The Carmina Burana

In 1803, a manuscript was discovered in a Benedictine abbey of Benediktbeuern, 50 km south of Munich, a discovery that was do be crucial to our understanding of Latin secular writing in medieval Europe. Because it was found in Beuren, Johann Andreas Schmeller, who published a complete edition of the poems in 1847, called the manuscript Carmina Burana.

The manuscript dated from the 13th century (with a small addition from the 14th century tacked onto the end) and contained 254 poems, songs with and without music, plays, and a satirical “Gambler’s Mass”. Its contents were written mostly in Latin, with a handful of pieces in Middle High German, Old French or Occitan, or a mixture of these languages, and they came from all over central and western Europe and Britain. We believe that the manuscript itself was probably written somewhere in South-Central Europe, where Bavarian was spoken with a strong Italian influence.

Most of the manuscript’s poems are anonymous and appear to be original (not copied from another manuscript), though a few are attributed, and a few others are reworkings of works by Ovid, Horace, and other ancient poets. In general, these poems and songs appear to be written by goliards (reform-minded university students and clergy who satirized the church) and vagrants (theology students or clerics who didn’t have a paid position).

Among the many genres of poems are love songs, drinking and gambling songs, sincere prayers, religious satires, and morality lessons. In keeping with goliard ideas, many feature disrespectful lyrics, attacking or lampooning the Church or being as shockingly bawdy as possible. They also tend to condemn people who don’t give generously to the needy (perhaps since many of the authors were wanderers). They talk about the end of the world, the Crusades, greedy and corrupt Church leaders, the fickleness of Fate, the beauty of spring, and romanticized seduction scenes with country shepherdesses (usually with heroes who are students or clergy). There are many references to Ovid’s love poems, and like them, the poems of the Carmina Burana address sex in a very frank, sometimes visceral manner. The authors of the poems clearly have a strong background in Greek and Roman mythology, as well as medieval philosophy, and they tend to weave these belief systems together (for example, by having Bacchus be present when Jesus turned water into wine).

About a fourth of the poems have melodies notated. However, the style of notation, unheighted neumes, is so archaic and imprecise that we can’t use it to determine what the melodies sounded like – all it tells us, as far as we can tell, is whether the pitches go up or down, so it was probably intended to be a reminder for people who already knew how to sing the song. By the 13th century, this style of notation was a few hundred years behind the times.

Luckily, many of the songs (or the melodies they are written to go with) appear in other manuscripts. So, I am able to share some goliard songs with you!

As you look at each song, I suggest you read some of the Latin poems aloud to yourself, so that you can better appreciate their forms.

#12 Procurans odium

Lyrics Translation
Procurans odium    effectu proprio
vix detrahentium    gaudet intentio.
Nexus est cordium    ipsa detractio:
sic per contrarium    ab hoste nescio
fit hic provisio;
in hoc amantium    felix condicio.
The effects of hate turn back on the haters,
scarcely detracting from our joy, as they intend.
Connection is the heart of detraction:
so, contrary to the enemy’s will, I know
the provision is made;
in this situation, lovers are happy.
Insultus talium    prodesse sentio,
tollendi tedium    fulsit occasio;
suspendunt gaudium    pravo consilio,
sed desiderium    auget dilatio:
tali remedio
de spinis hostium    uvas vindemio.
I feel the benefit of such attacks,
a shining opportunity of removing our tedium;
their perverse plan is to suspend joy,
but desire is increased by delay:
such a remedy;
from the thorns of my enemy I harvest grapes.

My singable translation is here.

