile. Although, in order to prepare his novel, he consulted the library in Brussels (and build up a vast documentation) on the subject of English aristocracy - even the exact day is known: 26th of June of 1866) and also began and finished the novel in Brussels, he wrote the biggest part of the novel on Guernesey. Somebody been there? I mean, has somebody seen Hugo's study there?
     
  20. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    I would not normally wish to impose anything on anyone: though I must admit my first acquaintance with Hugo now does rather incline me to make an exception in his case.
    The ceremony Hugo is describing is that of the induction of Gwynplaine as a member of the House of Lords.
    It seems to me unlikely that that would normally take place in the evening: hence a special motion might well be required.
    However, the author goes into such inordinate detail and circumstantiality that if he was aware of such a requirement, or that it would be unusual to hold an induction in the evening, he would presumably have specifically mentioned it.
    Yes, it would and, as indicated earlier, that possiblity had occurred to me before I wrote my first post.
    Yes, but if that is what Hugo thought, we then have to ask, Where did he get the expression Curia erat serena from?

    There are two possibilities:

    (a) Curia erat serena is a genuine old Parliamentary expression discovered by Hugo in his research: in this case, the meaning of the expression really is 'The House was content' and Hugo has first misunderstood it and then misapplied it;

    (b) Curia erat serena is simply Hugo's own invention: a piece of nonsense Latin with no actual meaning, though we can see (from the context) what he meant it to mean; in this case, it is just a pretence, a blag, to make it seem that he has a command of Latin and an acquaintance with ancient records.
    Slip? More like a headlong plunge, if you ask me.
     
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2014
  21. Angelo di fuoco Senior Member

    Germany
    Russian & German (GER) bilingual
    Hugo had a certain command of Latin, he really didn't need to feign it. There's just too much Latin - sometimes rather subtle - in this and other works of his. However, a momentary obfuscation is possible.
    As for the documentation for "L'Homme qui rit", we really don't know what exactly he was familiar with and what he wasn't familiar with.
     
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2014
  22. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    Old French serain ‘evening, nightfall’ and Portuguese serão do imply a popular Latin *sērānum, which, as far as I can see, does not actually occur (in the meaning "nocturnal") in any text. On the whole, I am inclined to think that “curia erat serena” is Victor Hugo’s own rendering into (perhaps intentionally) incorrect Latin.
     
  23. Scholiast

    Scholiast Senior Member

    Reading, UK
    English - UK
    Salvete et iterum!
    Once again, it looks to me as if wandle is being too pedantic. This is fiction, and whatever the actual procedural practices of the House of Lords (either in Hugo's own time or in that of the mise-en-scène - and I confess to not having read L'Homme qui Rit), it clearly suited his narrative purpose to set the scene in an evening session, which, given the general conduct of English (or British) parliamentary affairs, was not such a monstrous liberty, even if inductions were not usually carried out in late hours.

    In fact, such are the oddities and vagaries of parliamentary history, I bet that stranger things have actually happened.

    Σ
     
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2014
  24. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    Too pedantic? I must confess I like puzzles, and working them out, and I am interested by how writers do their work and by linguistic, literary and historical questions generally. Once a question is started, why not try to chase down the answer?

    Yes, the work is fiction and it appears to have been written for a certain French, or at least Continental, outlook and interest and if Hugo invented his terminology and misplaced his procedures, and imbued the scene with unEnglish atmosphere, he was perfectly entitled to do so, just as Hollywood is entitled to take an heroic British war episode and recast it as American. In either case, though, the reader or viewer is equally entitled to ask questions and try to analyse what has been done.
     
  25. Angelo di fuoco Senior Member

    Germany
    Russian & German (GER) bilingual
    We can try to chase down the answer, but in this particular case intellectual honesty bides us accept that it's ultimately impossible and we are left with hypotheses.

