Friday, April 27, 2007

Metamorphose the Metamorphoses

Why is it that so many people insist on translating Ovid's Metamorphoses nowadays? There was a time, of course, when it was easy enough for the average educated person to read it in the original Latin, but that time is long gone. Is that really sufficient explanation for the rash of verse translations which have been appearing lately?

Just out of curiosity, I've started to collect them as I come across them – not systematically, but according to the hazards of the marketplace. I now have twelve complete translations in my collection, no fewer than eight of them from the twentieth century, along with two from the twenty-first.

This list, I should say, is in no way exhaustive.

William Caxton (London, 1480): prose -- unpublished manuscript [Facsmile edition (New York, 1968)]
• Arthur Golding (London, 1565-67): rhyming fourteeners [ed. Madeleine Forey (Penguin Classics, 2002): available here]
George Sandys (London, 1626-32): heroic couplets [available here]• John Dryden et al., ed. Samuel Garth (London, 1717): heroic couplets [ed. Garth Tissol (Wordsworth Classics, 1998): available here]
• Frank Justus Miller (Loeb Classics, 1916): prose dual-text. [rev. G. P. Gould (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1984) ]
Brookes More (USA: Marshall Jones Company, 1922): blank verse
• Rolfe Humphries (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1955): blank verse
• Mary M. Innes (Harmondsworth: Penguin Classics, 1955): prose
• Horace Gregory (New York: Viking Penguin, 1958): blank verse
• A. D. Melville (Oxford: World's Classics, 1986): blank verse
• Charles Boer (Dallas, TX: Spring Publications, 1989): free verse
• Allen Mandelbaum (New York: Harcourt, 1993): blank verse
• David R. Slavitt (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1994): hexameters
Michael Simpson (Amherst & Boston: University of Massachusetts Press, 2001) : prose
• David Raeburn (Harmondsworth: Penguin Classics, 2004): hexameters
• Charles Martin (New York: Norton, 2004): blank verse

The ones in italics I don't actually own copies of. I've tried to specify in each case which edition I've used. There’s also, by the by, a good prose crib by the very industrious A. S. Kline, available here.

You'll notice the pace gradually starting to pick up as we reach the late twentieth century. Caxton's pioneering translation was never published at all, but remained in manuscript until the late twentieth century. After that Golding's Elizabethan version (one of Shakespeare's principal sourcebooks, described by Ezra Pound as "the most beautiful book in the language") held sway for sixty years or so, until Sandys decided to update it for the seventeenth century. He, in his turn, needed to be updated for the eighteenth century, after which we reach a long desert of neglect throughout the later Augustan and Victorian periods. Virgil was the poet to suit empire-builders, not frivolous, honey-tongued Ovid.

The present explosion of interest was perhaps prompted more by selections than by complete translations, though:

After Ovid: New Metamorphoses, ed. Michael Hofmann & James Lasdun (London: Faber, 1994): various metres & styles
• Ted Hughes: Tales from Ovid (London: Faber, 1997): free verse
Ovid in English, ed. Christopher Martin (Harmondsworth: Penguin Classics, 1998): various metres & styles
The New Metamorphoses was certainly an idea whose time had come. In a way it was unfairly overshadowed by Ted Hughes' subsequent book. His versions are undoubtedly powerful, but lack the variety of Hofmann and Lasdun's compilation (which, in any case, started him off on the project in the first place). Ovid in English is one in an excellent series of anthologies of responses to major Classical and European poets over the centuries.

Anyway, I thought it might be interesting to compare some of these translations and see how they treat crucial episodes in The Metamorphoses. There are fifteen complete English translations listed above, twelve of them in verse (one in rhyming fourteeners, two in heroic couplets, two in hexameters, six in blank verse and one in free verse). Of these, I own – or have access online – to eleven. If you add the Hughes, Hofmann & Lasdun, and Martin selections to the list, that brings us up to fourteen.

There are fifteen books in Ovid's epic. I've therefore decided to add myself to the list as well, and to include a passage from my own poem "Jack's Metamorphoses" (published in brief 15 (2000): 57-62 and 19 (2001): 70-79).

Verse translations (partial & complete):
1. Arthur Golding (1567): Bk XIV (Pomona)
2. George Sandys (1632): Bk XV (Hippolytus)
3. John Dryden, Samuel Garth, et al. (1717): Bk VII (Theseus)
4. Rolfe Humphries (1955): Bk XIII (Glaucus)
5. Horace Gregory (1958): Bk VIII (Icarus)
6. A. D. Melville (1986): Bk IV (Daughters of Minyas)
7. Charles Boer (1989): Bk III (Semele)
8. Allen Mandelbaum (1993): Bk II (The Crow)
9. After Ovid: New Metamorphoses (1994): Bk VI (Marsyas)
10. David R. Slavitt (1994): Bk IX (Iolaus)
11. Ted Hughes, Tales from Ovid (1997): Bk V (Arethusa)
12. Jack Ross, “Jack’s Metamorphoses” (1997): Bk I (Chaos)
13. Ovid in English (1998): Bk XI (Midas)
14. David Raeburn (2004): Bk XII (Rumour)
15. Charles Martin (2004): Bk X (Pygmalion)

