Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Carmina of Caius Valerius Catullus

Sir Richard F. Burton & Leonard C. Smithers (ed, trans) - The Carmina of Caius Valerius Catullus (1894)

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Seems like I should have known Burton translated Catullus but turns out that whatever his talents poetry wasn't the most prominent.  (Just take a sample "Yonder pinnacle ye (my guests!) behold / Saith she was erstwhile fleetest-fleet of crafts, / Nor could by swiftness of aught plank that swims, / Be she outstripped, whether paddle-plied, / Or fared she scudding under canvas-sail.")  Or as his early biographer Thomas Wright put it, "for the translating of so delicate, so musical and so gracious a poet as Catullus he was absolutely and entirely unqualified."

This book collects Burton's translation in verse (which he apparently never completed, being "surprised by Death" as his wife put it), a prose translation by Smithers (who published many of the Decadents) that's typically more readable, and the Latin original.  Despite a claim of being literal and unexpurgated it's not quite that - the notorious #16 has words dotted out which Smithers claims was in the manuscript he was given but implies (probably correctly) that may have been the work of Burton's widow.  And too bad that despite Burton's "great stress" on including his famously obsessive annotations those were never written.  ("There is no excursus on the origin of Tree-worship" the introduction apologizes and we readers sigh for what might have been.)