Is 'Cantata Mortis' an accurate Latin phrase?
December 15, 2013 1:45 PM   Subscribe

Presuming it means 'song of death', do the cases match up? My latin is too rusty...
posted by Sebmojo to Writing & Language (2 answers total)
Best answer: A better word for "song" would be carmen. (The plural is carmina — you might know it as the first word of the title "Carmina Burana.") In Latin cantata would have been a participle, meaning something like "having been sung."

Mortis is right — that's the genitive singular, so yes, it means "of death"
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 2:12 PM on December 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Cantata is post-classical as a substantive. Proper classical Latin would use carmen for a song, or cantus for a song in the sense of something that is being sung now, or the melody of a song. Mortis is the genitive case. So carmen mortis would be literally "song of death," but it doesn't strike me as idiomatic.* It would mean "song of a corpse" or "song of Death" (personified). "Carmen Mortis" was used as the title of a poem by George Allen England; in it, the speaker is dead.

Carmen funebre is attested (Quintilian) as a funeral song, though he specifies that this is properly called a nenia (or naenia), a dirge or lamentation. I would expect a song about the death of someone to be carmen de morte Caesaris (in this case, Caesar's death). A quick Google search confirms that medieval Christian literature included many carmina de morte of various people (mostly saints, it seems).

A song about a dead person would be carmen de mortuo.

A deadly song or spell would be a carmen letale.

* I work mostly with sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Latin, often called "neo-Latin," which is based in classical usage but has its own peculiarities, so I don't fully trust my intuitions.
posted by brianogilvie at 2:30 PM on December 15, 2013 [8 favorites]

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