John Jortin was one of a circle of poets at Cambridge who were actively producing Latin verses at the same time as Antony Alsop and his Oxford contemporaries. In contrast to the chatty Horatian odes of Alsop, the Cambridge poets, according to Leicester Bradner, excelled in ‘the romantic descriptive ode in which the poet withdraws from society to enjoy nature in solitude, or is led to solemn reflection by the dark shades of the woods.’ A younger Cambridge Latinist in this manner was Thomas Gray, more famous now for his Elegy written in a Country Churchyard.
In this delightful and touching epitaph, Jortin imagines his recently deceased cat as asking Proserpina the goddess of the underworld for a chance to return to its beloved master just for one night in order to whisper affectionate words in his ear.
Fessa annis morboque gravi, mitissima Felis,
Infernos tandem cogor adire lacus;
Et mihi subridens Proserpina dixit, ‘Habeto
Elysios soles, Elysiumque nemus’:
‘Sed, bene si merui, facilis Regina Silentum,
Da mihi saltem una nocte redire domum,
Nocte redire domum, dominoque haec dicere in aurem,
“Te tua fide etiam trans Styga Felis amat”.’
Decessit Felis anno MDCCLVI. Vixit annos XIV, menses II, dies IV.
Wearied by years and serious illness, I, the gentlest Puss, am compelled at last to approach the infernal waters; and laughing Proserpina said to me, ‘Henceforth you will have Elysian suns, Elysian groves.’ ‘But, if I have deserved well, indulgent Queen of the silent regions, allow me at least to return home for one night, to return home for one night, and to say to my master in his ear, “Even from beyond the Styx your Puss loves you faithfully”.’ Puss died in the year 1756. He lived 14 years, two months, four days.
Chosen and translated by Mark Walker (www.pineapplepubs.co.uk).