An Ovid litmus test

Want to decide whether the translation you're reading of Ovid's Metamorphoses is a good one? Here's a sample verse for you to test out!

It's from Book 3, the story of Narcissus being chased by Echo. Echo, we're told, would chattily keep Juno distracted when Zeus was off diddling his ladies. Juno, miffed, cursed her so that she could only repeat the last bits of what people say. (You know, like an echo does?) Or as Ovid puts it:

'huius' ait 'linguae, qua sum delusa, potestas
parva tibi dabitur vocisque brevissimus usus,'
In super-awkward translation style: "[Juno] said: 'Of this your tongue, by which I was duped, little power will be allowed you, and of your voice the littlest use.'" Except that the grammar is relatively clear, for Latin poetry, and not awkward and stilted like that English crib.

What to look for: The lines end with their own echo: "-us usus". There might be a precursor to this with "tibi dabit-" and certainly a connection with the us in "delusa" (duped). But the speech ends with this little echoing effect; it's the culmination of this mini-scene. It is, arguably, the main point of providing these few lines of backstory.

So how does your translation handle it?

Arthur Golding's translation from 1567:
This tongue that hath deluded me shall doe thee little good:
For of thy speech but simple use hereafter shalt thou have.
("Good" rhymes with the previous line, and "have" with the next one, if you were wondering.)

Joseph Addison's translation (finishing up what John Dryden left unfinished at his death) from 1717:
And then she cry'd, "That tongue, for this thy crime,
Which could so many subtle tales produce,
Shall be hereafter but of little use."
A.D. Melville's translation from 1986:
...'Your tongue', she said,
'With which you tricked me, now its power shall lose,
Your voice avail but for the briefest use.'
So... it looks like none of our translators reproduced the effect. Hunh.


  1. Kasey Mohammad said...

    It seems like the only way to achieve the kind of reproduction of Ovid's sonic effect you point out the lack of in Golding, Addison, and Melville would be to venture solidly onto homophonic ground, at which point one inevitably sacrifices quantities of sense that are at least equal to, if not greater than, the loss of sound equivalences in more traditional approaches. That's the basic predicament of verse translation, right?

    I do love the Golding, though. His translation's definitely the best use of fourteeners in English literary history (maybe the only even passable use?). He staggers the rhyme and the meter against the grammatical sense just enough to keep the narrative foregrounded against the prosody, never quite tipping either way into prose rhythms or total singsonginess.  

  2. Chris said...

    The Golding is also, so far, the most accurate in terms of reproducing the meaning in the Latin without adding or subtracting meanings, or mucking up the grammar. And keeping the dirty bits (or specifically the man-on-man dirty bits).

    I'm more or less against translating poetry (other than annotated cribs, or works done "after" or "inspired by").  

  3. Lo said...

    Well, well, looks like someone's gonna have to write a new translation...  

  4. Bo said...

    That is very good! I had never noticed it.  


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