#14 O varium fortune lubricum

Lyrics Translation
O varium
Fortune lubricum,
dans dubium
tribunal iudicum,
non modicum
paras huic premium,
quem colere
tua vult gratia
et petere
rote sublimia,
dans dubia
tamen, prepostere
de stercore
pauperem erigens,
de rhetore
consulem eligens.
O varying
and slippery Fortune,
giving doubt
to the tribunal of judges,
not just a little
ready for this prize
are those who worship
your willing gifts
and claim
a lofty place on the wheel;
you give doubt
however, preposterously
from manure
lifting up the poor,
from the orators
choosing the consul.
Fortuna, diruit;
nunc abdicat,
quos prius coluit;
quos noluit,
iterum vendicat
hec opera
sibi contraria,
dans munera
nimis labilia;
sunt Sortis federa,
que debiles
ditans nobilitat
et nobiles
premens debilitat.
What is built
by Fortune, she levels;
now resigns
he who previously served;
he who refused
she claims again,
to the contrary,
giving gifts
too fleeting;
are her many treaties,
the disabled
she makes powerful and noble,
and the noble
she weakens with pressure.
Quid Dario
regnasse profuit?
quid Roma tribuit?
uterque gladio.
media tutius
quam petere
rote sublimius
et gravius
a summo ruere:
fit gravior
lapsus a prosperis
et durior
ab ipsis asperis.
How did Darius
profit from his reign?
From Pompeii
what did Rome gain?
was each by the sword.
to be safe in the middle
rather than seek
a higher place on the wheel,
the farther
to fall from the top:
for graver
is a fall from prosperity,
and tougher,
to desperation.
Fortune labilis
cur prelio
Troia tunc nobilis,
nunc flebilis
ruit incendio?
Quis sanguinis
Romani gratiam,
quis nominis
Greci facundiam,
quis gloriam
fregit Carthaginis?
Sors lubrica,
que dedit, abstulit;
hec unica
que fovit, perculit.
from Fortune is fleeting.
Why, though in battle
Troy was noble,
is it now tearfully
burnt to ruins?
Who for the blood
of Rome lusted,
who made a memory
of the Greeks’ eloquence,
who the glory
of Carthage broke?
Slippery Fate,
she gives, she takes;
the one
whom she cherishes, she shatters.
Nil gratius
Fortune gratia,
nil dulcius
est inter dulcia
quam gloria,
si staret longius.
Sed labitur
ut olus marcidum
et sequitur
agrum nunc floridum,
quem aridum
cras cernes. Igitur
non edo canticum:
o varium
Fortune lubricum.
Nothing is more gratifying
than Fortune’s favor;
nothing is sweeter
among sweetness
than glory,
if it would stay for long.
But it slips,
flabby as a vegetable,
and it follows
that the fields now in flower
will be dry,
you will see tomorrow. So
it would be improper
not to send forth the song:
O varying
and slippery Fortune.

My singable translation is here.

#19 Fas et nefas ambulant

Words by Walter of Châtillon (c. 1135 – c. 1179)

Lyrics Translation
Fas et nefas ambulant
pene passu pari;
prodigus non redimit
vitium avari;
virtus temperantia
quadam singulari
debet medium
ad utrumque vitium
caute contemplari.
Right and wrong walk
almost in stride;
the spendthrift cannot redeem
the vice of the greedy.
Virtue is temperance;
the individual
should keep to the middle,
to both vices
giving careful consideration.
Si legisse memoras
ethicam Catonis,
in qua scriptum legitur:
«ambula cum bonis»,
cum ad dandi gloriam
animum disponis,
supra cetera
primum hoc considera,
quis sit dignus donis.
You will recall reading
in Cato’s Ethics
where it reads:
“Walk with the good”,
so if you want to receive glory for your giving,
govern your feelings;
above all else,
first consider
who is worthy of your gifts.
Vultu licet hilari,
verbo licet blando
sis equalis omnibus;
unum tamen mando:
si vis recte gloriam
promereri dando,
primum videas
granum inter paleas,
cui des et quando.
A smiling countenance
and a soothing word
the same to all—
however, I give you one command:
if you want to win glory
from giving,
first see
the wheat among the chaff,
whom to give to and when.
Dare non ut convenit
non est a virtute,
bonum est secundum quid,
sed non absolute;
digne dare poteris
et mereri tute
famam muneris,
si me prius noveris
intus et in cute.
To give without benefiting
is not a virtue;
the nature of goodness
is not absolute.
You are able to give worthily,
and you deserve
fame for your service,
if you first know me
both inside and outside my skin.
Si prudenter triticum
paleis emundas,
famam emis munere;
sed caveto, dum das,
largitatis oleum
male non effundas.
In te glorior:
cum sim Codro Codrior,
omnibus habundas.
If wisely the wheat
from the chaff you sort,
you will buy fame for your service;
but beware, when you give:
Too generously the oil
do not pour out badly.
I glory in you:
I am more Codrus-like than Codrus is,
overflowing with all things.

