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Old 02-19-2018, 10:54 PM
Aaron Poochigian Aaron Poochigian is online now
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Default My Man Propertius

I think part of my trouble in persuading the world that Propertius is the greatest Elegaic poet results from the fact that he does not translate well. His compression and amatory idioms are inimitable in English—I wouldn’t dare to try translating him. Still, maybe if we look closely at some Latin, a simple, non-allusive passage, and inch through it, I may be able to persuade some people of his greatness. In this poem, 2.9A, Propertius (that’s right, fuck that “the Narrator” and “the Speaker” shit) is complaining that Cynthia has been unfaithful. He says Penelope waited twenty years for Odysseus and, what, he’s gone for one night, and Cynthia has gone and gotten drunk and hooked up with some man whom she had screwed in the past. Propertius wonders what Cynthia would do if he were a soldier off on campaign and then goes, with his characteristic vulnerability:

nunc, quoniam ista tibi placuit sententia, cedam:

Now, because such a (terrible) thought (that I leave on campaign) was agreeable to you, I will yield. (“yield” picks up on the preceding military imagery.)

tela, precor, pueri, promite acuta magis,

Spears, boys! I beg you, break out really sharp spears!

figite certantes atque hanc mihi solvite vitam!

Make a contest of piercing me, release me from this life.

sanguis erit vobis maxima palma meus.

My blood will be your (the boys’) greatest palm of victory.

[He then makes a final statement to Cynthia.]

sidera sunt testes et matutina pruina

The stars are my witnesses and the morning frost (He hasn’t been sleeping because of Cynthia)

et furtim misero ianua aperta mihi,

and the door secretly opened for miserable little me,

te nihil in vita nobis acceptius umquam:

nothing in my life was ever more pleasing than you.

nunc quoque erit, quamvis sis inimica, nihil.

even now, though you are like an enemy to me, nothing ever will be (more pleasing than you).

nec domina ulla meo ponet vestigia lecto:

no other woman will leave her traces in my bed:

solus ero, quoniam non licet esse tuum.

I will be alone, because I can’t be yours.

atque utinam, si forte pios eduximus annos,

And I pray that, if I have by chance led a pious life,

ille vir in medio fiat amore lapis!

that man (the new/old lover) might turn to stone in the midst of his sex with you!

Last edited by Aaron Poochigian; 02-19-2018 at 11:11 PM.
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Old 02-20-2018, 12:37 AM
Andrew Frisardi Andrew Frisardi is offline
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Thanks for this, Aaron, I really enjoyed it. Propertius is the other famous fellow from Assisi.

I bet you could translate him really well, actually. Could you explain a little more why you feel it's more daunting than translating, say, Aeschylus or Sappho?
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Old 02-20-2018, 01:01 AM
Aaron Poochigian Aaron Poochigian is online now
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Thanks, Andrew. I am glad you enjoyed it.

First, Latin strikes me as harder to translate even than Greek because it is even more compressed—no articles (definite or indefinite) and fewer prepositions than English. There is no way to reproduce that compression without using constant Tontoisms—such translations sound crude.

Second, the Love Elegists have their own amorous technical vocabulary that would be impossible to reproduce in English, and I hate resorting to footnotes and endnotes.

Third, I don’t think I would be able to reproduce Propertius’ tone in his most powerful passages—simultaneously highly artificial and perfectly earnest.

Also, there’s the problem of vocabulary—Latin has a much smaller vocabulary than Ancient Greek and English but, in compensation, individual words in Latin tend to have wider fields of meaning and more meanings. “Amor” in Latin can mean about a hundred different things. When I try to translate Latin, I go for the precise word in English, and the resulting translation just feels too different from the original.

Nah, I’ll leave Latin in Latin.

Last edited by Aaron Poochigian; 02-20-2018 at 01:03 AM.
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Old 02-20-2018, 04:30 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Thank you, Aaron, I enjoyed this Propertius more than I usually enjoy Propertius (which is to say, in English alone). There's a lot of fun stuff happening, as you make clear.
I always feel that Latin lyric poets - say, Propertius - also have Greek constantly before them, in tropes, in music, everywhere, which simply can't be rendered into another and modern language. For instance, I remember scanning a bit of Propertius and learning from my Latin teacher that Ariadnen had a long i due to the Greek. Easy to know, but also music.
I like the boys with spears instead of arrows.

Cheers,
John
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Old 02-20-2018, 08:42 AM
Aaron Poochigian Aaron Poochigian is online now
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Thank you, John. It sounds like you had a good Classical education.

Yes, you are right--Propertius' frequent allusions and exempla make him all the more daunting to the potential translator. I would need to write a note for almost every line!
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Old 02-20-2018, 11:35 AM
Kevin Greene Kevin Greene is offline
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Might you recommend a good translation of Propertius?

And if there is none, might the job be calling for Aaron Poochigian?
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Old 02-20-2018, 11:58 AM
Aaron Poochigian Aaron Poochigian is online now
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Hello, Kevin, I'm afraid I can't recommend a translation--they are all disappointing. Upset that Cynthia has been disloyal to him yet again, Propertius here imagines himself dead and Cynthia, repentant, regretting the way she has treated him:

tu mea compones et dices 'Ossa, Properti,

You will arrange my bones and you will say, "Propertius,

haec tua sunt? eheu tu mihi certus eras,

are these bones yours? Ah, you were the one man who was true to me,

certus eras eheu, quamvis nec sanguine avito

Ah, you were my one true man (though of course

nobilis et quamvis non ita dives eras.'

you were not distinguished by a venerable lineage and you were not so rich)."

nil ego non patiar, numquam me iniuria mutat:

I will undergo no change; my pain will never change me:

ferre ego formosam nullum onus esse puto.

I think that suffering a beautiful girl is no burden at all.

credo ego non paucos ista periisse figura,

I believe that not a few men have lost themselves over that body of yours,

credo ego sed multos non habuisse fidem.

I also believe that not many (of them) have been faithful (to you, as I have been).

Last edited by Aaron Poochigian; 02-20-2018 at 12:02 PM.
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Old 02-20-2018, 12:33 PM
Kevin Greene Kevin Greene is offline
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Aaron, that's the start! Some 84 or so left! (I know, who can figure it all out to anyone's satisfaction? But that's the challenge!)
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Old 02-20-2018, 01:39 PM
Aaron Poochigian Aaron Poochigian is online now
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Kevin, the Vincent Katz translation would be an acceptable place to start with Propertius. Keep in mind, though, that Katz uses obscenities as if he were translating Catullus. Propertius is in reality highly, highly suggestive but never obscene.
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Old 02-20-2018, 04:30 PM
Kevin Greene Kevin Greene is offline
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Thanks very much, Aaron.
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