Sunday, October 9, 2011

Odi Et Amo

When down, I read.  To give you an inkling of the depths of my depression, I'm currently reading War & Peace.  It's the traditional translation by Constance Garnett, no longer the "preferred" version, but it's free online.  Besides, I doubt if a new translation would deliver a much better rendering of Tolstoy than the following passage:  “Looking into Napoleon's eyes, Prince Andrew thought of the insignificance of greatness, the unimportance of life which no one could understand, & the still greater unimportance of death, the meaning of which no one alive could understand or explain.”  That pretty much sums it up for me.  Halfway through the book, I don't know how it will all turn out, but I feel fairly confident, like most stories about princes & princesses, that it'll have a happy ending.

I'm also reading The Erotic Poems, Peter Green's translations of Ovid's Amores, Art of Love & Cures for Love.  To be honest, I like Horace Gregory's Love Poems of Ovid better, but that may derive, at least in part, from familiarity, given my having it read many times since I found it at a used bookstore decades ago for under a buck--what a bargain!  My main complaint about Green is that he often strikes me as too genteel.  For example, in Amores 3.7, which he dubs an explicit poem, Green renders politely:

She tried every trick--wound her arms (whiter than snow or
     Ivory) around me, pressed
Her thighs snug up under mine, plied me with sexy kisses,
     Tongue exploring like mad,
Whispered endearments, called me her master, tried me
     With nice four-letter words--they often help.
No good.  My member hung slack . . .

Rather than explicit, I'd give it a PG-13 rating, tops; perhaps a Hard-R is too much to ask from a poem about impotence.  Such priggishness reminds me of the reluctance, until late, to translate pedicabo et irrumabo in Catullus' infamous poem. Obviously, the thought was that readers were much too squeamish to hear threats of being forcibly sodomized unless uttered in Latin.  Today's audience would undoubtedly find it amusing were Bruce Willis, with his quirky trademark smirk & steely stare, to deliver a modern translation.

On the upside, not only does Green provide the complete poems, but also a concise biography of Ovid, as well as such bountiful endnotes that they comprise half the volume. If I recall, Green even gives endnotes to his endnotes. (In your face, TSE!) For the most part, these notes are informative, as when he points out lost puns, discusses the components of, say, an epicedion, or explains why Augustus found Ovid's poetry subversive.  At other times, I find the notes a bit befuddling, as when Green speculates--nay, insists--that various vaguely misogynous lines are directed at one of the poet's ex-wives.  Green doth project too much, methinks.  Elsewhere, Green compares Ovid's diction to that of "a bitchy homosexual."  I suppose Green feels it's ok to appeal to stereotypes to make a point--I just wish I knew what that point is.
Peccadillos aside, Green provides an informative, enjoyable read.  After I finish this collection, I plan to read his translations of The Poems of Exile: Tristia & the Black Sea Letters.  Also, I now have Horace Gregory's translation of The Metamorphoses.  (I've read both the Rolfe Humphries & Allen Mandelbaum translations.)  So if dead leaves, bare trees, the faint last rays of sunshine, or Tolstoy's epic fairy tale don't lift my flagging spirits, at least I have plenty to peruse.

Happily Ever After

1 comment:

Matt Morris said...

Mea oops! The link I provided for War & Peace isn't the Constance Garnett translation after all. I don't know how I got that screwed up, but that's pretty much my life story. The Constance Garnett translation reads, "Gazing into Napoleon's eyes, Prince Andrey mused on the nothingness of greatness, on the nothingness of life, of which no one could comprehend the significance, & on the nothingness--still more--of death, the meaning of which could be understood & explained by none of the living."