Books of the epic:
Book I: Chaos, Four Ages, Flood, Daphne, Io, Syrinx, Phaethon
Book II: Phaethon’s fall, Callisto, Coronis, Aglauros, Europa
Book III: Cadmus, Actaeon, Semele, Tiresias, Narcissus, Pentheus
Book IV: Pyramus, Daughters of Minyas, Ino, Cadmus, Perseus
Book V: Perseus, Calliope, Proserpine, Arethusa, The Pierides
Book VI: Arachne, Niobe, Marsyas, Procne, Philomela, Boreas
Book VII: Jason, Medea, Theseus, Minos, Myrmidons, Procris
Book VIII: Scylla, Daedalus, Icarus, Meleager, Philemon and Baucis
Book IX: Hercules, Alcmene, Iolaus, Galanthis, Dryope, Byblis, Iphis
Book X: Orpheus, Pygmalion, Myrrha, Venus and Adonis, Atalanta
Book XI: Death of Orpheus, Midas, Peleus, Ceyx, Alcyone,Aesacus
Book XII: Rumour, Cycnus, Caeneus, Lapiths and Centaurs, Achilles
Book XIII: Ajax,Ulysses,Polyxena, Hecuba, Memnon, Galatea, Glaucus
Book XIV: Scylla, Sibyl, Polyphemus, Circe, Picus, Pomona, Romulus
Book XV: Pythagoras, Hippolytus, Cipus, Aesculapius, The Caesars

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Dangers of Depleted Uranium

My mother, Dr. June Ross, writes in to say:

On Sunday, 15th April, on TV1 at 10.00 am, I saw a German documentary called The Doctor, the Depleted Uranium and the Dying Children, made in 2004. It features Dr Siegwart-Horst Gunther and Canadian Tedd Weyman of the Uranium Medical Research Center, who travelled to Iraq to assess uranium contamination; and also some British veterans, who describe their exposure to depleted uranium and the resultant congenital abnormalities in their children.

I had no idea until seeing this how devastating this substance is. It causes the dust and water of the areas where it has been used, and of course any battle debris like damaged tanks, to be highly radioactive. It is shocking to see children playing, and life going on in total ignorance of the dangers, in these areas, with no attempt made to clear it up. The effects are just as bad as Chernobyl, if not worse, but no-one is being warned of any danger.

The military of Western countries are very keen to keep using these weapons because they are so effective, and also provide a use for some of the by-products of nuclear power generation. They deny that the stuff is radioactive or causes problems, shutting their eyes to the overwhelming truth and taking refuge behind carefully designed lying ‘investigations’ which purport to prove that its use is safe. The shells are very heavy and cut through a tank like paper and penetrate through many storeys of reinforced buildings, destroying them completely – no wonder the military will not give them up.

I saw many pictures of horrendously malformed babies, such as are never seen under normal circumstances but are distressingly common in Iraq. Similar effects are found in Kosovo, where NATO used depleted uranium shells. The British veterans were in damaged health themselves, as well as having the effects show up in their children. The denial on the part of governments and military shocked me most of all.

I guess, to me, the point of blogging (or one of the points, at any rate) is that one can use this easy access to the world wide web to promote awareness of such grotesque abuses. Western governments must be aware that this is a scandal on the scale, potentially, of Agent Orange in Vietnam. Once again, it isn't just foreign children who are being affected, but their own service personnel. One can almost hear the rumble of distant lawsuits in the air.

The real damage will have been done by then, though. It appears that this genetic damage can stay in affected populations for generations. "Gulf War Syndrome" (so-called) appears to have been caused by it also. Anyway, check it out for yourselves - this might be a good starting-place - and whatever you do, don't go poking round any recent battlefields in Iraq or Yugoslavia. Landmines are not the only perils we've left behind.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Titus Strikes Again

[Will Joy Christie at the Titus Launch]

Titus Books appears to have a thing for trilogies (following in the footsteps of their illustrious namesake, Mervyn Peake's Titus Groan, perhaps?). This is the second launch [in the Alleluya Cafe, Karangahape Rd, this time -- Thursday 12th April] at which they've presented three books of poetry simultaneously: Will Christie's Luce Cannon, Scott Hamilton's To the Moon, in Seven Easy Steps, and Richard Taylor's Conversation with a Stone.

[Cover illustration by Ellen Portch]

Both Richard and Will have published chapbooks at various times before, but this is the first full-length book of poems for all three of them. And long overdue, I think we'd all agree.

I'd like to say more about all of the books, and I will, but for the moment I just want to direct you to the accounts here and here of the launch on Scott's blog. (Unfortunately I was otherwise detained, enjoying a blissful mid-semester break down in Wellington, but that sure won't stop me trying to publicise these fascinating collections).

All three of the authors are, again, old brief contributors, so it's extra gratifying to see them busting out into the staid New Zealand poetry mainstream.

[Richard Taylor at the Titus Launch]

Oh, and for the curious:
In early 2005 Titus launched a triad of novellas: Bill Direen's Coma, Jack Ross's Trouble in Mind & Olwyn Stewart's Curriculum Vitae.
In late 2005 they launched their first hat-trick of poetry books: Bill Direen's New Sea Land, Olivia Macassey's exquisite Love in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction & Stephen Oliver's Either Side the Horizon.
In early 2006 they launched a duo of novels (soon to be expanded to three with the addition of David Lyndon Brown's Marked Men): Bill Direen's Song of the Brakeman & Jack Ross's The Imaginary Museum of Atlantis.