Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Psalm 22/8 - my cup overflows**

Extreme Unction,
van der Weyden, 1445
Continuing our study of Psalm 22, The Lord is my shepherd, here is the second half of the psalm in Latin with the today’s verse highlighted:

Parasti in conspectu meo mensam adversus eos qui tribulant me;
impinguasti in oleo caput meum : et calix meus inebrians, quam præclarus est!
Et misericordia tua subsequetur me omnibus diebus vitæ meæ;
et ut inhabitem in domo Domini in longitudinem dierum.

A look at the Latin

Here is the verse again:

Impinguasti in oleo caput meum: et calix meus inebrians, quam præclarus est!

First look at the individual words:

impinguo, avi, atum, are to anoint; fatten, grow thick
in+abl = with, in, on among, by means of
oleum, li, n. oil, esp., olive-oil
et and
caput, itis, n. the head,
meus – my, mine
calix, icis, m. chalice, cup, goblet, drinking-vessel.
inebrio, avi, atum, are, to inebriate, intoxicate; fill up, saturate with, refresh as with drink, to water, drench, moisten.
quam how, how much, as, than
praeclarus, a, um, splendid, glorious; goodly, pleasant.
est – it is

Now try and break down the endings of the words to obtain a phrase by phrase translation.  A good way to tackle any translation is to first find the verb, and then find it's subject:

Impinguasti in oleo caput meum

Impinguásti =you have anointed

So the subject of the phrase is 'you' (God); now look for the object:

caput meum= my head

Then look at any other text to see how it fits in:

in óleo =with oil

Putting it together, ‘you have anointed my head with oil’.

It is worth remembering that anointing of a guest's head was a familiar token of welcome (remember the story of the pharisee who invited Our Lord to dinner, but failed to offer this courtesy in Luke 7,46).

Moving to the next phrase: et calix meus inebrians

inébrians = inebriating/exhilarating/overflowing

et calix meus = and my (note adjective meus agreeing with the subject, calix) chalice/cup


quam præclárus est! = how splendid/good (adjective agreeing with calix) it is (3rd person present indicative of to be)

Thus, ‘and how splendid my exhilarating chalice is’.

The Douay-Rheims translates the whole verse, ‘You have anointed my head with oil; and my chalice which inebriates me, how goodly is it!’ 

Many people will however be more familiar with Protestant translations of this verse such as RSV’s ‘Thou anointest my head with oil, my cup overflows’, and indeed the Neo-Vulgate revises the second half of the verse to match this, making it ‘et calix meus redundat’.

**Here are some other translations for comparison purposes.

First assorted versions of the Latin, together with the Septuagint:

Impinguásti in óleo caput meum: * et calix meus inébrians quam præclárus est!
Old Roman
inpinguasti in oleo caput meum et poculum tuum inebrians quam praeclarum est
impinguasti in oleo caput meum, et calix meus redundat.
inpinguasti oleo caput meum; calix meus inebrians.

τν κεφαλήν μου κα τ ποτήριόν σου μεθύσκον ς κράτιστον

Note that the phrase 'quam praeclarus est' is missing from St Jerome's translation from the Hebrew.  The omission is particularly reflected in the RSV:

Douai Rheims
You have anointed my head with oil; and my chalice which inebriates me, how goodly is it!
Brenton from the Septuagint
thou hast thoroughly anointed my head with oil; and thy cup cheers me like the best wine.
Monastic Diurnal
Thou annointest my head with oil, and my brimming cup – how goodly it is!
thou anointest my head with oil, my cup overflows.
thou hast anointed my head with oil, and my cup shall be full.
richly thou dost anoint my head with oil, well filled my cup.
My head you have anointed with oil; my cup is overflowing.

Penetrating the meaning

**Cassiodorus provides this commentary on the verse:
Thou hast anointed my head with oil. The eighth act of generosity is defined. The head of the faithful is the Lord Christ, rightly described as anointed with oil since He does not dry up through the aridity of the sinner. So he claims that his Head has been anointed with oil, doubtless so that the other limbs can take joy from this. But why is it that this kind of sacred blessing is often applied in anointing prophets and consecrating kings? It is rightly done, for the olive also afforded a sign of peace, a gift acknowledged to be especially divine. The juice of the olive is the oil of gladness and the favour of great distinctions, and its foliage continues in the beauty of its greenness. It was the olive which announced to Noah by means of the dove that salvation was restored to the earth,' so that it rightly seems able to bestow so great a blessing since it enjoys both great beauty and usefulness in its fruit. As another psalm says of it: Therefore God, my God, hath anointed thee with the oil of exultation above thy fellows. 
And thy cup -which inebriateth me, how goodly it is! The ninth gift is the Lord's blood, which inebriates in such a way that it cleanses the mind, preventing it from wrongdoing, not leading it to sins. This drunkenness makes us sober, this fullness purges us of evils. He who is not filled with this cup fasts in perennial need. The word is found also in the bad sense, as in Isaiah: And I have received from thy hand the chalice of destruction, the cup of anger and my wrath. He added: How goodly it is!, especially as He bestows such gifts to lead us to heaven. The gospel says of this cup: Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give shall not thirst for ever, but it shall become in him a fountain of water springing up into life everlasting.

Pope Benedict XVI comments on this verse that:

“Lastly, the cup overflowing with its exquisite wine, shared with superabundant generosity, adds a note of festivity. Food, oil and wine are gifts that bring life and give joy, because they go beyond what is strictly necessary and express the free giving and abundance of love. Psalm 104[103] proclaims: “You cause the grass to grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth, and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread to strengthen man’s heart” (vv. 14-15).”

Anointing with oil and an overflowing chalice has obvious sacramental allusions as well, important in the context of the Office of the Dead.

Tomorrow, the next verse, on God's goodness and mercy.


  1. Wonderful commentary and context! Thank you. You do not think that "et calix meus inebrians quam praeclarus est" could be read "how splendid is my inebriating cup," i.e. what a great drink You have given to me your guest?

  2. Krzysztof - The translation you suggest is pretty much what I've suggested I think, viz "Thus, ‘and how splendid my exhilarating chalice is’."? Or am I missing something? I think chalice is better than cup given the NT and traditional use of the word in relation to the Eucharist.

    In any case, I've added a few comparison translations so you can take your pick!

    Other interpretations are certainly possible though, and so I've added a few of the standard ones to the post for comparison purposes.

    Worth noting perhaps that the translation of St Augustine's commentary available online makes it as follows: And Your inebriating cup, how excellent is it! And Your cup yielding forgetfulness of former vain delights, how excellent is it!