Victor Hugo: The Satyr

Prologue

At Mount Olympus’ foot, in solitude,
a satyr lived amid the great wildwood,
deep in the trees, hunting and dreaming, night
and day, pursuing vague white forms in flight,
pricking his twelve or fifteen senses to
what pleasures he could pounce on as they flew.
Who was this faun? No one was certain. Flora
knew nothing, nor did Vesper, nor Aurora
who knows all, a clockwork voyeur and sneak.
You’d have to get the wild rose bush to speak, ……………..10
or question every flutter and bird’s nest—
none had a handle on that cheeky beast.
Now, scholars have numbered every faun there is;
we know them all, like famous vintages,
as we survey the dales of Satyr Bluff:
Stulcus of Pallantyre has fame enough;
Gaeus chortles on Maenalon all night;
Boscus, goat-boy of Crete, and Chrysolite,
a rustic denizen of Janus Butte,
from dawn to darkness tootling on his flute; ……………….20
Anthrops of Pindus, on every scholar’s shelf—
but not our faun. Some labeled him a wolf;
others, a god; but none had evidence.
He was all he could be, at all events:
some scabrous god’s unmanageable child.

Alcaeus 347

Alcaeus 347

Wet your whistle—have some wine! Soon Sirius will rise and shine;
the weather’s bad, and the sweltering is sweating every thirsty thing.

Leaf-shadowed, the cicada sings sweetly; from underneath his wings
he pours a ceaseless, high-pitched shimmer-music, while the blaze of
……..summer…

Now, while the bloom is on the thistle, women are most inclined to
……..wrestle
but men are drained by the dog days, their knees and heads baked in
……..the blaze

Alcaeus 347

τέγγε πλεύμονας οἴνῳ, τὸ γὰρ ἄστρον περιτέλλεται,
ἀ δ᾿ ὤρα χαλέπα, πάντα δὲ δίψαισ᾿ ὐπὰ καύματος,

Alcaeus 38a

Alcaeus 38a

Drink and get drunk…….. with me, Melanippus!
You think, once you’ve crossed…….. the currents of Acheron

swirling, you’ll see…….. the immaculate sunlight
again? Don’t aim…….. above your orbit.

King Sisyphus, Aeolus’…….. boy, believed
he could crack death—…….. and he was our cleverest.

Despite that wiliness,…….. his doom demanded
he twice traverse…….. Acheron’s torrent,

and Cronus’ son sentenced him…….. to subterranean
toil. Pay attention:…….. don’t hope too much.

We’re young now, and need—…….. now, if ever—
to weather whatever…….. god will give.

Alcaeus 38a

Sappho 55

Sappho 55

You’ll lie low when you’re dead, and be forgotten by posterity.
No one will think of you with love, who never plucked the roses of
Pieria; in Hades’ hall, you’ll be, as here, invisible,
and flit about, where none can mark, among the corpses in the dark.

Sappho 55

κατθάνοισα δὲ κείσῃ οὐδέ ποτα μναμοσύνα σέθεν
ἔσσετ᾿ οὐδὲ πόθα εἰς ὔστερον· οὐ γὰρ πεδέχῃς βρόδων
τὼν ἐκ Πιερίας, ἀλλ᾿ ἀφάνης κἀν Ἀίδα δόμῳ
φοιτάσῃς πεδ᾿ ἀμαύρων νεκύων ἐκπεποταμένα.

Mimnermus 2, from the Ancient Greek

Mimnermus 2

We are like leaves born in the teeming spring,
basking in sunlight, swiftly burgeoning;1
like them, for an arm’s length2of time, we live
happy and young, and what the gods will give
we don’t suspect. Presences wrapped in gloom
are always near, one holding out the doom
of age, another, death. And youth won’t last;
its fruit, like one day’s-worth of sun, dies fast.
And when this season dwindles and is gone,
it’s better to be dead than to live on.….. ….. ….. ….. ….. ….. 10
For troubles swarm the heart: one man will drain
his house, and live in poverty and pain;
another man wants children most of all,
and, wanting them, goes down to Hades’ hall;
disease destroys a third. For Zeus the king
gives everyone a share of suffering.

Horace: Ode i.4

Spring, and the bitter winter thaws as west winds warm the earth,
…………….and boats are dragged from storage to the shore.
The cows aren’t cooped up in their stalls, or farmer by his hearth;
…………….the white fields shine with ice and frost no more.

Venus leads out her chorus line, a low moon overhead;
…………….the Nymphs and lovely Graces, joining hands,
skip lightly, foot to foot, in time, while Vulcan’s fires are fed
…………….by huge Cyclopes at his stern commands.

Horace: Ode i.3

……….May Venus guide you as you go,
with help and light from Helen’s starry brothers;
……….may Aeolus send one wind to blow
up from Calabria, and still the others,

……….so that, good ship, you can repay
the debt you owe us all. Release him whole
……….and hale in Attica, I pray,
and safeguard Virgil, who is half my soul.

……….He had a heart encased in oak
and triple bronze, whoever first set sail ………………..……….10
……….on the fierce sea in a frail bark
with no fear of the hurtling southern gale

Horace: Ode i.2

Enough! We’ve had enough of the snow and raking
hail hurled by the Father, and of his ruddy
right hand striking the sacred hilltops, striking
…………………fear in the city,

fear in the world, in dread at the old disaster,
when Pyrrha wept at the heavens’ shocking signs,
and Proteus drove his flocks to a new pasture,
…………………the Apennines,

and, schooling through the elmtops, fish were snared
in limbs where doves had lately kept their nests,…………………… 10
while, out at sea, the deer went splashing scared
…………………through rising crests.

Archilochus 122

No more surprises now, no stunning miracles, no thought
unthinkable, now that Heaven’s father Zeus has wrought
sheer midnight at high noon, and blacked the brilliant sun,
its shining stanched, and fear and trembling fell on everyone.
From now on no occurrences, no worries or wild hopes
are past belief; from now on there’s no grounds for shock or wonder,
not if you see the dolphins crop the mountains and treetops,
while woodland creatures graze each oceanic glen and copse,
the dolphins’ home, and frisk with pleasure in the breakers’ thunder.

Translating Pindar

It’s a truth universally acknowledged–or if it isn’t it should be–that the old debate between literal and free translation has lost currency, that the only opposition worth discussing is between foreignizing and domesticating translation styles. Friedrich Schleiermacher gave this dichotomy its Ur-expression when he claimed that a domesticating translator “brings the writer towards the reader,” while a foreignizing translator “brings the reader towards the writer.” Schleiermacher says that the two styles don’t mix, that you have to do it all one way, or all the other, but I don’t agree. I want to suggest that, while poems with a more or less familiar sort of lyricism may be well enough served by a foreignizing translation style, a more culturally specific, less transferable sort of poem demands a smoother, more naturalizing style if it is to have any chance of connecting in its new context.