In those days… (The Penny Magazine on Cologne)

The fervent admiration with which the Rhine is regarded by Germans is a just tribute to its natural beauties, and still more to the stirring events which are associated with the noble river. The vineyards mirrored on its bosom, and all the varied beauties characteristic of the „scenery of the Rhine,“ would not be half so inspiring if its castled crags and ancient towns were not rich to overflowing in the legends of antique romance. Here the old Roman civilization irradiated the darkness of the wild forests, and the more benevolent influences of the modern civilization were fostered and developed. Few of the ancient cities of Europe can trace their origin so distinctly as Cologne. It was a Roman station, and subsequently a „colonia“ under the name of Colonia Claudia Agrippinensis, from the Emperor Claudius and his wife Agrippina, who was born here while her father, Germanicus, commanded in these parts. Agrippina adorned it with an amphitheatre, temples, aqueducts, &c., the ruins of which may still be traced. No spot on the banks of the Rhine exhibits so many Roman vestiges. A great part of the wall which extends along the river is Roman, and also one of the gates. Some of the streets still bear Latin names. Many busts, sarcophagi, and stones, with the numbers of the legions stationed here, have been dug up, and with other relics are placed in a public museum. It has been doubted whether the Emperor Constantine erected a bridge across the river at this spot. The story is, that it was destroyed in the tenth century by Otho the Great, Emperor of Germany, and that the piers are now occasionally visible. Between Cologne and the opposite bank of the river there is now a bridge, erected in 1822, which rests upon thirty-nine pontoons, and rises and falls with the tide. It is a favourite promenade in fine weather. Vitellius was proclaimed emperor at Cologne. Trajan was here when nominated by the Emperor Nerva as his successor. Several of the Roman emperors resided for some time, and Sylvanus was assassinated, at Cologne. It continued to be the capitol of Lower Rhenish Gaul until the fourth century, when it was sacked by the Franks, who were now harassing the Roman power; but it was retaken. In 460 the ranks once more obtained possession, and kept it. Clovis, their king, was proclaimed here. After a frequent change of masters Cologne was annexed to the German empire, and in 949 was constituted an imperial free city. The Roman municipal constitution might be traced down to the period when Cologne, in 1792, ceased to be a free city. It is now the capital of a Prussian province, and contains about sixty thousand imhabitants.
In the early part of the fourteenth century, Cologne, where the grander part of the Rhine commences, was called the „Rome of the North“. It was then the seat of the greatest wealth and civilization on this side the Alps. Petrarch visited it in 1333, and, writing to his friend Cardinal Colonna, he exclaims, „How glorious is this city!“ and he commends the taste of its inhabitants for literature and the refinements of life. Cologne was at that time the principal town of the great Hanseatic League, which it had joined in 1201, and had grown rich by industry and an extensive commerce. It could muster an armed force of thirty thousand men, and its population amounted to one hundred and fifty thousand souls. Even in the eleventh century the vessels of the Colognese carried Rhenish wines, corn, flour, malt, beer, linen and other German produce to all countries lying on the German Ocean and the Baltic, to England, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Norway, Sweden and Russia, and brought back the productions of those countries. King John granted extraordinary privileges to the merchants of Cologne who traded to England. Whitehall was assigned to them exclusively for the Rhenish trade. They had factories also in Norway and the Netherlands. In those days the Colognese carried matters with a high hand. They obliged all vessels navigating the Rhine to unlade their cargoes at Cologne, whence they were conveyed in its own ships. In 1452 Cologne was formally excluded from the Hanseatic League, having taken the part of England, against which the League had declared war, and it was not until 1474 that it was re-united. While commerce flourished, the arts and sciences were equally vigorous. The University of Cologne was the most famous in Germany. The specimens of architecture, paintings on glass, sculptures, and pictures, which still exist, attest the perfection which the Colognese artists had attained.

(The Penny Magazine, November 1842)

Martials Rhein-Epigramm

Nympharum pater amniumque, Rhene,
Quicumque Odrysias bibunt pruinas,
Sic semper liquidis fruaris undis,
Nec te barbara contumeliosi
Calcatum rota conterat bubulci;
Sic et cornibus aureis receptis
Et Romanus eas utraque ripa:
Traianum populis suis et urbi,
Thybris te dominus rogat, remittas.

(Marcus Valerius Martialis: Epigrammaton Liber X; VII)

Gelegentlich wird in Rhein-Publikationen die Eingangszeile dieses Epigramms erwähnt, nie aber stießen wir in solchem Kontext auf den unmittelbar darauffolgenden Humbug, wohl sollte das schöne Lateinzitat “nympharum pater amniumque, Rhene” nicht durch die zweifelhafte geografische Angabe in Zeile 2 beschädigt werden. Der Text stammt von Martial und darf im ersten Jahrhundert n. Chr. verortet werden. Rheinische Neuigkeiten drangen zu dieser Zeit womöglich nach dem Stille Post-Prinzip nach Rom und dürften in der Hauptstadt des Abendlandes, deren Reich unter Trajan gerade seine größte Ausdehnung erreichte, unter “ferner liefen” abgebucht worden sein. Auf das Rhein-Epigramm folgt bei Martial ein wesentlich bekannteres, zweizeiliges Spottgedicht auf eine ältere Dame. Seit unserer Schulzeit bedauern wir, daß deutsche Übersetzungen lateinischer Dichtungen meist hoffnungslos überdreht und mit veraltetem Vokabular gesalbt daherkommen. So fanden wir auch für dieses durchaus knackige Epigramm Martials lediglich eine unnötig pathetisierte, Tonfall und Versmaß überdehnende deutsche Version. Deutlich besser gefiel uns die gereimte Annäherung von Olive Pitt-Kethley (what a name!), auch wenn sie sich leicht ins Abseits der Worttreue begibt:

Father of nymphs, and all the springs
That drink the Thracian snow,
Old Rhine, in all your wanderings
Forever freely flow.

No boorish peasant with his team
Shall drive the lumbering wain,
Defaming thus your noble stream -
Now honour`s come again.

The golden horns of victory raise,
On either bank be Rome!
And now your ruler, Tiber, prays,
Return our Trajan home!