Vox ego sum clamans loca per deserta parate venturo gressum domine cursumque viarum. Joha..1.

Gerard de Jode (Netherlandish 1509/17-1591)
After Maarten De Vos (Dutch 1532–1603)

Scene from the life of St John the Baptist and Christ, c. 1585
Gift of Herman Levy, Esq., O.B.E., 1984
McMaster Museum of Art
(Photo credit: John Tamblyn)

In another engraving from the McMaster Museum of Art, we have a very famous Biblical verse:

I am the voice crying out in the wild places, “Prepare the way and the course of the roads for the lord to come.” John 1:23

A couple of things worthy of mention. First, there’s no indication whatsoever of direct speech. The reader simply has to discern it from the context of the text. Punctuation marks to indicate direct speech are a fairly modern invention. Second, the imperative verb, parate, governs both gressum as well as cursum (the que appended to cursum simply means, “and”.) It’s tempting to translate parate twice, in two different senses, once for each object, so that it sounds more like the more popular version of this verse, “prepare the way, and make straight the course…” but presumably, if that’s what was desired, that’s how the Latin would have been written. It does seems a little odd, however, that the writer didn’t simply quote the Latin Vulgate,

ego vox clamantis in deserto dirigite viam Domini


I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord.”

Perhaps this was written by someone in memory of the Biblical verse, but without access to a  copy, or perhaps the writer had access to a different version of the Latin, or perhaps it was translated from a German translation of the gospel into Latin (note the German scharfes S, “ß”, in “gressum”.)

Also, the people in this engraving are wearing some great hats. I especially love the helmet of the soldier seated in the foreground.

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