Bryn Mawr Classical Review 96.04.15


Diane J. Rayor and William W. Batstone (edd.), Latin Lyric and Elegiac Poetry: An Anthology of New Translations. New York: Garland, 1995. Pp. xxxii, 344. $18.95. ISBN 0-8153-1540-6 (pb).


Reviewed by Beau David Case -- Ohio State University

Finally, an affordable paperback anthology of Roman elegy is available for classroom use at a reasonable price, saving students the expense of purchasing a half-dozen or so individual books of varying quality. Finally, an assembly of fresh, quality translations is accompanied by exhaustive notes. And finally (can it be true?), women are breaking the glass ceiling of academic translation, as six of the seven sections in this new book are translated by women. The contributors, editors, and publisher are to be congratulated for their fine work on this brilliant anthology.

This dense volume, printed on acid-free paper, is assembled as follows: Introduction (ix-xxvii), Note on Translation (xxix-xxxii), Poems, each preceded by a one-page introduction to the poet (3-163), maps (4 unnumbered pages), Notes and Commentaries (165-337), Appendix (339-342), and brief biographies of the translators (343-344).

In his Introduction William S. Anderson (Professor Emeritus, Classics, University of California at Berkeley) aims to inform the undergraduate or general reader by first outlining the development of lyric poetry from the seventh century B.C.E., when "our earliest Greek poetry gives expression to an individual viewpoint and often allows it to express itself," through the first century C.E., when "lyric poetry appeared, almost like a meteor, in Roman literature, dazzling the talented writers and their cultivated audiences, then passing on into the darkness after Ovid" (p. ix). Anderson places the reason for the rising shining star of the first century B.C.E. in a sociological context: "Some men from famous families even started to turn their backs on politics, once the only way to go, and instead adopted the foreign ways popularized by Epicurus of living in comfortable and pleasurable 'obscurity.' And the poets, too, found themselves alienated or liberated from ties to the senatorial self-interest, from politics, and from confidence in the rightness of Roman policies -- so alienated that they began to explore Hellenistic poetry in a new way and discovered a new common ground with its themes and its writers. The large public genres and their grand schemes lost reality for the poets, who instead found the private experiences of themselves and their apolitical friends of primary significance" (p. xi). Unfortunately, Anderson does not afford the reader the luxury of reading his well-written prose to discover his interpretation of the reason why Roman lyric poetry bloomed only briefly. The bulk of Anderson's introduction is devoted to providing a background to the poets represented in the volume by comparing and contrasting them to one another. For example, the important distinction between Catullus' writing of freeborn lovers and other poets' writing of concubinage is brought out (p. xv), as well as the individual styles and artes poeticae of the poets -- Tibullus' "smooth" style and "dreamy" motion are noted (p. xvii), Propertius' "nervous, irregular" style, "diversity of feeling," and use of mythological allusion are described (p. xvii), and Horace's "hesitation to commit himself unreservedly to any single goal or moral system, his insistence on minimizing his enthusiasms and claims of achievement, his note of self-irony and gentle laughter at others' ardors" are all mentioned (p. xxv). Anderson not only introduces Roman lyric and elegiac poetry, but also introduces the translations, as he repeatedly makes reference to the work contained in this volume. Anderson certainly succeeds in introducing the topic to a first-time reader, covering the many dimensions of Roman verse, including the aesthetic, biographical, historical, and social.

While Anderson helps to introduce the translations, it is Diane J. Rayor (Assistant Professor, English, Grand Valley State University) who formally introduces the translators, their methods, and their goals (which will be discussed below). Rayor also describes the method and goal of the editors and translators as a group: "It is a poor translation that turns a good Latin poem into a bad English one, however literally the English words translate the Latin ... To the editors, accuracy means that reading these translations comes as close as possible to the experience of reading the Latin poems. The translators provide a medium for readers to discover the original poems. Each Latin poem is filtered through the translator's individual insight, and its translation becomes the expression of whatever the translator perceives as most important in the original" (p. xxx). We shall now turn to the translations themselves, "these strange and wonderful old wines [in] new bottles" (p. xxxii).