    - We don't exactly know which sources Hugo consulted either in the Bruxelles library or at Hauteville-House at Guernesey, i. e. the two places where he wrote the novel. So the mystery of the parliamentary records remains a mystery.
    - The least complicated explanation is usually the best, unless there be strong evidence in favour of a more complicated explanation.
    - Your hypothesis about the link between "content" and "serenus" is flawed in two ways:
    1) the context of the "curia erat serena" phrase ("En Angleterre, la vie parlamentaire est volontiers une vie nocturne"- italics mine) contradicts the need of a "special motion", especially if you know that Hugo, with his love for extended digressions, meticulous descriptions and showing off his erudition, wouldn't had minded adding a paragraph or two for this detail.
    2) the semantical link between "serenus" and "contentus" or "content" is rather far-fetched.

    By the time Hugo was writing "L'Homme qui rit", he was veeeeeeeery famous and he could be sure that his major works would be translated into English instantaneously, as had been the case for "Les Misérables" shortly before.
    The juxtapposition of Hugo and Hollywood is an insult to Hugo. As every writer, he took his liberties with historical accuracy for the sake of the work's main idea or to make the plot more exciting (e. g. the crucial event of Schiller's "Mary Stuart", the encounter of Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart, never took place), but on the whole his poetic licences are much more timid than what Hollywood did e. g. in the last "version" of "The Three Musqueteers".
     
  26. Scholiast

    Scholiast Senior Member

    Reading, UK
    English - UK
    Salvete iterum et iterum!
    If I (who cheerfully yield to no-one on the Richter-scale of pedantry) have given offence, sincere apologies - and I too relish a puzzle and enjoy the scent of the chase. But sometimes one is forced to the conclusion, or perhaps better, inference, that a text or its author has arrived at the wording he (she) has chosen to use with less academic precision than professional grammarians or historians like me (and I suspect wandle) would today expect of themselves and their colleagues or students. And it looks to me now (especially thanks to fdb's brief but telling intervention, #22) as if we have successfully chased the animal to its lair.
    That is precisely what we have all been trying to do, and the inferences I now draw are these:
    1. Hugo wrote "curia erat serena", and he thought this meant "The House of Lords was in evening session"
    2. His considerable, but not quite perfect, knowledge of Latin and of other tongues, including old French, made for an easy, if erroneous, assumption that Latin serenus and soir/sera/serain were etymologically connected
    3. In composing a work of fiction, he had no reason to be exactly concerned with research into parliamentary archives (and neither in Brussels nor in Guernsey will he have had access to either)
    4. As a story-teller, Hugo is imaginatively creating an atmosphere, suggesting an environment of grave formality, such as might have still been found in some of the courts or palaces of Europe in the 1690s, when L'Homme qui rit is set, and when Latin was still used for chancellery documentation in several places
    5. He was most certainly not referring to, let alone quoting, any procedural or other motion or phraseology ever used in the House of Lords: he was making it up, for the sake of a good story.

    Our collective suspicions ought to have been aroused from the outset in any case, because no records of proceedings of the House of Lords, nor its formal language, have ever been in Latin.

    Σ
     
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2014
  27. totor

    totor Senior Member

    Buenos Aires
    Castellano rioplatense
    I would to say that further in the same book (L'Homme qui rit), Victor Hugo says, refering to the vote in the House of Lords:

    Dans la chambre des lords on vote un à un […]. Chaque pair appelé répond content ou non content.
     
  28. Scholiast

    Scholiast Senior Member

    Reading, UK
    English - UK
    salve totor!

    Yes that is as it was, and still is: Members still declare their assent (or dissent) in the Lords' Chamber of Parliament by voting "content" or "not content". This bears little on our previous discussions in this thread, but tendentially it supports the interpretation I have tried to offer.
     
  29. totor

    totor Senior Member

    Buenos Aires
    Castellano rioplatense
    Yes, Scholiast, I read this term in Wandle's and yourself's posts.

    I only wanted to emphasise that V.H. knew them.
     
  30. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    There is no insult in pointing out that Hugo aimed at a particular public and accordingly delivered what he thought would appeal to them. That is what all authors do, Shakespeare and Homer included. Hugo's success shows that he understood his public very well. Film-makers, artists etc. all take the same approach: give people what they like. Some do it better than others, but none of them is infallible or above ordinary human motivations.
    Thanks, but no offence taken, no apology required. I must say, Scholiast's summing-up does look very probable.
    As a matter of fact, we can access further information. The House of Lords Journal from 1509 is on line at the Institute of Historical Research and much of it, especially in the early centuries, is in Latin, with some French and a steadily increasing proportion in English. Very interesting reading too (who would have expected a legal aid bill in the first session recorded?).