My singable translation is here.

#34 Deduc Syon

Words by Philip the Chancellor (born c. 1160-1170; died 1236)

Lyrics Translation
Deduc, Sion, uberrimas
velut torrentem lacrimas!
Nam qui pro tuis patribus
nati sunt tibi filii,
quorum dedisti manibus
tui sceptrum imperii,
fures et furum socii
turbato rerum ordine
abutuntur regimine
pastoralis officii.
Run down, Zion, superabundant
as a torrent, the tears!
For those who to your fathers
are born as sons,
in whose hands you have placed
the scepter of the empire,
thieves and the partners of thieves,
disrupted the natural order
and abused the authority
of the pastoral office.
Ad corpus infirmitas
capitis descendit,
singulosque gravitas
artus apprehendit,
refrigescit karitas,
nec iam se extendit
ad amorem proximi;
nam videmus opprimi
pupilum a potente,
nec est qui salvum faciat
vel qui iustum eripiat
ab impio premente.
From the body’s weakness
the head hangs down;
every single weight
takes hold of the frame.
Charity grows cold;
it no longer extends
to love one’s neighbor,
for we see that crushed
are orphans by the powerful.
There is no one who can save them
or who can deliver the just
from the wicked oppressor.
Vide, Deus ultionum,
vide, videns omnia,
quod spelunca vispillonum
facta est Ecclesia,
quod in templum Salomonis
venit princeps Babylonis
et excelsum sibi thronum
posuit in medio!
Sed arrepto gladio
scelus hoc ulciscere!
Veni, iudex gentium,
cathedras vendentium
columbas evertere!
See, God of vengeance,
see, seeing everything,
that a cave of undertakers
the Church is made,
that in the Temple of Solomon
the prince of Babylon
his high throne
has set in the middle!
But taking a sword,
avenge this crime!
Come, judge of the people;
the seats of the sellers
of doves overthrow!

My singable translation is here.

#85 Veris dulcis in tempore

Lyrics Translation
Veris dulcis in tempore
florenti stat sub arbore
Iuliana cum sorore.
Truly sweet in the time
of flowering stands under a tree
Juliana with her sister.
Dulcis amor!
Qui te caret hoc tempore,
fit vilior.
Sweet love!
Those who are without you at this time
are truly poor.
Ecce florescunt arbores,
lascive canunt volucres;
inde tepescunt virgines.
Look, the trees are blooming;
the birds sing wantonly;
thereby the virgins cool themselves.
Ecce florescunt lilia,
et virginum dant agmina
summo deorum carmina.
Look, the lilies are blooming,
and the virgins give to the ranks
of the highest gods songs.
Si tenerem, quam cupio,
in nemore sub folio,
oscularer cum gaudio.
If you hold me, as I desire,
in the forest under the leaves,
I will kiss you with joy.

My singable translation is here.

#90 Exiit diluculo rustica puella

Lyrics Translation
Exiit diluculo
rustica puella
cum grege, cum baculo,
cum lana novella.
She went out early,
a country girl,
with her flock, with her staff,
wearing new wool.
Sunt in grege parvulo
ovis et asella,
vitula cum vitulo,
caper et capella.
She has a small flock,
braying donkeys and sheep,
heifers with calves,
she-goats and kids.
Conspexit in cespite
scolarem sedere:
«quid tu facis, domine?
veni mecum ludere!»
She saw on the grass
a scholar sitting:
“What are you doing, my lord?
Come play with me!”

My singable translation is here.

#116 Sic mea fata

Lyrics Translation
Sic mea fata canendo solor,
ut nece proxima facit olor.
Blandus heret meo corde dolor,
roseus effugit ore color.
Cura crescente,
labore vigente,
vigore labente
miser morior;
tam male pectora multat amor.
a morior,
a morior,
a morior,
dum, quod amem, cogor et non amor!
According to my fate I sing,
like a swan close to death.
Sweet and worsening is the pain in my heart;
my pink cheeks pale.
My concern increases,
I labor to breathe,
my energy wanes
in miserable death,
for my heart is sick from loving overmuch.
I die,
I die,
I die,
while the one I love is not compelled to love!
Felicitate Iovem supero,
si me dignetur, quam desidero,
si sua labra semel novero;
una cum illa si dormiero,
mortem subire,
placenter obire
vitamque finire
statim potero,
tanta si gaudia non rupero.
a potero,
a potero,
a potero,
prima si gaudia concepero!
Happiness more than Jupiter,
if you ask me what I desire.
If her lips I could once know,
if I slept with her,
submitting to death,
I would be pleased to come
to the end of life
as soon as possible:
so much joy, if I did not break.
If I could,
if I could,
if I could,
if I could conceive the best joy!

