Jorge Ben – A Tábua de Esmeralda

So, as if nothing has happened, I decided to come back to this blog. Actually, a lot has happened in my life, I started my PhD studies in History at the local university, I made tons of readings and had lots of classes, I wrote a few stuff and (fortunately) travelled widely. That’s why I kept this blog in hibernation. 

It makes me very glad that people continued to read it even though no further content was added. It’s for these people and for — I hope — a lot more people that I’m writing again.

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I decided to fulfill a promise I made a while ago of translating Jorge Ben’s A Tábua de Esmeralda. This is one of my favorite albums and surely is one of the greatest records in Brazilian discography. Also, it is about one topic I really like, which is Hermetism and all those crazy stuff. Let me just sketch a few comments about the album before I post some of the translations.

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I really don’t know how a mythical figure from the Greek domination over the Egyptians in Late Antiquity could be studied by the librarians the library of Alexandria, then took by alchemists, magicians and scientists in the Renaissance as a topic of studies and — in the end — become the subject of Brazilian popular music, but that’s just what happened in A Tábua de Esmeralda.

As some of you may know, Hermes Trismegistus was a mythical priest from some esoteric traditions dating around the 3rd century B.C., when the Greek reinterpreted traditional Egyptian religion on their conquest of Egypt. The Hellenistic Greeks combined the gods Hermes and Thoth, who both presided over knowledge and communication. Trismegistus means “thrice great”, because Hermes was a summit of theology, alchemy, and astrology.

The figure of Hermes Trismegistus was attached to the texts known as Corpus Hermeticum. It comprises seventeen or eighteen mystical books attributed to the god. They spouse a philosophy in which the unity between heaven and what’s bellow heaven is a major principle. This dynamic unity between all things helps to understanding what was alchemy, as its basic tenet was that one element could be transformed into another. Hermeticism comes from mystical Platonism of Antiquity, as it deals over forms and ideal elements.

One interesting thing is its survival. During the Middle Ages, the Hermetic texts were translated to Arabian over the course of Muslim expansion, where they formed the major corpus of alchemia. It was in Arabian that alchemy’s major writing, the Emerald Tablet which Jorge Ben tackles here, first appeared. The work was later translated into Latin and adopted over the course of the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance.

In Renaissance, the Corpus Hermeticum was held in high esteem by scholars, magicians, princes and…the Pope! Hermes was though to provide a prisca theologia, or a pristine theology, prior to that of the Bible and Moses. In this way, he was both a pagan figure and one that, because of all the talking about the One, prefigured Christianism. Egypt was then held, as in Antiquity, as the source of civilization.

The fame of Hermes in the Renaissance was so big that, as Frances Yates writes in her book about the Hermetic tradition, when Marsilio Ficino was translating Plato, he was interrupted by Lorenzo de’ Medici because they had just found the texts attributed to Hermes Trismegistus. So Ficino interrupted his translations of the nowadays famous Plato to translate the now obscure Hermes.

It was via Renaissance that the Corpus Hermeticum became available, and even though in late sixteenth-century it began to be disregarded as spurious writing, it survived in mystical circles. In the nineteenth-century, British magician Aleister Crowley used the Hermetic writings as base of some of his works.

And I guess it was because of Aleister Crowley, who was well known in the sixties (just look at Sgt. Peppers cover) that he got into contact with Hermes Trismegistus.

I won’t provide a translation of the Emerald Tablet because that’s just what Jorge Ben does in one of his songs, but as a side note it is interesting to note the presence of Aleister Crowley in some very mainstream characters from Brazilian music over the sixties and seventies. Raul Seixas used to read him and introduced some of his philosophy in his songs. This was done, of course, because of the influence of his creative partner, the now bestseller writer Paulo Coelho, but that’s a whole different story…

I hope you enjoy the translations and the comments I usually do here.

Hermes_mercurius_trismegistus_siena_cathedral

#14 – Noite feliz + Bate o sino

Feliz Natal, everyone!

Today is Christmas eve and I’ve thought I should introduce the readers of this blog to two Brazilian Portuguese renditions of classic Christmas songs. I will also introduce you to an horrible recent Christmas tradition, but later I’ll say more about it…

The first song is “Silent Night”, also known as “Still night”, I guess. I looked up on Wikipedia and it says the original song comes from Austria, being composed in the early nineteenth century by an Austrian priest. In Brazil, the song received two versions, of by Pedro Sinzig in 1912 and the other one an anonymous and now more famous versions. Here, I’ll post only the first version, as I’ve never seen the second one and I guess it is only sung in Portugal.

