What happens in Sicily… Segesta

A couple of days ago, I returned from a trip to Sicily, where I (armed with a camera and, more often than not, an ice-cream cone) enjoyed a whistle-stop tour of several Classical sites. One of the locations I visited was Segesta, which contains the remains of an incomplete Greek temple and a Greek theatre. There are also the remains of the agora (literally marketplace), from which stones were later taken away for other constructions.

Greek theatre in Segesta. This theatre would have seated 5,000 people, giving an indication of the town’s population during the Hellenistic Era (during which the theatre was constructed).

According to Virgil, Segesta (known to the ancient Greeks as Egesta) was founded by Acestes and a group of Trojans who did not wish to continue following Aeneas on his journey to found the Roman civilisation; indeed, Thucydides (who states that Segesta was founded by Trojans) seems to agree with this. In any case, Segesta became an Elymian city (the Elymians being one of the three peoples native to Sicily), located on an important strategic point on the trade routes leading to Sardinia and Spain.

Greek temple in Segesta.

From 415 B.C., Sicily became involved in the Peloponnesian War. Segesta was already being threatened by the territorial ambitions of Selinunte (then Selinus) and therefore appealed to Athens for help. Segesta was able to persuade Athens of its wealth (and, implicitly, of the opportunities for Athenian empire-building in Sicily). Consequently, Athens began the catastrophic Sicilian expedition (as recorded by Thucydides).

The temple. The columns are made from the local limestone, since the nearest marble quarries were 40km away from the site.

We can tell that the temple (pictured above) is incomplete: the floor level of the temple is missing, as is an internal “nave”; moreover, the columns lack the fluting patterns that would have been added. There are several different theories as to why the temple is incomplete. Perhaps (controversially) the construction of the temple was only begun to demonstrate the wealth of Segesta to the Athenians, and construction was halted when Athenian aid was confirmed; alternatively, perhaps the town simply ran out of resources to build the temple. Furthermore, as a consequence of its incomplete nature, we do not know to which deity this temple was dedicated.

The temple.

Return to an old friend: Catullus 3

Why have I entitled this post “Return to an old friend”? Essentially, I have previously attempted to translate Catullus 3 (while this blog was still in its infancy) but never quite managed to produce a translation with which I was completely satisfied. When I tried to produce a rhyme scheme, I ended up with a stiff, contrived metre with little emotional effect. I also never really managed to find the right register – not helped by my habit of including somewhat archaic English. However, more recently I created this new translation, which I felt was more satisfactory, though certainly not perfect.

Below is the text of Catullus 3 (taken from the Perseus Digital Library: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Catul.+3&fromdoc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0003)

Lugete, o Veneres Cupidinesque
et quantum est hominum venustiorum!
passer mortuus est meae puellae,
passer, deliciae meae puellae,
quem plus illa oculis suis amabat;
nam mellitus erat, suamque norat
ipsa tam bene quam puella matrem,
nec sese a gremio illius movebat,
sed circumsiliens modo huc modo illuc
ad solam dominam usque pipiabat.
qui nunc it per iter tenebricosum
illuc unde negant redire quemquam.
at vobis male sit, malae tenebrae
Orci, quae omnia bella devoratis;
tam bellum mihi passerem abstulistis.
o factum male! o miselle passer!
tua nunc opera meae puellae
flendo turgiduli rubent ocelli.

My translation:

Weep, Venuses! Weep, Cupids too!
You men who claim to be sympathetic – weep!
My girl’s sparrow is dead – that sparrow,
Belonging to my darling girl,
Whom she loved more than her own eyes:
For he was sweet – sweet as honey – and he knew her
Just as well as a girl knows her mother;
Nor did he ever flit away from her lap – he hopped around,
Now here,
Now there,
Chirping ceaselessly, to his mistress alone.

Now he drifts away, down that path of shadows.
They say he’ll never return – that nobody returns
From the dark shadows of Hell – a curse upon them!
A curse upon those shades,
Who devour all beautiful things,

And who took away such a beautiful bird from me.
Oh, evil deed! Poor bird!
It’s because of them that my girl’s eyes
Grow red, and swell,

This translation continues my recent experiment with a comparatively loose, free metre and varied line lengths. This is perhaps harder to justify here than with my previous translation of Ovid’s Fasti 295-310. Catullus 3 is what would today be called a solemn elegy, commemorating the death of a beloved pet, and therefore perhaps calls for a more solemn, steady metre. However, I think it possible to justify my interpretation. This poem, as well as commemorating the death of the sparrow, describes the grief felt both by the poet and by the sparrow’s owner (who can be identified with Catullus’ mistress, Lesbia) strong emotions such as grief can arguably be expressed using a fluctuating, varying metre, while the frequent caesuras and breaks in the syntax in my translation are also mimetic of the pain caused by grief.