My singable translation is here.

#119 Dulce solum natalis patrie

Lyrics Translation
Dulce solum natalis patrie,
domus ioci, thalamus gratie,
vos relinquam aut cras aut hodie,
periturus amoris rabie.
Sweet, only country of my birth,
merry home, graceful chambers,
I will leave you tomorrow or today
and perish in the madness of love.
Vale tellus, valete socii,
quos benigno favore colui,
et me dulcis consortem studii
deplangite, qui vobis perii!
Farewell world; farewell comrades,
whom with kind favor I honor,
and my sweet classmate
I lament, whom I have lost!
Igne novo Veneris saucia
mens, que prius non novit talia,
nunc fatetur vera proverbia:
«ubi amor, ibi miseria.»
With new fire, Venus wounded
my mind, which had not known of these things,
and now I admit the truth of the saying:
“Where there is love, there is misery.”
Quot sunt apes in Hyble vallibus,
quot vestitur Dodona frondibus
et quot natant pisces equoribus,
tot abundant amor doloribus.
How many are the bees in Hybla’s valleys?
How many are the leafy trees in Dodona?
How many fish swim in the seas?
That’s how abundant is the pain of love.

My singable translation is here.

#131/131a Dic Christi veritas

Words by Philip the Chancellor (born c. 1160-1170; died 1236). These two pieces, with related texts, appear together in the manuscript.


Lyrics Translation
Dic, Christi veritas,
dic, cara raritas,
dic, rara Caritas:
ubi nunc habitas?
aut in Valle Visionis?
aut in throno Pharaonis?
aut in alto cum Nerone?
aut in antro cum Theone?
vel in fiscella scirpea
cum Moyse plorante?
vel in domo Romulea
cum Bulla fulminante?
Tell me, truth of Christ;
tell me, beloved rarity;
tell me, rare love:
Where do you live now?
In the Valley of Visions?
Or on Pharaoh’s throne?
Or on high with Nero?
Or in a cave with Theonas?
Or in an ark of bulrushes,
crying with Moses?
Or rather, in the House of Romulus
fulminating with Bulls?
Respondit Caritas:
«homo, quid dubitas?
quid me sollicitas?
non sum, quo mussitas,
nec in euro nec in austro,
nec in foro nec in claustro,
nec in bysso vel cuculla,
nec in bello nec in bulla:
de Iericho sum veniens,
ploro cum sauciato,
quem duplex Levi transiens
non astitit grabato.»
Love responded:
“Man, why do you doubt?
What are you asking me?
I am, as you grumble,
not in the east nor in the south,
nor in the market nor in prison,
nor in fine linen or the cowl,
nor in war nor in Bulls:
I come from Jericho;
I cry with the injured,
the man whom two Levites passed—
I stood by his bed.
O vox prophetica,
o Nathan, predica:
culpa Davitica
patet non modica!
Dicit Nathan: «non clamabo»,
«neque» David «planctum dabo»,
cum sit Christi rupta vestis,
contra Christum Christus testis.
Ve, ve vobis, hypocrite,
qui culicem colatis!
Que Cesaris sunt, reddite,
ut Christo serviatis!
O prophetic voice,
O Nathan, prophesy:
The fault of David
is clearly not small!
Nathan says, “I do not cry”,
“Neither,” David says, “do I mourn”.
With Christ’s torn clothing,
Christ testifies against the Christians.
Hail, hail to you, hypocrite,
who serves a gnat!
What is Caesar’s, render unto him,
that you may serve Christ!


