Monday, April 5, 2010

Martial on Cato

If, unlike Cato, you stay pure,
Forgoing suicide's allure,
I find you better for denying
Cheap praise solicited by dying.

Martial 1.8, as interpreted (very, very) loosely by Gary Wills in his Martial's Epigrams: A Selection. Henry George Bohn puts forth a much more sober prose translation in his book (pages 27 and 28) and also includes three verse translations from rather anonymous sources. Behold, the prose translation:
In that you so far only follow the opinions of the great Thrasea and Cato of consummate virtue, that you still wish to preserve your life, and do not with bared breast rush upon drawn swords, you do, Decianus, what I should wish you to do. I do not approve of a man who purchases fame with life-blood, easy to be shed: I like him who can be praised without dying to obtain it.
I will not judge any reader who feels the sudden urge to get up and grab a glass of water. Yes, it's dry -- forgivable in this instance because it is a prose translation, designed strictly to bring across content, not feeling. However, the verse translations are not much better, so I have not included them here. The stuffed-shirt club, it seems, had a good ol' time expurgating and expunging all foul words, gaiety, and fun from Martial's Latin originals.

One Elphinstone’s translations of Martial’s epigrams were so horrible, they prompted Robert Burns to write the little ditty seen below.

O THOU whom Poetry abhors,
Whom Prose has turnèd out of doors,
Heard’st thou yon groan?—proceed no further,
’Twas laurel’d Martial calling murther.

Clearly, nobody better create a crap translation of Martial without first looking over his shoulder for a certain Mr. Burns. But alas, even the possibility of a beat down from the Bard of Ayrshire himself did not impede such stuffy progress; nor does it prevent certain non-poets, like the Gary Wills we met at the very beginning of this post, from giving the dusty epigrams the one-two-three.

I met this Gary Wills just yesterday, when I picked up his aforementioned at a rarely-visited library branch. I have not read it much -- clearly he severely favored function over fidelity, a great quality in my mind. But, there may just be a bit too much of the "scholar playing the poet" in all this: some reviewers have claimed the total annihilation of Mr. "laurel'd Martial," though these days he cries murder.

Martial is also very new to me and I already like what I see. I'll be sure to keep this blog up to date regarding my activities on the front line of Martialis.

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