I get by with a little help from my friends

Hieronymus Cock (Flemish, 1507-1570)
The Destruction of the Dragon, 1565
Purchase, 1967
McMaster Museum of Art
(Photo credit: John Tamblyn)


So I’m stuck! The latest woodcut has me stumped. Really it’s only one word that has me stopped. The Latin inscription reads

Rex percunctatur Danielem de Dracone num cum etiam ereum dicat

I have no idea what to do with ereum, and how it is translated makes a real difference in the translation of cum and dicat. This is clearly a cum clause of some kind. If it is a temporal cum clause (translating cum as “when”, “while”, or “as”), then dicat is an indicative form of dico, dicare, “consecrate, deify”. If, on the other hand, this is a causal or concessive cum clause, then dicat will be a subjunctive form of dico, dicere, “say, declare”. It all depends on what ereum is supposed to mean. The closest Latin word that I can find is aereum, which has has two homonymous  meanings, either “made of copper/bronze” or “airy, airborne”. Both of these are adjectives. I suppose they could be substantive, “the airborne thing” or  “the bronze thing”, but neither of them make vary much sense in any case. I don’t even know if ereum is intended to be the subject or the object of dicat. Is it some mangling of eum, “he, she, it”? A couple of the varying possibilities I come to are

The king interrogates Daniel about the Dragon now since/although ereum also speaks.
The king interrogates Daniel about the Dragon now when he also deifies ereum.

The translation of num (“now”) and etiam (“even, also”) can be a little variable, and their positions movable depending on the needs of the final translation. It’s possible they are intended to go together, a la “even now”, or num may even be modifying the main verb, “The king now interrogates…”, but that doesn’t make a great difference to the final translation. They can be jostled in whichever way is best once the main of the translation is done.

This is clearly a depiction of Daniel 14:22-24, from Bel and the Dragon, but knowing that does not help. I even tried looking at the Latin Vulgate, to see if that would shed any light on the meaning of this inscription but it was no help, either.

So, there seem to be a few people following this blog. Do any of you have any ideas? I welcome suggestions.

EDIT: The mystery has been solved. What I thought was cum is actually eum. With num and a subjunctive it’s an indirect question. The fixed latin phrase is

Rex percunctatur Danielem de Dracone num eum etiam ereum dicat

Using num in this way implies that the speaker expects the answer to be “no”. English does have interrogative constructions that expect specific answers, whether “yes” or “no” but it’s tricky to phrase indirect questions this way. Trying to insert that sense of the question takes the translation too far from the original.

The king interrogates Daniel about the Dragon. He would not say that it, too, was bronze, would he?

I think that this may be something that has to get lost in the translation. It’s better in this case to hew to something a little more literal.

The king interrogates Daniel about the Dragon, whether he would say that it, too, was bronze.

Thanks to Cole Long on G+ for the pointer.

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