    Hugo could well have consulted it, since by 1830 the Journal for the period up to and including the seventeenth century had already been published. If it was not available in Brussels when Hugo was there, he may have been able to access it elsewhere at some time in his career, perhaps when writing his 'Cromwell'.

    However, a search of the years 1685-96 shows no result for Curia erat serena and no result for various forms of serenus. Curia appears several times, but only with the meaning 'Court'.

    This does not completely eliminate the idea that the phrase could have been a genuine expression meaning 'The House was content', but it does make it unlikely. If it was not a British Parliamentary expression, it may nevertheless have been current elsewhere in Europe and noted by Hugo at some time prior to writing 'The Laughing Man'.

    It is by no means too far-fetched to consider that Curia erat serena could be a procedural phrase meaning 'the House was content'.

    The question is not, Would Curia erat serena have meant 'the House was content' in classical Latin? The answer to that is No. The question is, Could the meaning of the word serenus have evolved from 'tranquil', 'serene', in classical times, via 'untroubled', into 'not disagreeing' and thus 'content', as a term for a legislative assembly in post-medieval Europe? The answer to this is that it easily could.

    Compared with the rate of change in other words, that is only a modest development across the span of centuries. Think of the word 'glamour', which is derived from 'grammar': that is a greater change of meaning, in less than half the time we are considering here. Or think of 'pavilion' (a sports building), derived from papilio (a butterfly).

    If the Latin is a genuine procedural phrase from somewhere meaning 'the House was content' and Hugo intended it in that sense, how would it fit in the context?

    The connection of context before and after the Latin phrase shows that if it is a separate point, it must still be closely related to the idea of an evening session. It does seem unlikely that an induction would be held in the evening. Night-time sessions of Parliament would take place because debates went on at length, whereas you would expect an administrative matter such as the induction of a new member to be dealt with early in the day's business. Thus a special motion to allow an induction outside the normal order of business might well be required.

    On that basis, the word 'volontiers' fits the sense well, because it would indicate that the House was unanimous in approving the special motion. It corresponds nicely with the idea that serena means 'content' - 'not disagreeing', or 'nem.con. (nemine contradicente)'.

    On the other hand, the consideration that, if Hugo thought a special motion was required, then given his excessively detailed and circumstantial style he would presumably have said so explicitly, does make against the idea that serena means 'content' - as I pointed out myself in post 20. That however leaves only the conclusion that the author was making it up.

    Whatever the truth, I have at least made the effort to find a possible sense in the Latin and rescue Hugo from the charge of inventing an impossible expression.

    I have emailed the Institute of Historical Research to ask if they can shed any light on the question and will post any information they come up with.
     
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2014
  31. Scholiast

    Scholiast Senior Member

    Reading, UK
    English - UK
    Salvete - et ignoscite!

    I wrote
    but stand firmly corrected in the light of wandle's splendid contribution and link
    As wandle says, fascinating reading.

    Σ
     
  32. Angelo di fuoco Senior Member

    Germany
    Russian & German (GER) bilingual
    Certainly, nobody is above ordinary human motivations (very few people, at best). However, the degree of liberty which Hollywood usually takes with historical & factual accuracy (and with literary sources, including Hugo himself) and with the customs is, in my experience, largely exceeds the degree of liberty Hugo took with history in his novels (his theatrical pieces are quite a different matter) - exceptions nonwithstanding.
    This makes me doubt that Hugo really need to be rescue fro the "charge of inventing an impossible expression".

    Since Hugo never went across the English Channel or the Street of Dover to England, it is rather improbable that he was actually able to consult authentic parliamentary records.

    I'd like to point out that parliamentary life couldn't ever be a very early life - nothing like a 8-4 or 8-5 day, beginning rather in the afternoon. Because of that, I think the induction of a new member of parliament could very well take place in the evening, since, at least, according to Hugo, the new member had to give a speech - which, in Hugo's novel, becomes Gwynplaines undoing in the aristocratic society of England/London.

