I am reading 'Histoire des chevaux'. There is a passage describing the horsemen singing around the fire and getting up to ride, which contains the sentence:

Alors ils essuyaient sur le sol les traces de leurs bourses et de leur sexe qui s'y étaient déposées.

I'm don't really understand what it means, could anyone please offer a satisfactory translation?

  • Welcome to French SE. I suggest you make your own attempt first - then people will know where the difficulty is and what to focus on.
    – Luke Sawczak
    Jan 16 '18 at 13:33
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    Thank you. The translation I have is "So they were wiping on the ground the traces of their purses and their sex that had deposited there."
    – andersj
    Jan 16 '18 at 15:47
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    Well « bourses » here doesn’t mean « purse » but « scrotum » or « nut sack » if you prefer... IGuess ot should make sense now :-}
    – Laurent S.
    Jan 17 '18 at 0:38
  • Les Larmes, Pascal Quignard, chez Grasset, 2016.
    – user3177
    Jan 23 '18 at 19:14

This text relates to a very distant past (here).

It appears to relate to a primitive time, when music was done by simple means like singing and clapping hands, so arguably when clothing was minimal, and money and purses were still lying in the future.

So bourses here is likely used in its acceptation of scrotum, though its plural form, in the per person count of objects (deduced from only one sexe being mentioned), would more likely point out at the testicles (through a metonymy?).

Alors ils essuyaient sur le sol les traces de leurs bourses et de leur sexe qui s'y étaient déposées.

Then they were wiping off from the ground the marks left by their scrotum and sex.

Note that déposées is feminine, and though bourses is also feminine, sexe is not, so if déposé was related to the bourses and sexe, it should have been masculine (déposés). Therefore, déposées relates to traces, but in my understanding, traces are not déposées, unless some paint or other substance is added to the object receiving the traces, which is likely not the case here¹. It might be some stylistic figure I don’t understand, but I left it out altogether from my translation, because I am too unsure and it doesn’t appear mandatory or even relevant when linked with traces.

¹ ...though someone insisted down in the comments that the spreading of sperm on the ground was the only acceptable interpretation. I am not at all convinced of this, since the feminine mark on déposées is, as far as I can tell, the only hint that something like this might be happening. In the whole first chapter I could find nothing else related to having sex. However, I might be too naive to spot the images.

  • les traces de qui est produit par les bourses et leurs sexes fait éjaculation. C'est clair. L'anglais ne va pas du tout. Désolée, mais c'est la vérité. Au bien, the outlines of their scrota and penises. The word deposited makes me thing they did ejaculate.
    – Lambie
    Jan 17 '18 at 18:37
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    While checking the spelling of “essuyairent,” I’m ashamed to admit that I got sidetracked by this pleasant image used by ThoughtCo to illustrate its entry for the conjugation of “essuyer” & never bothered to scroll down to get an answer my spelling question. (but I just now see that you caught/edited it!) Arguably of some relevance, however, I was inspired (still ashamedly) to wonder briefly about the kind of traces (and the nature of the activity causing them) that were being so attentively wiped away by the young lady in that image!
    – Papa Poule
    Jan 17 '18 at 21:55
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    Dans le livre, il y a un deuxième emploi (chercher bourses) ds. l'histoire du jour de l'ours où la sémantique des bourses est parfaitement... limpide ! Merci !
    – user3177
    Jan 23 '18 at 18:49

In some dictionaries you won't find anything if you don't search for the plural of "bourse".

It's a relatively "noble" term to say the scrotum, better that "testicules" or any other less courteous synonym.

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