Jane Wilson Joyce (Associate Professor, Classics, Centre College) translates 41 of Catullus' poems, including 26 from the polymetric group, two of the carmina maiora (poems 63 and 68), and twelve from the elegiac group (with poem 85 being offered in two versions). Rayor states in her "Note on Translation" that "Joyce sought to trigger in the modern audience a response equivalent to that of Catullus's poetry on the Roman audience by using modern images" (p. xxx), and that her "translations seek to recreate Catullus's innovative and sophisticated linguistic play" (p. xxxi). The translations thus are fresh, lively, and, perhaps, less foreign to the modern reader. But, at least to this modern reader, the translations were difficult to read given an abundance of typographical play (capitalization, italics, bold-face), overpunctuation (parentheses, exclamation marks, em-dashes), usage of French (italicized, of course), and occasional anachronisms. Poem 10 (pp. 8-9) is an excellent example to illustrate this criticism:

Varus (a pal) had steered me out
of the Forum to see his lady-love
(I had nothing better to do):
a tart -- that was my first impression --
not entirely unsnazzy and not
a non-Venus-elect. So
we arrived and fell to chatting of this
and that -- 'What's it like in Bithynia
these days? how's it going out there?
How much grease did you get anyway?' So I
told them how it was -- zip for the natives,
let alone for the Governor or his staff,
barely the price of a dab of pomade,
especially for guys with a suck-my-cock
Gov who cared not a straw for his staff.
'But still, surely,' (they said) 'you purchased
what the place is known for -- a set
of sedan-chair toters?' 'Well,' (I said,
wanting to make his little maid think
I was One Lucky Guy) 'I didn't
let the fact that I was assigned
a rotten province stand in my path--
I got my set: eight males in great shape.'
(Fact was, I didn't own a one,
either here or there, who had the strength
to hoist the splintered foot of an old
army-cot as high as his collar-bone!
)
Then she said (Just Like a Slut!), 'Oh,
please, Catullus, won't you lend 'em to me
just for a while? I want to be chauffeured
to Serapis's Shrine.' 'Hold it!' I told her,
'the, you know, what I said just now
was mine? I got mixed up -- my confrère,
Cinna Gaius, uh, Gaius Cinna--
he bought them! But his or mine, who cares?
I use them just as if they were mine.
But you! what a bubblehead you are --
you don't cut a man much slack, do you?'
Although some may find the poems difficult to read, perhaps in particular the audience for which the work is intended, this reviewer nonetheless feels that these translations are among the finest available.

Rachel Hadas (Professor, English, Rutgers University at Newark) translates seven poems of Tibullus -- six from the first book and one (2.1) from the second book. Hadas captures well the "mite" wit and "cultus" nature of Tibullus, as characterized by Ovid. Overall the translations are very good, and are an ease and joy to read. There is one fault, however: meter. Hadas states in the "Note on Translation": "When I attempt to render elegiac couplets directly into English verse, rhymed iambic pentameter is the stubborn result.... Heroic couplets may give my Tibullus more finality or gusto than the dying fall of the long elegiac line, and yet the shorter concluding line of the elegiac couplet has, to my ear, rather the same brisk effect as the second, rhyming line, of the heroic couplet -- something snaps into place" (p. xxxi). The problem is that a good number of the verses are not true rhymed iambic pentameter -- some are too short, some too long, some couplets do not rhyme, and some words vary in syllabic length, such as in 1.1.61 where "funeral" has two syllables, and in 1.1.65 where it has three. Of course, metrical variation is acceptable, and in many cases the norm; however, this reader was expecting true rhymed iambic pentameter, such as in the fashion of Dryden, given all the emphasis placed upon meter by the translator, with the result being that the reading was occasionally difficult. The first 24 lines of 1.1 (p. 32) illustrate both the excellence of Hadas' use of language and her accurate rendering of the Tibullan style, as well as the few metrical flaws:

Let someone else heap up a bulging pile
Of gold, and own vast acres of rich soil.
He toils away, forever on the watch
For enemies; sleep shuns his anxious couch.
Let peaceful poverty be my tranquil lot,
The home-fires always glowing in the grate.

When planting season rolls around, I'd graft
Young vines; tend apples too with rustic craft.
Bountiful Hope would yield a bumper crop,
Filling each bin and wine jar to the top.
For lonely stumps can be my prayers' abode,
Or flower-decked stones that mark a triple road.
Whatever first-fruits harvest season yields,
I offer to the patron god of fields.

