One of the challenges with studying and understanding the origins and evolution of the Basque language is simply that it is only until relatively recently that it has been written down. Thus, whenever a new fragment of Euskara is discovered, it is a big deal. While the oldest known phrases in Euskara data back to 950 or so, the oldest text is a letter written in 1537 by the then-bishop of Mexico. Or, it was the oldest, until now.
- Dr. Rosa Ayerbe discovered a new poem in Euskara while doing research on notary records in Gipuzkoa at the Provincial Historical Archive of Gipuzkoa. She found one document, in the records of one Miguel Ibañez de Insausti from Azkoitia, in which a poem written in the Gipuzkoan dialect of Basque is inscribed in the margins of the otherwise unremarkable legal document.
- With the help of other researchers, including Ramon Martin, Iago Irijoa and Ander Ros, they were able to transcribe and translate the ancient text. It isn’t clear that this Miguel wrote the poem. More likely, it seems, one of his scribes wrote the Basque text, sometime around 1515. It’s a love poem, not particularly remarkable in and of itself, but now being the oldest poem we have written in Euskara, it becomes one of the most fascinating items written in the language.
- Here is the poem, translated to English with the help of Google translate and thinkSpain.
My sweet beautiful beloved
you pity me
Having me so “zulez”,
How did you make me fall in love
with that sword in hand?
You take me with your hands
from here to there
I will forgive you, squire,
I have not used it to kill a person
save the young man
Hurting me with love pains
the feathered hen
me sweating of love
in my tears
the horses appear to the fight
My love left me
I usually have the first one
inside my heart.
Going one day
I got up early in the morning, one day a week
one day a week, and Monday morning
my dear “belagai,” broke in front of me
in the “bia” that I did not want, next to where you were
the great blow shook me, in the middle of the heart.
I was going to church when I was hit
I got down on my knees, in front of the altar
[to] confess my sin, as I did
she gave me penance, as I should.
Meanwhile, here I am (you got me)
- It is particularly amazing that Dr. Ayerbe discovered this document as it has been scanned and digitally available for some time, just waiting for someone to find it. How many other such treasures are buried in the archives?
Primary sources: ‘Ene Laztan Gozo Ederra…’, Primera Transcripción e Interpretación del Texto, Archivo Histórico Provincial de Gipuzkoa; ‘Ene Laztan Gozo Ederra…’, Sale a Luz un Antiguo Texto Escrito en Euskara (Circa 1515), Archivo Histórico Provincial de Gipuzkoa