Translating Psalms (58)

Sauls sours on his servant David quite early on in the story.  I Samuel 18, just one chapter after David slays Goliath and rockets to fame, recounts Saul’s growing bitterness and jealousy.  In his fits of madness he tries to kill David, which David seems to write off as Saul’s typical insanity.  He sends David on increasingly dangerous military assignments and then fumes when David returns more successful each time.  When David seeks his daughter’s hand in marriage, Saul sends David on a suicide mission to slay a hundred Philistines (and bring back an unusual, symbolic proof of each kill).  David seems oblivious to Saul’s efforts to kill him.

All that changes in I Samuel 19, when Saul sends assassins to surround David’s house and kill him.  David escapes in the middle of the night thanks to the help of his wife Michal.  He flees to Samuel at Ramah, and thus begins his epic exile that only ends with the death of Saul at the hand of the Philistines.

This psalm, I imagine, he composed while sitting quietly in his dark house anxiously waiting to see if Saul’s men would attack him or wait for him to fall asleep.

“Eripe me” (Psalm 58)

[1] In finem, ne disperdas. David in tituli inscriptionem, quando misit Saul, et custodivit domum ejus, ut eum interficeret.

Unto the end, lest you destroy. For David in the inscription of a title, when Saul sent and guarded his house that he might slay him.

[2] Eripe me de inimicis meis, Deus meus, et ab insurgentibus in me libera me.

Rescue me from my enemies, my God, and from those uprising against me free me.

[3] Eripe me de operantibus iniquitatem, et de viris sanguinum salva me.

Rescue me from those working injustice and from men of bloods save me.

[4] Quia ecce ceperunt animam meam; irruerunt in me fortes.

For behold they have seized my soul; they have rushed upon me, have the strong.

[5] Neque iniquitas mea, neque peccatum meum, Domine; sine iniquitate cucurri, et direxi.

Nor my injustice nor my sin, O Lord; without injustice have I run and directed.

[6] Exsurge in occursum meum, et vide : et tu, Domine Deus virtutum, Deus Israel, intende ad visitandas omnes gentes; non miserearis omnibus qui operantur iniquitatem.

Rise forth unto my meeting and see and do You, O Lord God of powers, God of Israel, hasten to visiting all the nations; be not merciful to all who work injustice.

[7] Convertentur ad vesperam, et famem patientur ut canes; et circuibunt civitatem.

They will be all-turned toward evening and suffer hunger like dogs and they will circle the city.

[8] Ecce loquentur in ore suo, et gladius in labiis eorum : quoniam quis audivit?

Behold they speak in their mouth and a sword in their lips, for who has heard?

[9] Et tu, Domine, deridebis eos; ad nihilum deduces omnes gentes.

And You, O Lord, will laugh down on them; unto nothing You will lead down all the nations.

[10] Fortitudinem meam ad te custodiam, quia, Deus, susceptor meus es.

My strength unto You will I guard for God my upholder You are.

[11] Deus meus, misericordia ejus praeveniet me.

My God! His mercy comes before me.

[12] Deus ostendet mihi super inimicos meos; ne occidas eos, nequando obliviscantur populi mei. Disperge illos in virtute tua, et depone eos, protector meus, Domine;

God will show to me above my enemies; lest You slay them, never let them be forgetful of my people.  Scatter them in Your power and plant them, my Protector, O Lord.

[13] delictum oris eorum, sermonem labiorum ipsorum; et comprehendantur in superbia sua. Et de execratione et mendacio annuntiabuntur,

The delict of their mouth, the word of their lips: let them also be grasped in their pride.  And concerning the curse and the lie: they will be announced

[14] in consummatione, in ira consummationis; et non erunt. Et scient quia Deus dominabitur Jacob, et finium terrae.

in the consummation, in the wrath of consummation.  And they will not be.  And they will know that God will be Lord of Jacob and of the ends of the earth.

[15] Convertentur ad vesperam, et famem patientur ut canes; et circuibunt civitatem.

They will be all-turned toward evening and suffer hunger like dogs and they will circle the city.

[16] Ipsi dispergentur ad manducandum; si vero non fuerint saturati, et murmurabunt.

They will be scattered unto eating; though truly they will not be sated and they will grumble.

[17] Ego autem cantabo fortitudinem tuam, et exsultabo mane misericordiam tuam; quia factus es susceptor meus, et refugium meum in die tribulationis meae.

Whereas I, I will sing Your strength and I will boast at morning Your mercy; for You are made my pholder and my refuge in the die of my trouble.

[18] Adjutor meus, tibi psallam, quia Deus susceptor meus es; Deus meus, misericordia mea.

My helper, to You will I sing psalm, for God my upholder You are; my God, my mercy.


v. 7 famem patientur ut canes.  I think there’s a sneaky reference to the Deuteronomic curse that shows up throughout the books of Kings: for the one who breaks and flouts the Law–like Jeroboam, Baasha, Ahab, etc.–the corresponding curse is that any of their family who die in the city, the dogs will eat.  Here the dogs circle the city in hunger, waiting for nightfall.  This is both David protesting his innocence (in him, the dogs have nothing to eat) and calling down the curse on his would-be assassins (whom the dogs will eat after nightfall).  The more superficial sense is also pretty nice: his enemies are hungry dogs prowling the city for him.  Great phrase.

v. 11 Deus meus is another place where prose grammar would demand I go in a different direction.  The phrase should probably be genitive, matching eius.  As a nominative it has to become apposite to misericordia.  That’s admittedly pretty cool–“God, my mercy”–but I think there’s about a zero percent chance that’s what is called for here.  Of course, see v. 18 for a reason I’m wrong about that!

v. 13-14 comprehendantur…annuntiabuntur…erunt.  The grammar, the punctuation, and the line-breaks in here are very strange.  He names a pair, then gives them a passive verb after some punctuation that indicates they should not be taken together.  The second pair, de execratione et mendacio, is exactly the way Japanese creates the grammatical “topic” with the wa-particle.  I think this is the first time I’ve seen it done in Latin.  I thought about continuing the pattern with in consummatione, in ira consummationis and erunt.  I’m still ambivalent but I think it’s better this way: the lie of his enemies will be made manifest at the moment they try to consummate their wicked plan.

v. 17 exsultabo.  Deep in its root, this verb means to leap about.  Like in the English phrases jump for joy or dance for joy, the word comes to mean rejoice, sing the praises of, boast, etc.  The problem is most of those meanings don’t really take a direct object very well.  Boast is the closest unless you want to alter the grammar of misericordiam tuam and give it a prepositional phrase, like “on account of Your mercy.”

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