Monday, 7 March 2016

Styles of translation: 2.68 revisited

One of Jula's students in Paris (see previous blog post) raised the issue of how translators do what we do. A prosaic Martial isn't to everyone's taste:
Lucillius' epigrams flowed beautifully off the tip of the tongue, often following rhythmic schemes. Martial on the other hand, was not so eloquent with his words, although admittedly he claims to be a dirty poet. I believe that this distinction between styles, them being different authors aside, can be attributed to words becoming lost in translation...
I believe that it is a must to take this translation issue into account when reading Roman poetry. For Martial, in the Oxford translation, reads like he would speak, not like a rhythmic poet.
These are perfectly fair points - clearly I don't share the same aims as the Lucillius translator (nor would I have the nerve to re-verse Martial into English metres). Something is always lost in translation, and new things can be found as well: it's a balancing act, and one at which I'm still fairly new. Translators also have different reasons for translating, and different audiences in mind.

Rewind two hundred years, for instance, and any (male) reader wealthy and leisured enough to be picking up a translation of Martial into English - or French, or whatever - would already be fluent in Latin, or at least beaten enough times to fake fluency, because it was pretty much all they did in school. What's more, they used Martial to do it. Odd though it now sounds, selections from the epigrams were the staple diet of beginner-ish Latin learners for generations of Europe's schoolboys.

So his likely adult readership knew a fair bit of Martial already, in the original. Why translate him, then? In a word: emulation, and a chance to show off talent to an audience of connoisseurs. Particular poems became favourites for adaptation into the vernacular. I unwittingly wandered into this centuries-old game of 'cover versions' a few weeks back when I translated 2.68, a poem that many old public-schoolboys will have had a go at, back in the day. The original is an odd nine lines:
Quod te nomine iam tuo saluto,
quem regem et dominum prius uocabam,
ne me dixeris esse contumacem:
totis pillea sarcinis redemi.
Reges et dominos habere debet
qui se non habet atque concupiscit
quod reges dominique concupiscunt.
Seruom si potes, Ole, non habere,
et regem potes, Ole, non habere.
Here's my blog version, which I'm not unhappy with, for now:
I call you by your actual name these days, and yes, I used to call you 'lord and master'; but please don't think I do it out of spite. I cashed in all I had, and I'm my own man now. 'Lords and masters' are for men who aren't their own; who share those lords' and masters' same addictions. Can you get by without a slave, Olus? Then you can get by without a master, too.
And here, taken from Sullivan and Boyle's estimable Martial in English (from the Penguin Classics' 'Poets in Translation' series; sadly long out of print), is Abraham Cowley, in the mid-17th century. His version runs to 16 lines in all: here is its opening:
That I do with humble Bowes no more,
And danger of my naked Head adore,
That I who Lord and Master cry'd erewhile,
Salute you in a new and different Stile;
By your own Name, a Scandal to you now,
Think not that I forget my self or you...
These six lines correspond to the first three of Martial's Latin my 'I call you by your actual name these days, and yes, I used to call you "lord and master"; but please don't think I do it out of spite.' Cowley covers all the bases, but takes longer to get there (almost twice as long as the original), padding like billy-o as he goes.

Here, conversely, is Joseph Addison (late 17th / early 18th century), again from Martial in English:
By thy plain name though now addrest,
Though once my King and Lord confest,
Frown not: with all my goods I buy
The precious Cap of Liberty.
This is line for line, and as close to the Latin as mine; but where's the rest of the poem? Addison leaves it there (as a World's Classics translator never could). My best guess as to why: the next section of the poem (lines 5-7) is three lines long, and he doesn't fancy his chances of cramming all that into one couplet. I don't blame him for getting out while the going was good.


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