The skies are still rich in hue, and the night air still sultry, so before summer passes away I want to read as many books as I can from my Summer Reading list. This month, I’ll be reading Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book and A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle. All delicious books that I want to dig my teeth into. Sat down in the shade of the lime trees outside the library and peeked at a few pages of the Jansson and the Gruen; both are filled with lovely writing and lovely pictures. The Mayle is mine own, from my newest batch of Popular Penguins. Must stop buying those. Each one might only be $9.95, but all up – who knows how much they’ve cost me over the weeks? Anyhow, here’s the remainder of my reading list for February:
- Metamorphoses, Ovid
- Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
- Tender is the Night, F Scott Fitzgerald
- The Waves, Virginia Woolf
Am having difficulty tracing recent and decent translations of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. I don’t read Latin, so there’s no hope of reading the original text, even though the words do look vaguely familiar (gee, I wonder why):
In nova fert animus muatatas dicere formas
corpora; di, coeptis (nam vos mutastis et illas)
adspirate meis primaque ab origine mundi
ad mea perpetuum deducite tempora carmen!
Then there’s Arthur Golding, who inspired Shakespeare.
Of shapes transformed to bodies strange, I
purpose to entreat,
Ye gods vouchsafe, for you are they that
wrought this wondrous feat
To further this mine enterprise, and from the
Grant that my verse may to my time, his
course directly run
It is sort of tempting. Ezra Pound described it as “the most beautiful book in the English language.” But wait –
Pound was exaggerating. Golding’s Metamorphoses still makes for majestic reading, but those long lines and high tone take some of the fun out of it. Golding was a religious man and for him Ovid’s work was a series of morality tales.
And translation from 1567, regardless of how beautiful it is, is going to be a little painful – and, needless to say, archaic. While I thoroughly enjoyed Chapman’s rendition of Homer, I’d like to keep reading Elizabethan translations a once in a lifetime experience.
I suppose there’s always A D Melville’s 1986 translation.
Of bodies changed to other forms I tell;
You Gods, who have yourselves wrought every
Inspire my enterprise and dead my lay
In one continuous song from nature’s first
Remote beginnings to our modern times.
The Melville has been described as accurate, well foot-noted and dull. This is the translation that Oxford classics publishes. If all else fails, I think Melville is a safe option. Safer than Slavitt, for sure. His Metamorphoses is “wild” and “translated freely”. There’s always the chance that his is more alike to Ovid than that of Golding’s, but I’ve heard also that he likes to put his own spin on things, to say it euphemistically.
Two more: Charles Martin, and Allan Mendelbaum.
The Martin translation begins
My mind leads me to speak now of forms changed
into new bodies; O gods above, inspire
this undertaking (which you’ve changed as well)
and guide my poem in its epic sweep
from the world’s beginning to the present day.
And the Mendelbaum like this:
My soul would sing of metamorphoses,
But since, o gods, you were the source of these
bodies becoming other bodies, breathe
your breath into my book of changes: may
the song I sing be seamless as its way
weaves from the world’s beginning to our day.
So, which to read? Golding’s is archaic, Melville’s dull, Martin’s clear and straightforward, but I think I like Mendelbaum best. How beautiful are the opening lines? I only hope I’ll be able to find a copy. If not, I’ll be content with either Martin’s or Melville’s. And I suppose Goldings, if it gets to that.
Oh, and almost forgot to mention that I managed to finish Soul Mountain, very late last night. Still not completely sure how I feel about the book, but I’ll have my thoughts up soon – Tuesday, at the latest.