Reading among the Franciscan writings last night I caught the phrase “she who dwelleth in the gardens,” quae habitat in hortis, and I was curious about the phrase and so poked around the Song of Songs a bit. The Latin Vulgate version is at times obviously mistranslated – there is a passage at the very end where the groom says, “I awakened thee under an apple tree; there your mother was corrupted, there the one who bore you was raped.” (Sub arbore malo suscitavi te; ibi corrupta est mater tua, ibi violata est genitrix tua.“) Other translations have something which makes sense: “there your mother was in travail with you; there she who bore you was in labor.” Needless to say, passages like this encourage the allegorical reading, the mother being Eve and the bride the human race in general. That said, I accept that the Hebrew intended something else entirely.
But every now and again the Latin has a reading which is unusual but rather pleasant nonetheless. This one stopped me in my tracks: Mane surgamus ad vineas; videamus si floruit vinea, si flores fructus parturiunt, si floruerunt mala punica; ibi dabo tibi ubera mea (7:12). “In the morning let us go to the vineyards; let us see if the vineyard hath bloomed, if the blossoms are bearing fruit, if the pomegranates have flowered; there I will give you my nipples.”
Of course the modern translations all say, “There I will give you my love.” This is in parallel to the very first verse, “Kiss me with the kiss of your mouth; for your love is better than wine.” In the Latin this is quia meliora sunt ubera tua vino, “for your nipples are better than wine.” I have no idea what the original Hebrew says, but I’m certain that this text, which could have been read in any Catholic Church in the world fifty years ago, nipples and all, would only be read in an expurgated form now.