Ceres, let a crown of homegrown wheat
Hang up to decorate your temple gate.
And in the garden let Priapus stand
To frighten birds, his sickle in his hand.
Poverty-stricken gods of property
Once prosperous, Lares, take your gift from me:
Countless heifers once upon a time,
But the small plot now yields one meager lamb.
To grace the feast at which the country boys
Pray for "Good crops! Good wine!" with joyful noise.
Helen E. Deutsch (Assistant Professor, English, Northwestern University) translates 29 poems of Propertius -- nine from the Monobiblos, eleven from the second book, four from the third book, and five from the final (perhaps) fourth book. Deutsch was able to harness the "awkward power," as Veyne calls it, of Propertius and offer smooth, flowing verse. She indeed tends "to hold to the Latin images precisely," as states Rayor (p. xxx). Deutsch is keenly aware of the complexities of Propertius' poetry, as she says: "Propertius makes the inherited tradition of elegy come alive through the spoken quality of his poetry. Propertius is playful, deliberately obscure, ironic, and also sincerely passionate, all at once. He uses myth as a tool to contrast with the immediate passion in his love poems, and to make political statements that he could not make otherwise. His tone frequently surprises. He succeeds in presenting how it feels to be a woman when he gives the Roman matron Cornelia or his lover Cynthia voice... Reading Propertius, one hears each voice performing on the stage of elegy" (p. xxxii). His own voice perhaps is best heard in 1.7 (pp. 52-53):
While you sing, Ponticus, of Cadmean Thebes
and the grim arms of brotherly battles,
and contend, so help me, with Homer himself
(may the Fates be tender to your verse),
as usual, I'm busy with my love,
trying anything to soften her hard heart.
Compelled, I give up wit to obey
pain, and to complain of daily trial.

Thus erodes my prime, such is my fame,
the only name my poetry pursues.

Praise me for this alone: I pleased a learned girl,
Ponticus, and often suffered her unjust threats.
May a spurned lover one day read me, desperate,
and find solace in my sorrows understood.

Should that Boy hit you too with ruthless bow
(I sadly pray our gods won't so decree):
useless your camps, useless the seven armies, lying
silent in perpetual neglect. You'll mourn them, miserable.
In vain you'll long to write love poems,
but a late lover informs no verse.

How you'll marvel at me then -- no humble poet --
preferring me to all the wits of Rome.
Young men will break the silence at my tomb:
"Great poet of our passion, here you lie."

Take care -- don't let your pride condemn my poems --
Late love too often makes you pay too much.
Mary Maxwell (freelance writer residing in New York City) translates all six of the poems of Sulpicia from the corpus Tibullianum. Rayor quotes Maxwell on the essence of Sulpicia's poetry as a "rhetorical (and frankly social) strategy that manipulates in very clever ways audience expectations in a 'courtly' society. The trope of the private letter read aloud makes possible public expressions of desire, for one thing; it also uses this public 'announcement' as something of a threat. Sulpicia suggests that she can put a 'spin' on reports of her lover's behavior in ways that will cause her lover social embarrassment" (pp. xxxi-xxxii). As artificial as the poems are, Maxwell nevertheless is able to convey Sulpicia's performative spell onto us, as in 3.17 and 3.18 (p. 85):
[3.17]
Are you, Cerinthus, still devoted to your girl
now my feeble body's vexed with fever?
I would not pray to overcome this grim disease
unless I could suppose you wished me well.
What use to me is conquered distress if your heart
remains indifferent to my suffering?
[3.18]
No longer care for me, my light, with such fervor
as you seem to have felt for the last few days,
if ever in my youth I'd done something so foolish,
anything at all I could regret even more
than what I did last night when I left you alone,
desiring as I did to hide my own fire.
Rachel Hadas also translates three-fifths of the "Garland of Sulpicia" from the corpus Tibullianum -- 3.8, 3.10, and 3.12. Once again, as in her translations of Tibullus, Hadas exhibits her command of both the English and Latin languages, as well as her understanding of the poetry, as demonstrated by the first fourteen lines of 3.10 (pp. 88-89):
Glorious Apollo with your hair unshorn,
Come cure a gentle girl of sickness -- come!
Speed's of the essence! You will always be
Glad to have healed a beauty such as she.
Let not emaciation wreck her frame,
Nor any blemish mar a languid limb.
Whatever evil lurks there, let it be
Carried by rushing torrents out to sea.
Come, holy one, with all your remedies
And chants that bring a sickly body ease.
Pity the youth who, fearing she will die,
sends prayers past counting up into the sky;
Now praying and now -- if she should seem worse --
Hurling at heaven many a savage curse.
Diane Arnson Svarlien (faculty, Foreign Languages, Georgetown College) and John Svarlien (Assistant Professor, Humanities, Transylvania University) team up to translate 32 poems of Ovid's Amores -- ten from the first book, twelve from the second book, and ten from the third book. Although each translator worked independently, they had a common goal in mind: to convey as accurately as possible the metrical and sonorous qualities of Ovid's Latin. At the same time the translators offer clean, clear, and fresh verse which freely converses with the reader, as in the case of the opening ten lines of 1.4 (pp. 93-94), translated by John Svarlien:
So it's true. He's coming with you to this dinner party.
Dear gods, let it be his last meal on earth.
What am I supposed to do? Mingle? And when I see you,
do nothing but look? Must I watch
another enjoying your touch, watch another throw his arms
around your neck whenever he likes?
Now I understand how those well-wined centaurs went berserk
just looking at the lovely girl of Atrax.
Granted, I don't live in the woods and I'm not half horse; still
it's hard work to keep my hands off you.
Stanley Lombardo (Professor and Chair, Classics, University of Kansas) translates 30 of Horace's Odes (the back cover incorrectly states "29") -- eleven from the first book, five from the second book, nine from the third book, and five from the fourth book. Lombardo sees the following in his translations of Horace: "You are constantly aware of technique -- verbal mosaics and virtuoso metrics -- most of which cannot be replicated in English. You do what you can: work with the rhythms and line breaks to get some of the shape and movement, pay constant attention to tone and diction. Horace takes pride in his craftsmanship, but he also is often the poet at play, and I have tried to get across his sense of fun" (p. xxxi). Above all, Lombardo brings forth the simplex munditiis of Horace's poetry, as in the first twelve lines of 2.14 (pp. 147-148):
The years are slipping by, Postumus,
my friend, nor can virtue retard
the onset of wrinkles and old age,
or of Death who never loses --

