Coitado de quem só pensa o mal

I just returned from a little vacation in Portugal and Spain. (And discovered that Google doesn't trust me to log into applications like Blogger or even the wanted to confirm with text messages I couldn't receive, or by my having set up code numbers I didn't know about before.) But this tale has waited centuries for you to hear it and is no worse for a week or two more.

We visited the National Palace of Sintra, in Portugal, supposedly the westernmost palace in Europe. It started as a Moorish fortress but passed to the kings of Portugal in the old, familiar way.

I particularly enjoyed the legend of the Magpie Chamber, whose ceiling is painted with over a hundred magpies:

Each of those magpies is carrying a rose in one claw, and a scroll in its beak that says Por Beme (“for the good”).

The legend is that Queen Philippa walked in on King João I of Portugal when he was kissing one of her ladies-in-waiting, and the flustered monarch stammered out the words “Por Bem”…as if to say, this was perfectly innocent; a kiss is just a kiss.

The queen accepted it, but talk went around, as talk will…and the story is that the king had the ceiling painted to spite the chatterboxes. Each magpie carries a red rose in its claw, as a symbol of the King’s loyalty to his queen (a daughter of John of Gaunt, and thus a member of the House of Lancaster ). And each carries a scroll in its beak reading POR BEM.

True or not, I liked the story because it reminded me of Edward III and the Knights of the Garter. Thus the title of my post, courtesy of Mrs. W. In Portuguese: “Poor of him who only thinks of evil.”

And if that “coitado” made you think it was something naughty, well, then, Honi soit qui mal y pense.


Grim said...

I once offered a modern American English translation of Edward's phrase as: "**** you if you don't like it." You have to use the stronger language to capture the sense of being shamed that the original was able to convey with a word. Americans aren't as sensitive to shame if the insult and disrespect aren't very direct and personal.

Joseph W. said...

I didn't know that. Thank you!

(In fact, I had to revise my understanding of the phrase just preparing the post; I'd previously imagined it meant something like, "the evil is in your own mind.")

Joseph W. said...

There's something to be said for a "free" translation that's designed to create the same effect, as opposed to the same words, as the original.

I used to have a translation of the Arabian Knights that was like didn't attempt to replicate the rhymed prose or the precise metaphors of the original, only to retell the tales in a way that would affect a modern English-speaking reader the same.

(So, in the Story of the Porter and the Three Ladies, when each of the ladies is beating the porter while asking him the proper name of her female parts, he just rattles off the good old four-letter words we know...)

I appreciate that kind of thing more with time.

Joseph W. said...

Okay, nights, nights, I know...

Joseph W. said...

Incidentally, the tour guide told us another story, about Catherine of Braganza...who was queen to Charles II. The story was that she introduced five o'clock tea to the English court so that she could keep an eye on her Merry Monarch at least part of the day.

(And, I thought, so she could see what he was doing with his hands.)

The story sounds too pretty to be true...the Wiki suggests only that she made the drinking of tea more popular than it had been...but as the opening credits to Olivier's Richard III say: "The history of the world, like letters without poetry, flowers without perfume, or thought without imagination, would be a dry matter indeed without its legends."

Grim said...

Sometimes the legends prove out, in any case!

Gringo said...

Links need to be corrected.

Joseph W. said...

Corrected. Thanks, Gringo.

Joseph W. said...

Incidentally, the guide told us that the room was used as a council that a design of chattering birds with reminders to think and speak "for the good" was appropriate, no matter why they were painted there in the first place.