    Since "sero" is an adverb, "curia erat sero" according to some people I know (I've got a Latin teacher amongst my friends) is incorrect. Things like "Sero ad curiam concurrunt" (or concurrebant) would be possible.

    I'm asking myself now whether it would be possible to say things like "Curia erat vespertina" or "curia erat vesperi/vespere", and whether Hugo had a simple slip of mind writing the Latin sentence. an invention of his own, especially since the preceding French sentence ended with "soir".
     
  33. totor

    totor Senior Member

    Buenos Aires
    Castellano rioplatense
    I beg your pardon for not answer this post before, but it is hard to me to follow you in English.

    In the same paragraph, and as a confirmation that the parliamentary life is late in the evening, Hugo said:

    On sait qu'il arriva une fois à Sheridan de commencer à minuit un discours et de le terminer au lever du soleil.
     
  34. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    No doubt Hugo did intend that as a confirmation of his earlier statements, but he is only supporting one error with another error.

    This factsheet from the Parliamentary Archive refers to the House of Commons, but the key points in this quote are just as relevant to the House of Lords:
    The difficulty of work in the hours of darkness, the dangers of travel by night and the low volume of legislative business are all factors which apply equally to the House of Lords.

    Sheridan is not a good example for Hugo, because he was an MP only in the latter part of the 17th century and early 18th: roughly a century later, when the above conditions had changed.
     
  35. Scholiast

    Scholiast Senior Member

    Reading, UK
    English - UK
    salvete sodales!

    We may be at risk of losing sight of the wood for the trees. When he states...
    ...I think wandle is being a little harsh. Hugo was writing historical fiction, after all, not a manual of English Parliamentary procedure, and if for his creative and narrative purposes it suited him to set one imaginary scene in an evening session of the House of Lords, and another in a night-time meeting with Sheridan, so be it. Fiction may be made up (that's one of the meanings of fingo, fingere, finxi, fictum), but it is part of the business of an historical novelist to do precisely that. Or indeed of any story-teller, starting with Homer.

    Σ
     
  36. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    The point about Hollywood and Shakespeare and Homer applies equally well to Picasso and Michaelangelo and to all artists or other creative people who succeed in gaining a large audience. It is this: they can only achieve that result by giving their public what they want. Hugo is no different in this respect. An artist's success depends not only on his vision, not only on his technique, but also on his understanding of the public (or whoever is paying).
    Unfortunately he has invented one. In my first post, I was misled by the factual tone of Hugo's remarks. I took them on trust, assuming that the author would not coolly present his own invention as if it were an historical fact.

    I therefore gave the words an interpretation which was not an impossible meaning for them if Latin terminology had evolved in a certain direction over the centuries (as explained above). In fact, however, we now know that curia was not a term for the House of Lords (it is used in the ancient records with the ordinary meaning 'court' as in Their Majesties' Court). It is also clear that serena does not refer to the evening at all (fdb and Scholiast have explained how this error could easily have been made).
    The Journals of the House of Lords for the period concerned were published, i.e. went on sale to the public, in the 18th and early 19th century (Year published 1767-1830).
    It does not seem impossible that a Continental library of record or of a university might have purchased a copy for comparative study. However, it is clear from Hugo's various errors that he was not acquainted with this public source.
    Please see post 34, which indicates that sittings at that period started and finished early for very practical reasons.
    The records in fact show that the House of Lords at that period regularly started work at 10 am.

    The House of Lords Journal for 29 Dec 1691 shows that a considerable part of the day's business was done before 1:00 pm, when a conference was held with the Commons. At the close of business, the house was adjourned till 10:00 am next day. A Committee was appointed to meet at 9:00 am. On the 30th, the House was adjourned till 9:00 am next day.
    The Record on subsequent days shows that 10:00 am was the regular time for start of business.
    The Hansard record for 22nd Nov 1803 shows that on the day of the State Opening of Parliament, the first item of business in the Lords after the King's Speech, but before the debate on it, was the introduction of a new member.