not even if you offer three hundred bulls
each day to implacable Pluto, who restrains
triply gigantic Geryon
and Tityos behind the gloomy

water which -- you can count on it -- all of us
who feed on earth's bounty must sail across,
whether we die rich men
or destitute peasants.
Yet another example of both the skill of a Latin poet and that of his contemporary translator are the opening eight lines of 3.3 (p. 151):
The man who is just and steadfast of purpose
cannot be shaken from his rock-like resolve,
not by angry lynch mobs, the threatening
stare of a dictator, storm winds

that rule the troubled Adriatic Sea,
or the mighty hand of lightening Jove.
If the sky should crack and cave in,
the pieces would strike him unperturbed.
Lombardo's translations of Horace come last in this volume certainly not for chronological reasons, and maybe for the "thematic" and "generic" reasons mentioned by Anderson, but truly, in this reviewer's opinion, in order to realize the old adage, "saving the best for last."

The finest work of all certainly is that of the co-editor William W. Batstone (Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, Classics, Ohio State University). Comprising nearly one-half of the printed pages of this text, Batstone's informative introductions to each poet, interpretive introductions to each poem, brief English-language bibliographies for each poet, and rich and extensive notes for the individual poems deserve great praise, and not only make the book worthy of its name as the "Garland Reference Library of the Humanities Vol. 1425," but also raise it above all competition, the crown of which, like that of Horace, "touches the stars above." Batstone humbly describes his contribution to this book in his own words: "These notes are primarily for two audiences: undergraduates in courses on Roman literature and civilization who will read and discuss these poems with the aid of an instructor; and that diverse collection of general readers who with various levels of skill and knowledge will read alone for curiosity and other reasons." He continues by stating, "I have tried to offer information on details of form and content while suggesting something of the range of scholarly interpretation. I have not, however, tried to exhaust comment on every poem, but rather to offer, when it seemed possible and useful, perspectives and considerations that will give readers a way of beginning to understand some of the things these poets were doing. I have tried to make this commentary suggestive and useful, but neither a forum for my ideas nor an up-to-date variorum of scholarly interpretations" (pp. 165-166). The commentary is well beyond "useful" and is, indeed, in many ways "exhaustive," given the rich annotation by Batstone, and will serve well its intended audiences.

The final two sections of the book, the maps and the appendix, provide additional useful background material. Four maps, the Roman World, Italy, Rome, and the Forum are accompanied by the poems in the appendix -- two epigrams of Valerius Aedituus, two of Lutatius Catulus, one of Porcius Licinus, and Sappho 31 translated by Rayor, and Callimachus' prologue to the Aetia translated by Lombardo and Rayor -- to help to place the translations in a physical and historical context.

This new book, given the quality of its parts and as a whole, deserves its place in undergraduate classrooms, in the homes of both general readers and scholars, and in public and academic libraries -- it will be a welcome edition to all.