BMCR 2019.05.54

Latin Lyric and Elegiac Poetry: An Anthology of New Translations, 2nd edition

Diane J. Rayor, William W. Batstone, Latin Lyric and Elegiac Poetry: An Anthology of New Translations, 2nd edition. London; New York: Routledge, 2018. 428. ISBN 9781138857803 £32.99.

This collection of translations by various hands updates and expands the first edition, published in 1995.1 The translations remain, in the words of the editors, “filtered through the translator’s individual insight” (xxx). Some of the translators have published books of original English poetry and contribute versions that demand to be considered as creations in their own right. Others have followed the original text more closely, though that does not necessarily mean that they have paid less attention to creating a poem that commands a contemporary reader’s attention. W.S. Anderson’s introduction remains the same as in the first edition, and shows its age.

The translations themselves sometimes gloss obscure names and concepts, as in Quartarone’s versions of Propertius, for example. At other times, the translator has mirrored the text’s demands on its original readers’ learning, as in Peter Anderson’s version of Catullus 64. Batstone’s well-chosen, economical endnotes provide a valuable resource for students and instructors to draw on. As in any edited collection, the quality of the contributions varies; they range from workmanlike renderings to the remarkably sensitive work of Anderson, Deutsch, and Lombardo. Instructors who want to introduce these strange, impassioned poems to a contemporary audience now have a valuable resource.

I have only a few quibbles with the book’s presentation. The introductions to the different authors, never longer than two pages, are far too brief. The comprehensiveness of Batstone’s notes certainly remedies much of this lack. This format, however, requires pulling relevant introductory information from a lemmatized commentary; instructors and students alike may balk at this prospect. “[desunt versus]” (p. 26) won’t make sense to the Latinless readers for whom this book is presumably intended, and isn’t explained in the notes.

Catullus

A new translation of Catullus by Peter Anderson replaces the earlier edition’s versions by Jane Wilson Joyce. It adds further items that did not appear in the earlier volume, in particular poem 64, Catullus’s masterpiece on the wedding of Peleus and Thetis. Anderson’s version is generally more accessible to undergraduates than the previous version. The translation of the second poem begins: “O sparrow, my love’s sweetheart / to play with you, to hold you to her breast”. By contrast, Joyce’s earlier version went for allusive wit, beginning “Passer Noster: / Our Sparrow, Which Art in Heaven.”

Anderson leaves the terms pathicus and cinaedus of poem 16 untranslated (though carefully glossed), presumably out of a pedagogical commitment to precision regarding a different culture’s linguistic and sexual mores. It was obviously not out of concern about obscenity in a book that has plenty of f-bombs to go around. The slang has been updated: febriculosi / scorti (6.4-5), for examples, becomes a “skanky slut.” Anderson shows particular skill at varying English rhythms to give some sense of Catullus’s diverse meters. The nervous rhythm of his version of poem 63, the Attis, conveys the sense of Catullus’s unusual choice of galliambics. The italicization of “ she ” at its introduction at line 8 conveys the unexpectedness of the shift in the speaker’s gender.

New to this edition is poem 64 in Anderson’s masterful translation. The rhythm is as slow, the diction as learned, and the register as high as the original; the song of the Parcae is rendered with particular elegance. Anderson’s version also endeavors to match the erudition of the original poem, and so includes kennings such as “Erycina” and “Cecrops’ city”. The reader who knows the poem in Latin will be impressed by Anderson’s considerable achievement, while the student reader will be grateful for Batstone’s helpful explanatory notes.

Tibullus

Rachel Hadas presents a Tibullus in rhyming couplets, which has been only lightly edited since the previous edition. The choice of form presents the risk of an occasional lapse into Gilbert & Sullivan, as at, e.g. “I am both general and private here. / Let greedy men be wounded – I don’t care” (1.1.75-6). Maltby’s Tibullus commentary might have been included among the suggested readings.2

Propertius

Helen E. Deutsch’s translations have been revised from the first edition. These versions achieve powerful effects through their restraint and compression. The opening of 1.3 will serve as an example: “Picture Ariadne, lying limp on a barren beach, / Theseus’s ship departing in the distance.” Lorina Quartarone contributes six new translations, but in a more prosaic mode, as in the following example: “No need for Leucippus’s daughter Phoebe to inflame Castor’s desire with adopted refinement” (1.2.15).

Sulpicia

Elizabeth Young contributes a new Sulpicia and “Garland of Sulpicia.” Young gives her speaker a direct and emotionally compelling voice. Her liberal use of em-dashes may remind the contemporary reader of Emily Dickinson’s similarly brief, confessional poems. “If ever I’ve done anything in my short life / more foolishly and with more regrets— I confess it” (3.18.3-4). Young’s translation replaces the first edition’s versions by Mary Maxwell and Rachel Hadas, the latter again in rhyming couplets like her other versions of Tibullus. Batstone leads the reader expertly through the history of scholarly hypotheses regarding Sulpicia’s identity and authorship.

Ovid

This edition adds two more poems from the Amores to the previous one.3 The translators, John Svarlien and Diane Arnson Svarlien, use mostly iambic meter with occasional dactyls to great effect. Their amatory Ovid uses a conversational tone full of contemporary clichés. Thus their Dipsas advises her protegée to handle her wealthy client as follows: “Coax and cozen him down the garden path. He won’t guess what hit him / if you honey-coat his bitter pill” (1.8.103-4). Ovid’s narrator displays the translators’ characteristic wit as he is made to wonder: “What if our forebears had forborne to bear?” (2.14.9). These features contribute to the student reader’s ability to distinguish Ovid from the other elegists on the level of phrase and sentence, as well as in terms of argument and subject matter.

The volume’s editors note that they commissioned some new poems for the second edition in response to requests by reviewers and instructors. Should a third edition be commissioned, this reviewer would find some of the Heroides a useful addition to the generous selection of Amores presented here.

Horace

The second edition includes three more of Horace’s odes than the first; Stanley Lombardo’s elegant versions otherwise remain unchanged.4 As in Lombardo’s versions of Latin epic, this Horace passes easily through a variety of registers. Horace on the subject of love sounds like a thoroughly modern man: “I have lived my life, kept in shape for girls” (3.26.1); “We’ve had a long truce, Venus, / and now you’re mobilizing again” (4.1.1-2). The tone can become terse and grave where appropriate: “Done. A monument more lasting than bronze” (3.30.1). The Roman Odes occupy an appropriately elevated register: thus Juno promises that she will “allow [Romulus] / to enter the halls of light, to drink nectar / sweet, and to be inscribed among / the quiet ranks of the gods” (3.3.33-6).

Horace’s gnomic statements are notoriously difficult to render credibly for contemporary audiences, who tend to be allergic to the form. Lombardo faces the challenge with steadfastness of purpose. The conclusion of the consolatory 1.24 well expresses the nature of the problem facing all translators: “It is hard. But endurance makes more bearable / what it is unnatural to change.”

Notes

1. Diane J. Rayor, William W. Batstone, Latin Lyric and Elegiac Poetry: An Anthology of New Translations. New York: Garland Publishing, 1995.

2. Robert Maltby, Tibullus: Elegies. Cambridge: Francis Cairns, 2002. Reviewed in these pages at BMCR 2004.02.01.

3. Many of the Svarliens’ translations of the Amores have also been published on Diotima ( Stoa.org).

4. Lombardo has since published a complete Odes : Stanley Lombardo (trans.), Horace: Odes with Carmen Saeculare. Introduction and Notes by Anthony Corbeill. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2018.