I should admit that I took liberties with the original poem at some points. Perhaps the most controversial aspect of my translation would be my treatment of the second line: “quantum est hominum venustiorum” I rendered as “You men who claim to be sympathetic”, and added an emphatic third repetition of “weep!” (forming a tricolon in the translation, whereas the original poem only includes one “lugete”). Not only does my translation turn “venustiorum” into “sympathetic” (in itself a controversial rendering, losing the intriguing double meaning of “men of Venus”/”men of charm”); it also adds an ironic twist to these words, implying that it expects them to prove their sympathetic characters by weeping. The reason I liked this interpretation was that it added an edge of bitterness to the tone of my translation from the beginning: a bitterness that recurs when the poet curses “malae tenebrae / Orci”.

Unfortunately, just as I was unable to capture the double meaning of “venustiorum”, my translation also loses the possible double meaning of “solam”, which seems to me both to refer to the sparrow’s special love for his mistress (he chirps only to her), and to foreshadow the loneliness of the girl after the sparrow’s death. I feel that using the word “alone” (as other translators have done), is probably the best way to capture both these meanings in English. Of course, I may well be reading too much into the original Latin – perhaps this double meaning is not actually present in the original!

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!

Bignor Roman villa

Recently, I visited the Roman villa at Bignor, near Chichester, Sussex, England. This Roman villa is well-known for its extremely well-preserved mosaics. It was discovered in 1811, when one George Tupper’s plough struck a large stone – which turned out to be the fountain or water basin in one of the dining rooms. Indeed, the Tupper family retains ownership of the Roman villa even today. Subsequent to the discovery of the villa, the excavation was organised by local resident John Hawkins and supervised by antiquary Samuel Lysons.

The photographs I took (attached below) focused on the mosaics of Bignor.

The Ganymede mosaic

This room contains the Ganymede mosaic, and also the water basin which George Tupper’s plough struck.

The North Corridor mosaic

Dolphin mosaic, with the artist’s “signature” visible at the very bottom of the photograph.

The Medusa mosaic.

Turning Horace into a sonnet

A little while ago, a visitor to this blog requested a Horace Ode. Here is Ode 1.11, which I have just translated: I decided to translate it into the form of a sonnet (the rhyme scheme below is that of a Shakespearean sonnet). This Ode is, I think it is safe to say, fairly well-known; in particular the expression “carpe diem” which is most often, as below, translated “seize the day”.

The original Latin of Ode 1.11 (from the Perseus Digital Library) can be accessed here: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%253Atext%253A1999.02.0024%253Abook%253D1%253Apoem%253D11

My translation:

May you not have asked to see
(For knowing this is evil true)
What end the gods have planned for me;
What fate, Leuconoe, they grant you.
Far best to bear whate’er takes place,
Not try the maths of Babylon.
More winters yet you could embrace;
Or Jupiter might give only one
Which drives the waves on the pumiced shore.
Be wise, strain wines: with this short time
Forget the prayers that hope for more.
Jealous life is no longer in its prime.
But for now, you must seize the day;
Trust not the time that flies away.

The most obvious question that can be asked of this translation is: why did I choose a sonnet? Producing a sonnet is an exciting technical challenge: in this case, I wanted to see if the message contained in a poem of only eight lines could be expanded into the fourteen-line structure of a sonnet. I very often try to impose a rhyme-scheme or similar structure onto translated Classical poetry: although technically more complex, this sonnet is not such an unusual concept for me to use.

Clearly I made some concessions in creating a reasonable translation within this structure. I added “true” in the second line, with no real justification other than creating a rhyme with “you”. Translating “finem” separately as “end” and “fate” perhaps makes this word work a little too hard. Another potentially slightly tenuous translation is “pluris” rendered as “more” (it seemed metrically neater, although admittedly less accurate, than “many”). As well as omitting “Tyrrhenum”, I do not feel I quite managed to convey the power of the image of winter “quae nunc oppositis debilitat pumicibus mare”. Later, the original Latin created an emphatic juxtaposition with the enjambment of “spatio brevi / spem longam”: I did my best to replicate this by placing “short time” at the end of its line, but the full effect of the original enjambment proved difficult to reproduce. Finally, I think the metre of my translation (it starts in a fairly regular iambic tetrameter) falls apart a little towards the end.