    The House of Lords Journal for 20 Oct 1696, like the entry in Hansard of 1803, shows that new members were sworn in on the day of the State Opening of Parliament, immediately following the King's Speech. This therefore appears to be the proper day and time when a new member could be introduced. The procedure is laid down by Statute and requires him to take the Oaths and make the Declaration: but he does not give a speech on this occasion.
    As a former Latin teacher myself (and a university prize-winner in Latin composition) I can confirm that curia erat sero is incorrect. I cannot help wondering, though, why introduce it now at this stage of the discussion?
    Neither would be a good expression, I am afraid. Curia erat vespere would be as incorrect as curia erat sero. Curia erat vespertina is probably what Hugo thought he was saying with curia erat serena. However, as mentioned earlier, curia means 'court'. Even on that basis, curia erat vespertina is very awkward and not good Latin.
     
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2014
  37. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    I had not seen that comment when entering my last post, so I am afraid I have laid myself open to more charges of harshness: which I certainly do not intend. After all, one comment may be answered by another.
    The historical questions do seem to me of interest in themselves, and I do not regret following them up or sharing the results.

    One thing that is striking about Hugo's style is that he takes an almost journalistic approach, adding successive factual details in a series of asides, as if they were informational comments apart from the story. This creates the impression of an authentic factual background.

    Apart from anything else, I feel that as a challenge to my own knowledge and it spurs me to find out if the 'facts' are true.
     
  38. Angelo di fuoco Senior Member

    Germany
    Russian & German (GER) bilingual
    "L'homme qui rit" was an editorial failure or, at most, a succès d'estime, both for its anachronistic subject (aristocracy) and for Hugo's exuberant and excessive treatment of it, with his love for detail and digressions, i. e., some of his most characteristic qualities.

    That Hugo invented an impossible expression does not mean he has to be rescued of the charge of its invention. He has too many merits that make up for factual errors.
    The "Curia erat serena" that we've been discussing here is found in "Dissection des choses majestueuses", chapter I of the eighth book of the second part of "L'Homme qui rit" ("Le Capitole et son voisinage" and "Par ordre du roi", respectively). Hugo states the reasons for the evening session in chapter IV of the same book ("La vielle chambre").

    Lord Fermain Clancharlie, in "L'homme qui rit", does give a speech after his "Non content" (I had forgotten the exact succession of the events). By the way, Hugo gives a description of his investiture in "Dissection des choses majestueuses": no Oaths, no Declaration.
    Since you say that Hugo's quoting Sheridan as an example is an ananchronism, it's rather incoherent that you yourself quote a record from 1803, more than a century after the events of Hugo's novel.

    OK, thanks.
     
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2014
  39. Scholiast

    Scholiast Senior Member

    Reading, UK
    English - UK
    salvete omnes!

    Yes, wandle and I cross-posted there (## 35, 36), and I wholly share his feelings...
    wandle is far better read than I in Hugo's oeuvre and I would not presume to quarrel (and he is also right, incidentally, about the strict grammatical inadmissibility of such forms as curia erat sero, or curia erat vespere).

    But isn't the creation of "an authentic [albeit imaginary] factual background" part of what an historical novelist does? C.S.Forester knew everything there was to know about seafaring and the Napoleonic wars, but he still invented things.

    Σ
     
  40. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    It is perfectly sensible and very interesting to set imagined events against an authentic background, if well done. Would we not feel deceived, though, if Forester had introduced later naval equipment or methods into Nelson's navy?

    I make no claim to be well read in Hugo. From the little I have read of The Laughing Man, he seems to me to have imbued an English scene with a French atmosphere and unBritish names (Gwynplaine and Fermain Clancharlie, for example) and to have included ostensibly factual background comments which turn out on examination to be incorrect.

    The tone in which he presents the erroneous idea that Gwynplaine would have been introduced in an evening session is such that he evidently regards this scenario as factually accurate and he presents it to the reader as an informative illustration of the habits of the English.