Lyrics Translation
Bulla fulminante
sub iudice tonante,
reo appellante,
sententia gravante.
Veritas supprimitur,
et venditur
Iustitia prostante;
itur et recurritur
ad Curiam, nec ante
quid consequitur,
quam exuitur quadrante.
Fulminating with Bulls,
the judge thunders;
the accused appeals;
the decision is grave.
Truth is suppressed,
and sold.
Justice protests:
It goes and it goes again
to Court; even before
the result is found,
more than a quarter are cheated.
Pape ianitores
Cerbero surdiores.
In spe vana plores,
nam etiamsi fores
Orphëus, quem audiit
Pluto deus
non ideo perores,
malleus argenteus
ni feriat ad fores,
ubi Protëus
variat mille colores.
The Papal gatekeepers,
like Cerberus, are deaf.
In vain hope lamenting,
these doors
even to Orpheus, who was heard
by the god Pluto
in Tartarus,
would not for this reason open,
unless a silver hammer
strikes at the door
where Proteus
changes with a thousand colors.
Si queris prebendas,
vitam frustra commendas;
mores non pretendas,
ne iudicem offendas!
frustra tuis litteris
per plurimas kalendas –
tandem exspectaveris
a ceteris ferendas,
paris ponderis
pretio nisi contendas.
If you wish to be allowed to live,
I recommend a vain life.
Do not pretend to be moral;
do not offend the judge!
Without your knowledge
to lean upon,
for the first days of many months;
in the end expect
from others a vote
of equal importance,
unless the price changes.
Iupiter, dum orat
Danen, frustra laborat;
sed eam deflorat,
auro dum se colorat:
Auro nil potentius,
nil gratius,
nec Tullius
facundius perorat.
Sed hos urit acrius,
quos amplius honorat;
nichil iustius,
calidum Crassus dum vorat!
Jupiter, when prays
the Danube, labors in vain,
but he deflowers,
while gold gives color:
Nothing is more powerful than gold,
nothing is greater;
not even Tullius
can argue against that.
But they burn more fiercely
who are more honored;
nothing is more just:
Crassus consumed by the fire!

My singable translation of both songs is here.

#153 Tempus transit gelidum

Lyrics Translation
Tempus transit gelidum,
mundus renovatur,
verque redit floridum,
forma rebus datur.
avis modulatur,
modulans letatur

et lenior
aer iam serenatur;
iam florea,
iam frondea
silva comis densatur.
The time of cold passes;
The world is renewed.
Spring flowers return,
giving the world form.
The bird sings
joyfully a tune.
[line missing]
[line missing]
More clear
and soft,
the air is serene;
now flowering,
now the leaves
fill up the woods.
Ludunt super gramina
virgines decore,
quarum nova carmina
dulci sonant ore.
annuunt favore
volucres canore,
favet et odore
tellus picta flore.
cor igitur
et cingitur
et tangitur amore,
et avibus
strepentibus sonore.
Play on the grass
the young virgins,
their new songs
sweetly sounding from their mouths,
by the bird’s song,
supported by the smell
of the earth painted with flowers.
The heart, therefore
is surrounded
and touched by love,
with virgins
and birds
resounding loudly.
Tendit modo retia
puer pharetratus;
cui deorum curia
prebet famulatus,
cuius dominatus
nimium est latus,
per hunc triumphatus
sum et sauciatus:
et fueram
in primis reluctatus,
sed iterum
per puerum
sum Veneri prostratus.
He spreads his nets,
the quiver-wearing Boy
to whom the court of the gods
offers service.
His dominion
is too much to bear.
In his victory,
I was wounded:
I was
at first reluctant,
but again
by the Boy
I am made prostrate to Venus.
Unam, huius vulnere
saucius, amavi,
quam sub firmo federe
michi copulavi.
fidem, quam iuravi,
numquam violavi;
rei tam suavi
totum me dicavi.
quam dulcia
sunt basia
puelle! iam gustavi:
nec cinnamum
et balsamum
esset tam dulce favi!
By this one wound
I was injured, and loved,
Under the strong covenant
of my friend.
The faith that I swore
I never violated.
To that sweet thing
I am totally devoted.
How sweet
are your kisses,
girl! Now I have tasted them:
Neither cinnamon
nor balm
is so sweet, like honey!
Vrowe ih pin dir undertan
des la mich geniezen
ih diene dir so ih beste chan
des wil dih verdriezen
nu wil du mine sinne
mit dime gewalte sliezen
nu wold ih diner minne
vil suoze wunne niezen
vil reine wip
din schoner lip
wil mih ze sere schiezen
uz dime gebot ih nimmer
chume obz alle wibe hiezen.
Lady, I serve you;
let me take pleasure in doing so.
I will serve you as well as I can,
which you will regret.
Now you want my desire
to be quashed by your rule;
Now I want to enjoy myself
with your love, full of lust.
Very pure lady,
your beautiful form
wants to shoot me dead.
From your dominion I never will leave,
even if all women demand it.