Silent Night in Portuguese, 1912 version:

Noite feliz! Noite feliz!
o Senhor, Deus de amor,
pobrezinho nasceu em Belém.
Eis, na lapa, Jesus, nosso bem!
Dorme em paz, ó Jesus!
Dorme em paz, ó Jesus!

Noite feliz! Noite feliz!
Oh! Jesus, Deus da luz,
quão afável é teu coração
que quiseste nascer nosso irmão
e a nós todos salvar!
e a nós todos salvar!

Noite feliz! Noite feliz!
Eis que, no ar, vêm cantar
aos pastores os anjos dos céus,
anunciando a chegada de Deus,
de Jesus Salvador!
de Jesus Salvador!

English translation:

Happy night! Happy night!
The Lord, the God of love, poor one,
Has just been born in Bethlehem.
Here, in the manger, is our saviour!
Sleep well, Jesus!
Sleep well, Jesus!

Happy night! Happy night!
Oh Jesus, God of light,
How sweet is thy heart
That wanted to be born as our brother
And redeem us all!
And redeem us all!

Happy night! Happy night!
And so come from above
The angels to sing to the shepherds
Announing the Christ’s coming,
The coming of our Lord saviour Jesus Christ!
The coming of our Lord saviour Jesus Christ!

I got kinda scared with my English translation as it is hard not to make it sound like some apocalyptic hymn.

Also notice that the silent, still night becomes just a happy night, which translates into the song’s title “Noite feliz”. It is a happy night indeed, the night of the boa nova.

The second song is the Brazilian Portuguese version of Jingle Bells, translated as “Bate o sino” (Beats the bell). The Portuguse lyrics are as follows:

Jingle Bells in Portuguese:

Bate o sino pequenino, sino de Belém
Já nasceu Deus Menino para o nosso bem
Paz na Terra pede o sino alegre a cantar
Abençoe Deus Menino este nosso lar

Hoje a noite é bela, juntos eu e ela
Vamos à capela, felizes a rezar
Ao soar o sino, sino pequenino
Vai o Deus menino, nos abençoar.

Bate o sino pequenino, sino de Belém
Já nasceu Deus Menino para o nosso bem
Paz na Terra pede o sino alegre a cantar
Abençoe Deus Menino este nosso lar

Vamos minha gente, vamos à Belém
Vamos ver Maria e Jesus também
Já deu meia noite,já chegou Natal
Já tocou o sino lá na catedral

Abençoe Deus Menino este nosso lar

In English:

Beats the tiny little bell, the bell of Bethlehem,
The young Lord has already been born for the good of us all
Singing happily the tiny bell asks for peace on Earth,
May the young Lord bless this home of ours.

Tonight the night is beautiful, me and her together,
We’ll go to the chapel to pray happily,
When we hear the bell, the tiny little bell,
The young Lord will come to bless us.

Beats the tiny little bell, the bell of Bethlehem,
The young Lord has already been born for the good of us all
Singing happily the tiny bell asks for peace on Earth,
May the young Lord bless this home of ours.

Let’s go people, let’s go to Bethlehem,
Let’s see Mary and Jesus too,
It’s already past midnight, Christmas already is here,
The bell has already sounded on the cathedral.

May the young Lord bless this home of ours.

It’s nice to compare the original lyrics in English and the translated ones in Portuguese, I guess several cultural differences appear when you see when the translation matches and when it doesn’t.

Also, I’ve translated “Deus menino” as “young Lord”, but the literal translation should’ve been “Boy God”. Here in Porto Alegre there is a neighborhood called “Menino Deus”, and a friend of mine from Rio said that whenever she heard the neighborhood’s name, she thought of a young boy with superpowers. I guess that’s an accurate description of God, but as to avoid any funny misunderstandings, I’ve tried a serious translation of it.

So to the horrible tradition. It became somewhat of a tradition in southern Brazil at least to listen to or buy a CD by Simone, a very tacky Brazilian singer, in which she recorded only Christmas classics. It is dreadful stuff, but I’ll leave you with her rendition of Silent night.

Merry Christmas to you all!