Ovid: Fasti 295-310: a translation

National Poetry Day UK 2012 takes place on Thursday 4th October.


And the theme for this year’s National Poetry Day is “stars”. So I began searching for a piece of Classical poetry, relating to this theme, which I could translate. My eye at last settled on a section from Ovid’s Fasti (295-310 – original text taken from the Perseus Digital Library):

Quis vetat et stellas, ut quaeque oriturque caditque,
dicere? promissi pars fuit ista mei.
felices animae, quibus haec cognoscere primis
inque domus superas scandere cura fuit!
credibile est illos pariter vitiisque locisque
altius humanis exeruisse caput.
non Venus et vinum sublimia pectora fregit
officiumque fori militiaeve labor;
nec levis ambitio perfusaque gloria fuco
magnarumque fames sollicitavit opum.
admovere oculis distantia sidera nostris
aetheraque ingenio supposuere suo.
sic petitur caelum: non ut ferat Ossan Olympus,
summaque Peliacus sidera tangat apex.
nos quoque sub ducibus caelum metabimur illis
ponemusque suos ad vaga signa dies.

And my translation, as follows:

Let me tell you about the stars – as I promised –
Their rise,
And their fall.
Fortunate spirits, who first dared to aspire
To higher places:
Higher than faults, higher than base human frailties
They raised their heads.
Greater beings, untouched by wine, by love,
By soldiers’ struggles –
Common concerns! –
Nor drenched by the sweat of baser goals, nor attracted
By the lure of glory, of wealth…

To our poor eyes they brought the distant stars;
The heavens set beneath their power.
For thus the sky is touched.

No longer must great mountains stretch
To touch their peaks to the bright, distant stars:
Like trailblazers long past, I too shall chart
And to their places I shall bind the stars.

Structurally, my translation is perhaps only loosely linked to the original text. I chose to write in a free metre, varying line length to play with emphasis. Arguably, I have lost the regular metre of Ovid’s original elegiac couplets as a result. I feel, however, that such a poem in English does not necessarily call for a regular metre, since part of the theme hints at surpassing the monotonous regularity of daily life.

Admittedly, some aspects of my translation are not necessarily seen in the original. I translate the very first sentence only loosely, since I felt that a literal translation would produce a defiant, almost abrasive tone. Instead, with my translation I tried to introduce a more lyrical, gentle tone from the very beginning. Later, “the sweat of baser goals” was a metaphor I added, aiming to outline more emphatically the contrast between those who chart the stars and the rest of humanity. “Ossan Olympus / summaque Peliacus” are summarised as “great mountains”: I felt that using the original names of these mountains might seem overly archaic, while a reference to Mt. Everest or equivalent would seem contrived. That said, my translation loses the tricolon produced by the use of the mountains’ names in the original Latin.

Any comments, suggestions or criticism welcome!


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