My singable translation is here.

#196 In taberna quando sumus

Lyrics Translation
In taberna quando sumus,
non curamus, quid sit humus,
sed ad ludum properamus,
cui semper insudamus.
Quid agatur in taberna,
ubi nummus est pincerna,
hoc est opus, ut queratur,
sed quid loquar, audiatur.
When we are in the tavern,
we don’t care about dust,
but we quickly start gaming,
which always makes us sweat.
“What happens in the tavern,
where money is the host?
How does that work?” you may well ask,
but listen to what I say.
Quidam ludunt, quidam bibunt,
quidam indiscrete vivunt.
Sed in ludo qui morantur,
ex his quidam denudantur;
quidam ibi vestiuntur,
quidam saccis induuntur.
Ibi nullus timet mortem,
sed pro Baccho mittunt sortem.
Some gamble, some drink,
Some live immorally.
But of those who gamble,
some are stripped bare;
some wear their clothes,
and some wear sacks.
Here there is no fear of death,
but in the name of Bacchus they throw the dice.
Primo pro nummata vini;
ex hac bibunt libertini.
Semel bibunt pro captivis,
post hec bibunt ter pro vivis,
quater pro Christianis cunctis,
quinquies pro fidelibus defunctis,
sexies pro sororibus vanis,
septies pro militibus silvanis.
First of all dice and wine,
as the libertines drink.
Drink next for those in prison,
after that, three times for the living,
four times for all Christians,
five times for the faithful departed,
six times for loose sisters,
seven times for the soldiers of the forest.
Octies pro fratribus perversis,
novies pro monachis dispersis,
decies pro navigantibus,
undecies pro discordantibus,
duodecies pro penitentibus,
tredecies pro iter agentibus.
Tam pro papa quam pro rege
bibunt omnes sine lege.
Eight for the perverse brethren,
nine times for scattered monks,
ten times for the seamen,
eleven times for the quarrelers,
twelve times for the penitent,
thirteen times for those on journeys.
For both the pope and the king
they all drink without restraint.
Bibit hera, bibit herus,
bibit miles, bibit clerus,
bibit ille, bibit illa,
bibit servus cum ancilla,
bibit velox, bibit piger,
bibit albus, bibit niger,
bibit constans, bibit vagus,
bibit rudis, bibit magus,
The mistress drinks, the master drinks,
the soldier drinks, the cleric drinks,
he drinks, she drinks,
the servant drinks with the maid,
the quick one drinks, the lazy one drinks,
the white one drinks, the black one drinks,
the constant one drinks, the unpredictable one drinks,
the hick drinks, the educated one drinks,
Bibit pauper et egrotus,
bibit exul et ignotus,
bibit puer, bibit canus,
bibit presul et decanus,
bibit soror, bibit frater,
bibit anus, bibit mater,
bibit ista, bibit ille,
bibunt centum, bibunt mille.
The poor drinks and the sick,
the exile drinks and the stranger,
the boy drinks, the old man drinks,
the prelate drinks and the deacon,
the sister drinks, the brother drinks,
the old woman drinks, the mother drinks,
this one drinks, that one drinks,
a hundred drink, a thousand drink.
Parum durant sex nummate,
ubi ipsi immoderate
bibunt omnes sine meta,
quamvis bibant mente leta.
Sic nos rodunt omnes gentes,
et sic erimus egentes.
Qui nos rodunt, confundantur
et cum iustis non scribantur.
Six pennies don’t last very long
where without moderation
all drink without measure,
but drinking makes the mind merry.
So everyone scolds us,
and we are poor.
He who scolds us, let him be shamed,
and let him not be recorded among the just.

My singable translation is here.

