Saturday, February 22, 2014

Psalm 136: verses 1-2

The opening verses of Psalm 136 set the scene.

Super flúmina babylónis, illic sédimus et flévimus: * cum recordarémur sion:
Super flumina Babylonis ibi sedimus et fleuimus, cum recordaremur Sion.

ἐπὶ τῶν ποταμῶν Βαβυλῶνος ἐκεῖ ἐκαθίσαμεν καὶ ἐκλαύσαμεν ἐν τῷ μνησθῆναι ἡμᾶς τῆς Σιων

Super (on/upon) flumina (the river) Babylonis (of Babylon) illic (there) sedimus (we sat) et (and) flevimus (we wept), cum (when) recordaremur (we remembered) Sion.

The rivers of Babylon probably refers, in the literal sense, to the Tigris, Euphrates and canals of the country, where the exiles gathered to pray.

flumen, inis, n. flowing of wate,  food;  river, stream; rain
illic, adv.  Of place: there, in that place; Of time: then
sedeo, sedi, sessum, ere 2, to sit; rest; dwell, live; to sit with,  hold converse with,  consult; to sit on a throne, to rule, reign
fleo, flevi, fletum, flere 2, to weep
cum, with, together with, in company with .before, in the presence of. to be with as a helper,when, as soon as, as often as.
recordor atus sum ari to remember, recollect, be mindful of

Upon the rivers of Babylon, there we sat and wept: when we remembered Sion:
By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept, when we remembered thee, O Sion.
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat; and wept when we remembered Sion. 

In hearing this psalm we have to remember first of all that the exiles essentially bought their fate on themselves through their sins: they weep not just because of the cruelties done to them, but also because they now repent their past actions.  And the punishment of exile is meant to have this effect:  St John Chrysostom tells us that 'he reduces us to a state of deprivation so that we may come to our senses through the loss, and look for their enjoyment once more.'

Secondly, the verse confronts us with the choice we have to make between the two cities, as Cassiodorus points out:

"Love of one's own abode intensifies when viewed from the place of pilgrimage. Though the prophet appears to be expounding the captivity of the Israelite people, which befell them under the Assyrians, it is appropriate that we interpret it in the spiritual sense. We realise through sustained reading that in this world there are two cities. The first is the Lord's city, called Jerusalem, the vision of peace; it suffers oppression in this world, being wounded by the onset of many evils. It is humble and afflicted, resting its hope in the eternity which can never succumb to weariness. Against it stands the devil's city called Babylon, the meaning of which denotes confusion; on earth it is proud, flourishing, most joyful, wa¬tered by the vices of this world as by mighty rivers. These are the rivers, then, over which the faithful sit, enduring their captivity in this world, sighing with longing for their native land, and shedding bitter tears because they cannot attain that promised peace on earth." 

In salícibus in médio ejus, * suspéndimus órgana nostra.
In salicibus in medio eius suspendimus citharas nostras.
Super salices in medio eius suspendimus citharas nostras.

ἐπὶ ταῖς ἰτέαις ἐν μέσῳ αὐτῆς ἐκρεμάσαμεν τὰ ὄργανα ἡμῶν

In salicibus (on the willows) in medio (in the middle) ejus (his/it) suspendimus (we hung) organa (organs) nostra (our) 

The organs mentioned could be portable, or, as the Douay-Rheims suggests, a generic reference to instruments but the Neo-Vulgate understandably changes it harps.

salix icis f a willow
medius, a, um in the middle, midst
suspendo pendi pensus sum ere 3 to hang up
organum, i, n. organ pipe

On the willows in the midst thereof we hung up our instruments.
As for our harps, we hanged them up upon the trees that are therein.
We hung our harps on the willows in the midst of it. 

St Augustine interprets this verse as a commentary on  the things of this world:

"The citizens of Jerusalem have their instruments of music, God's Scriptures, God's commands, God's promises, meditation on the life to come; but while they are dwelling in Babylon, they hang up their instruments. Willows are unfruitful trees, and here so placed, that no good whatever can be understood of them: elsewhere perhaps there may. Here understand barren trees, growing by the waters of Babylon. These trees are watered by the waters of Babylon, and bring forth no fruit; just as there are men greedy, covetous, barren in good works, citizens of Babylon in such wise, that they are even trees of that region; they are fed there by these pleasures of transitory things, as though watered by the waters of Babylon. You seek fruit of them, and nowhere findest it....Therefore by deferring to apply the Scriptures to them, we hang up our instruments of music upon the willows. For we hold them not worthy to carry our instruments. "

Psalm 136 – Super flumina
Psalmus David, Jeremiæ

Super flúmina Babylónis, illic sédimus et flévimus: * cum recordarémur Sion:
Upon the rivers of Babylon, there we sat and wept: when we remembered Sion:
2  In salícibus in médio ejus, * suspéndimus órgana nostra.
2 On the willows in the midst thereof we hung up our instruments.
3  Quia illic interrogavérunt nos, qui captívos duxérunt nos, * verba cantiónum.
3 For there they that led us into captivity required of us the words of songs.
4  Et qui abduxérunt nos: * Hymnum cantáte nobis de cánticis Sion.
And they that carried us away, said: Sing to us a hymn of the songs of Sion.
5  Quómodo cantábimus cánticum Dómini * in terra aliéna?
4 How shall we sing the song of the Lord in a strange land?
6  Si oblítus fúero tui, Jerúsalem, * oblivióni detur déxtera mea.
5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand be forgotten.
7  Adhæreat lingua mea fáucibus meis, * si non memínero tui.
6 Let my tongue cleave to my jaws, if I do not remember you:
8  Si non proposúero Jerúsalem, * in princípio lætítiæ meæ.
If I make not Jerusalem the beginning of my joy.

9  Memor esto, Dómine, filiórum Edom, * in die Jerúsalem.
7 Remember, O Lord, the children of Edom, in the day of Jerusalem:
10  Qui dicunt: Exinaníte, exinaníte * usque ad fundaméntum in ea.
Who say: Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation thereof.
11  Fília Babylónis mísera: * beátus, qui retríbuet tibi retributiónem tuam, quam retribuísti nobis.
8 O daughter of Babylon, miserable: blessed shall he be who shall repay you your payment which you have paid us.
12  Beátus qui tenébit, * et allídet párvulos tuos ad petram.
9 Blessed be he that shall take and dash your little ones against the rock.

For the next set of notes on this psalm, continue on here.

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