However, I do not want this to turn into a catalogue of everything that is wrong with my translation! I feel pleased that I managed to turn this Ode into a reasonable attempt at a sonnet. My translation contains two recognisable quatrains in the first eight lines. Although it does not quite fit the traditional Shakespearean change in theme at the third quatrain, the words “Be wise, strain wines” later seem to signal a change in overall tone of the poem, which allows it to fit loosely into this format.

More Catullus: 70

Another foray into translating Catullus. The original Latin of Catullus 70 (from the Perseus Digital Library) is here:

nulli se dicit mulier mea nubere malle
quam mihi, non si se Iuppiter ipse petat.
dicit: sed mulier cupido quod dicit amanti
in vento et rapida scribere oportet aqua.

And my translation:

My lady says that she’d prefer
To wed no other man than me,
Were Jupiter himself to woo.

She says; but what a lady says
To ardent lovers, should be writ
In the wind and flowing wave.

In terms of content, a link between this poem and Catullus 72 (translated earlier on this blog) can clearly be seen. Both portray the poet’s changing attitude towards his love (referred to in 72 as “Lesbia”), although this is less explicit in 70: they begin with Lesbia’s assurances of her faith to the poet, and then demonstrate how the poet has begun to mistrust her. Both employ the image of Jupiter as a rival to the poet for her affection. This similarity extends also to structural features: both poems seem to fall naturally into two halves, highlighting fundamental changes in the poet’s opinion of his love.

In terms of technical achievement, I am rather pleased with my translation: it reads very smoothly in iambic tetrameter (with the final line varying only slightly from this metre). However, it seems to me that certain aspects of the original Latin have been lost. I could find no way of replicating the emphatic “nulli” at the beginning of the first line, without compromising the evenness of my English translation.

I think I am justified in extending the translation, transforming a four-line poem into two verses of three lines each. I do not feel that the original poem is fast-paced; instead, I think that it is a reflective, thoughtful poem, which can best be conveyed with a slow pace. The original Latin contains emphatic enjambments: “malle / quam mihi” and “amanti / in vento”. Adding more lines will inevitably change the number of enjambments present, but I endeavoured to maintain their nature: “prefer / to wed” and “writ / in the wind” have a similar effect to the enjambments in the original Latin.

The style of my translation can be described as archaic, almost Shakespearean. Words that stand out as examples are “wed”, “woo”, “writ” and possibly “ardent”. I felt that this creates a more wistful, nostalgic tone. Because, in our imagination, such words are often linked to courtly love and romance, I am suggesting that the poet is longing for a time when he trusted what his love said to him.

More archaeological musings: a visit to Silchester

Last week, I visited Silchester (Hampshire, England). This is the site of the Roman town of Calleva Atrebatum, which is currently being excavated by a project run by the University of Reading.

Sadly, my visit to this (outdoor) site was cut short by rain. I was, however, able to view the archaeological site – I was given a short tour of the site by a very friendly and informative graduate named Helena (if she’s reading this, many thanks!!). I also walked around the Roman walls. Since no more recent settlement has been built on this site, the Roman town remains extremely well-preserved, and thus provides an extremely useful location for archaeological study. The archaeologists are even able to see traces of an Iron Age settlement underneath the Roman town.

Helena mentioned that the Roman town was abandoned, but did not explain why or whether this was linked to the general withdrawal of the Romans from Britain. I performed a little research (my sources are cited below, as usual), and discovered that Calleva Atrebatum may have survived until the sixth century (the Roman legions withdrew in 410 A.D.). After the departure of the Romans, the administration of the town probably deteriorated over time, with a disease perhaps finally destroying this relic of Roman civilisation in Britain. The reasons for the abandonment of Calleva Atrebatum are still not completely understood.

Here is a small collection of photographs from my trip to Silchester.

The archaeological dig site

The Roman walls of the town

And then it rained…

The North Gate. Its function was to control traffic as well as defend the town.

The archaeological dig site again