#200 Bache, bene venies

Lyrics Translation
Bacche, bene venies gratus et optatus,
per quem noster animus fit letificatus.
Bacchus, well pleasing and desired,
through whom our spirits are made joyful.
Istud vinum, bonum vinum, vinum generosum,
reddit virum curialem, probum, animosum.
This wine, good wine, kindly wine,
makes a man noble, honest, spirited.
Iste cyphus concavus de bono mero profluus
siquis bibit sepius satur fit et ebrius.
This empty cup with good wine overflows;
one who drinks much will be sated and drunk.
Hec sunt vasa regia quibus spoliatur
Ierusalem et regalis babilon ditatur.
These are the royal cups by which despoiled
was Jerusalem and royal Babylon enriched.
Ex hoc cypho conscii bibent sui domini,
bibent sui socii, bibent et amici.
From this cup let lords drink,
let allies drink, and let friends drink.
Bacchus forte superans pectora virorum
in amorem concitat animos eorum.
Bacchus perhaps, conquering the hearts of men,
stirs their spirits to love.
Bacchus sepe visitans mulierum genus
facit eas subditas tibi, o tu Venus.
Bacchus often visiting womankind
makes them subject to you, O Venus.
Bacchus venas penetrans calido liquore
facit eas igneas Veneris ardore.
Bacchus fills the veins with hot liquid;
Venus sets them afire with burning.
Bacchus lenis leniens curas et dolores
confert iocum, gaudia, risus et amores.
Bacchus gently alleviates worries and pains
and brings jollity, joys, laughter and love.
Bacchus mentem femine solet hic lenire
cogit eam citius viro consentire.
Bacchus usually appeases a woman’s mind
and compels her husband to agree quickly.
Bacchus illam facile solet expugnare,
a qua prorsus coitum nequit impetrare.
Bacchus makes it easy to capture
her whom you wish to obtain.
Bacchus numen faciens hominem iocundum,
reddit eum pariter doctum et facundum.
Bacchus is the god who makes man happy,
and makes him equally learned and eloquent.
Bacche, deus inclite, omnes hic astantes
leti sumus munera tua prelibantes.
Bacchus, god of all of us standing here,
we are happy offering gifts to you.
Omnes tibi canimus maxima preconia,
te laudantes merito tempora per omnia.
All sing you the highest praises;
you deserve praise from everyone at all times.

My singable translation is here.

#211 Alte clamat Epicurus

Music by Walther von der Vogelweide (c. 1170 – c. 1230). This is a contrafactum of Walther’s song “Palästinalied“. I suggest you look at the original first, since that will help you appreciate the shocking contrast between its religious sincerity and the profanity of “Alte clamat Epicurus”.

Lyrics Translation
Alte clamat Epicurus:
«venter satur est securus.
venter deus meus erit.
talem deum gula querit,
cuius templum est coquina,
in qua redolent divina.»
Loftily claims Epicurus:
“A full belly is secure.
My belly is my God.
Such a God requires gluttony,
whose temple is the kitchen,
in which there are divine smells.”
Ecce deus opportunus,
nullo tempore ieiunus,
ante cibum matutinum
ebrius eructat vinum,
cuius mensa et cratera
sunt beatitudo vera.
Behold the convenient God:
at no time on an empty stomach,
before the morning meal
belching, intoxicated with wine.
The table and the bowl
are the true happiness.
Cutis eius semper plena
velut uter et lagena;
iungit prandium cum cena,
unde pinguis rubet gena,
et, si quando surgit vena,
fortior est quam catena.
His skin has always been full
like a wineskin or bottle.
He joins lunch with dinner,
thus his rich, reddened cheeks;
and, if and when his penis gets erect,
it is mightier than a chain.
Sic religionis cultus
in ventre movet tumultus,
rugit venter in agone,
vinum pugnat cum medone;
vita felix otiosa,
circa ventrem operosa.
As religious worship
is tossed by the tumult of the wind,
the belly roars in agony,
as wine and mead fight with each other.
Happy and easy is life
with an active belly.
Venter inquit: «nichil curo
preter me. sic me procuro,
ut in pace in id ipsum
molliter gerens me ipsum
super potum, super escam
dormiam et requiescam.»
The belly says, “I care about nothing
except myself. So I guide myself
to peace in this manner,
gently carrying myself
over water, over food
to sleep and rest.”

My singable translation is here.

#19* Katerine collaudemus

If you are not familiar with the life of Saint Catherine of Alexandria (aka Saint Catherine of the Wheel), please familiarize yourself with her story before reading the poem.