    The sentence En Angleterre, la vie parlementaire est volontiers une vie nocturne. (the English actually choose to do their parliamentary business at night) does not advance the story at all. It is an aside to the reader. To me it has a contemporary (i.e. 19th-century) ring. It suggests a Gallic shrug of the shoulders at English eccentricity. I seem to hear: Ces fous d'anglais, qu'ils débattent en pleine nuit! Mais les français nous, nous savons à quoi sert la soirée, la nuit.

    Hugo is appealing to the French reader with a topical aside at the expense of the English. It depends on being accurate, but it is not. Curia erat serena, disent les anciens procès-verbaux likewise pretends to be authentic when it is not, and goes even further by inventing impossible Latin.
     
    Last edited: Aug 25, 2014
  41. Scholiast

    Scholiast Senior Member

    Reading, UK
    English - UK
    salvete et iterum!

    Yes, it is fanciful, but as I have urged before, this is not an attempt at an historically accurate account of Parliamentary procedure but a piece of imaginative fiction - for which reason...
    ...honestly, I don't see how it depends at all on "being accurate": of course...
    ...but does that matter? Are we to get worked up about the anachronisms or "errors" about Parisian geography in A Tale of Two Cities, or those of Alexandre Dumas about London in Vingt Années d'après? Or for that matter about the a-historicity of much of the background to Lindsey Davis' Falco novels? It is all impressionistic scene-painting perhaps indeed
    , but in no serious way intended to lay a fraudulent authorial claim to academic accuracy or experthood.

    Perhaps wandle and I must just agree to differ about what we are entitled to expect from historical fiction.

    Σ
     
    Last edited: Aug 25, 2014
  42. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    It depends on being accurate because it makes that claim, by using the factual example of Sheridan speaking through the night. This is presented almost like a note by a commentator. The topical aside says in effect, 'You see, that is the English for you'.
    It is not that historical fiction is not allowed to invent; of course it is: but my feeling is that when an author goes out of his way to present us with a claim of being factual, then he ought to be factual, at least within the scope of that comment.
     
  43. Angelo di fuoco Senior Member

    Germany
    Russian & German (GER) bilingual
    I think one should remember that when one is reading anything by Hugo, one should abandon any pretense or claim to realism. Hugo was neither Dumas fils (who said in "La Dame aux camélias": "n'ayant pas l'âge où l'on invente, je me contente de raconter" - I quote by memory) or, worse, Zola. He had enough imagination for ten writers. He invented names very very often, and not only in "L'Homme qui rit": names that were not, but could have been. Do you think that Fantine is an authentic French name or Javert an authentic French surname? Well, they aren't. They are but Hugo's inventions.
    Hugo's preface to "L'Homme qui rit" begins with the words "De l'Angleterre tout est grand". So Hugo's aim was hardly to have a laugh (or whatever) at the expense of the English.
    Hugo prefers to give his principal characters special names. Fermain is actually... a location at - Guernsey: Fermain Bay. Not the first case of a toponym being given as a name to a character in a creation of Hugo's: Hernani is both the name of a Basque village (nowadays a small town) in Spain where Hugo's father, one of Napoleon's generals, had been around 1810 and the name of the protagonist of Hugo's drama "Hernani". Gwynplaine, for me, has a vaguely Welsh flair...
    There are characters named Hardquanonne (a Flemish doctor, for Hugo's purposes) and Barkilphedro (the main villain, an Irishman) that play an important role in the novel. The two principal female characters are Dea (a speaking name) and the Duchess Josiane (not particularly English, but be it). Then there's the fabulous beginning of the novel: "Ursus et Homo étaient liés d'une amitié étroite. Ursus était un homme, Homo était un loup." Hugo's language in "L'Homme qui rit" is so rich and inventive that I really don't envy those who have to translate it.
    The supernumeraries in the novel have rather plain and - well - quite English names, like the lords at the Parliament session. And there are many more...
     