Lyrics Translation
Katharine collaudemus
virtutum insignia,
cordis ei presentemus
et oris obsequia,
ut ab ipsa reportemus
equa laudis premia.
We praise Catherine
and her excellent virtues;
we present to her our hearts
and mouths compliantly,
that we may receive
reward equal to our praise.
Fulta fide Katharina
iudicem Maxentium
non formidat; lex divina
sic firmat eloquium,
quod confutat ex doctrina
doctores gentilium
Catherine was so strong in her faith
that the judge Maxentius
she did not fear; divine law
strengthened her speech,
which refuted the doctrine
of the Greek teachers.
Victi Christum confitentur
relictis erroribus.
Iudex iubet, ut crementur;
nec pilis nec vestibus
nocet ignis, sed torrentur
inustis corporibus.
The defeated confessed Christ,
leaving their sins.
The judge ordered them to be burnt alive;
neither their hair nor their clothing
was hurt by the fire, but scorched
by the ordeal were their bodies.
Post hec blandis rex molitur
virginem seducere,
nec promissis emollitur
nec terretur verbere;
compeditur, custoditur
tetro clausa carcere.
After this, flattering, the king tried
to seduce the virgin,
but neither softened by promises
nor deterred by the lash was she;
he caught her and kept her
shut up in a filthy prison.
Clause lumen ne claudatur,
illucet Porphyrio,
qui regine federatur
fidei collegio;
quorum fidem imitatur
ducentena contio.
Even if light is kept hidden away,
it shines like Porphyry,
who allied with the queen
in the company of faith;
their faith is imitated
by an assembly of two hundred.
Huius ergo contionis
concordes constantia
vim mundane passionis
pari patientia
superemus, ut cum bonis
letemur in gloria.
Therefore this assembly,
in harmony and steadfastness,
the force of worldly passion
with patience
overcomes, so that good people
rejoice in glory.

My singable translation is here.

Key Facts

  • Date: 11th-14th centuries
  • Composers/Poets: various goliards
  • Original Language: German, Latin
  • Genre: goliard song


Manuscript: Carmina Burana – BSB Clm 4660. Web. 27 Jan. 2016.

Text of the entire manuscript: Bibliotheca Augustana, Carmina Burana. Web. 24 Jan. 2017.

Printed lyrics: Carmina Burana. Ed. G. Bernt, A. Hilka, and O. Schumann. München: n.p., 1979. N. pag. Bibliotheca Augustana. Web. 27 Jan. 2016.

Tunes and frameworks for singable translations: Clemencie, René and Michael Korth. Carmina Burana: Lateinisch-deutsch: Gesamtausgabe Der Mittelalterlichen Melodien Mit Den Dazugehörigen Texten. München: Heimeran, 1979. Print.

All translations into English are by me (Kasha). I’m not a Latin expert, so if you find any errors, I’d appreciate hearing your corrections! Contact me here.

One thought on “The Carmina Burana

  1. Marie-Angélique Hérisson contacted me today (1/16) to let me know there’s a better way to translate the fifth verse of “Katerine collaudemus”. Her comment (below) is extremely helpful and may benefit others working with this piece.

    Her comment:
    “It is not so easy to translate that medieval latin, but it seems to me that there is a rather big misunderstanding in the 5th strophe : Porphyrius is a man, counselor of the king and lover of the queen.
    Which I have translated in french this way :
    Une lumière émane de la recluse, A light from the prisoner
    pour empêcher sa réclusion, prevents her from being closed
    et resplendit sur Porphyre and shines on Pophyrius
    Qui est allié avec la reine who is allied to the queen
    Par le soutien de la foi. by the strength of faith.
    Une assemblée de deux-cents membres a 200 members assembly
    se rallie à leur foi. rallies to their faith.

    “Donc en accord avec la constance So in accordance with the constancy
    De cette communauté, of this community
    Surmontons la force de la passion mondaine let us overcome the strength of worldly passion
    Avec un égal courage, with equal courage
    De façon à nous réjouir dans la gloire so that we rejoice in glory
    avec les hommes de bien. with good men.
    Sorry for my approximate english translated from french. By at least, I am sure that Porphyrius is a character of Saint Catherine’s story.”

    Yours sincerely,
    M-A H


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