  44. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    It means he cannot be: nevertheless, I did at least attempt it, out of a desire to make sense of the text and to give that much credit to the author.
    The two cases are different.
    The Sheridan example is irrelevant for Hugo's purpose, because by Sheridan's time, Parliamentary practice had changed: lighting was better, travel was safer, business was heavier.
    The citation from Hansard of 1803, on the other hand, is very relevant for our purpose, because it shows that in the introduction of new members in the Lords, the practice had not changed. Comparing the Hansard of 1803 and the Journal of 1696, we see that at both dates the procedure is the same:
    The fact that this procedure is laid down by Statute means that the possibility of varying the procedure did not exist: it had to be done the prescribed way.
     
  45. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    What strikes me as odd about the names in L'Homme qui rit is that they are so often names that would not have been English or British.
    Well, the suggestion that the comment was meant to be at the expense of the English may be going too far. However, if we drop that, we are left with a plain explanatory background comment which does depend upon being realistic in order to be relevant.
     
  46. Angelo di fuoco Senior Member

    Germany
    Russian & German (GER) bilingual
    I'm sorry, but I cannot avoid putting it bluntly: yours is just not the right approach to Hugo.
     
  47. Angelo di fuoco Senior Member

    Germany
    Russian & German (GER) bilingual
    There's a Babylonic confusion of languages. Hugo uses mock Latin, Spanish (there's about a page in somewhat faulty Spanish in the first part), some Basque (not sure if it's correct), snatches of German, Italian etc, names with Occitan flavour, fancy names like Hardquanonne & Barkilphedro etc...
    They are of course made up, but to value them justly you just have to
    1) read the whole novel, to get a better contextualisation and a grasp of Hugo's purpose and Hugo's language
    2) suspend your disbelief.

    Realistic does not mean true to historical facts, it just means believable, and relevant is what serves the author's purposes. As I stated earlier, Hugo gives an explanation as to the reasons of the evening session a few chapters later.
     
    Last edited: Aug 25, 2014
  48. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    The question raised was this:
    It was not easy at first to establish the matter beyond doubt (I, for one, was misled at the beginning). However, I think we have now answered the question.
    We have shown that the Latin is not a translation of the preceding sentence, or indeed of anything, but is a mistaken use of terms.
    We have shown how that mistake presumably arose and how it chimes with other mistakes in the author's background comments in that passage.

    Perhaps the discussion has been overdone: but I do not see how we could have answered the question raised by totor without reaching the above conclusions. I for one have learned a good deal in the process and discovered interesting online sources.

    This kind of exact analysis is a different thing from reading a novel for entertainment on its own terms and there is no reason to suggest that one excludes the other.
     
    Last edited: Aug 25, 2014
  49. Scholiast

    Scholiast Senior Member

    Reading, UK
    English - UK
    Salvete!

    wandle's latest includes this remark:
    On the contrary, the French "la chambre des lords devait sièger le soir" is advanced by Hugo as a paraphrase of the (fictitious) formal chancellery language of the (in this context equally fictitious) procès verbaux. This is not a "mistaken use of terms" (except in so far as, we seem to have agreed, he made a mistake about the Latin sense and etymological connexions of serenus and soir): even if it is made up, fiction is not "false" or "mistaken", it is pure invention (like, as Angelo di fuoco has pointed out, ## 43, 47, Hugo's personal names and other details) - Dan Brown for the 19th century, but probably better literature.

    Σ
     
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2014
  50. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    totor is asking about the phrase curia erat serena rather than about the story and wants to understand the Latin itself.
    As Latin, to be exact, we have to admit it is misconceived and does not represent what the author intended.

    (1) We have seen from the records that curia does not mean 'House of Lords', but 'court'.
    (As it happens, when the record refers to the House in Latin it is as Domus Superior Parliamenti, 'The Upper House of Parliament'.)

    (2) We have seen that serena does not mean 'of the evening' and it could only have been connected with soir by mistake.

    (3) Even if curia could mean 'House of Lords' and even if serena could mean 'of the evening', then, even so, combining the terms with the copulative verb est is very awkward and would not make a good Latin expression for 'the House of Lords was due to sit in the evening'.

    That does seem to me a triply mistaken use of terms.
    For someone who is interested in the story rather than the phrase, it can be thought of as an imaginary expression for Hugo's meaning.
    Whether the author was justified in mangling the language for fictional purposes is another question again.
     
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2014

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