The feebleness of translators' efforts continues to irritate me. Back in the 16th and 17th centuries, translators made full use of the English vocabulary, coining and reviving words, and turning new and unusual phrases to fit their purposes; the most famous example of this is the King James Bible. It was their willingness to experiment that provided so many of our memorable expressions, as well as radically increasing the richness and prestige of our beloved language. Now we are content to draw on existing materials. . . it is no wonder our lexicon is becoming impoverished, no wonder long, jewelled words are becoming mere museum-pieces. One example of this contemporary flatness was revealed to me at the end of last year, when I was writing an essay on Vergil and his medieval commentators for a non-degree Latin class here at Arizona State. The Aeneid, Book 6, line 204, when Aeneas first sights the famous Golden Bough:
discolor unde auri per ramos aura refulsit
There are two important factors here. Firstly, the play between 'auri' (gold) and 'aura' (breath, wind, spirit, gleam), which indicates the kinship between the matter and the sensory appearance of the Bough. And secondly, that difficult word 'discolor', which indicates that the gold stands out from its green setting as a strikingly different shade. Here are some English renderings of this compact, elegant line, taken almost at random from the huge multitude:
Dryden: Thro' the green Leafs the glitt'ring Shadows glow
Mandelbaum: The gleam of gold was different, flickering / across the boughs
McCrorie: a second color, gold brilliance, shone through the branches
Lind: Where the glitter of gold flashed distinctly along the branches
Humphries: where the off-color / Of gold was gleaming golden through the branches
Fitzgerald: the two-hued tree / Where glitter of gold filtered between green boughs
Come on chaps, this is poor stuff! Concession to poetry seems limited entirely to alliteration on gold, gleaming, glittering. At least Humphries has provided a slight lurch between 'gold' and 'golden', but I'm clutching at straws. There is no sense of the scope of 'aura', which is reduced to the sense of a 'gleam'; 'discolor', meanwhile, has become limply bowdlerized as 'second color', 'off color', 'two-hued', and worst of all 'distinctly'—which has the unfortunate ring of Edwardian conversational emphasis: "I must confess, his expression was distinctly underwhelming."
I present here an alternative. Why not render the Latin 'discolor' with the English. . . 'discolor'? It is (or was) an authentic adjective, used in Victorian biology textbooks: check the OED, sense b: "Of a different colour from some other (adjacent) part or organ". Why not make good use of it? It has the additional effect of giving the Bough some semblance of naturalistic life. I too have not resisted the temptation to alliterate, although I wanted to carry it a step further. 'Gleamed' and 'glittered' are cheap, idle words; 'glowed', on the other hand, picks up the whole force of 'gold' and carries it forward. 'Discolor' has been placed afterwards as an attributive adjective with almost nominal force; replace the word in my line with 'green' or 'blue' to perceive fully the intended effect. Anyway, here it is:
from which a breath of gold glowed discolor through the boughs
Nothing earth-shattering: just one line in one ancient poem. Who cares? I hope that the principles at least are worth attention. The language should be kept different, alien, resistant. The unsettling effect of the original Latin 'discolor', written about by Robert Brooks, I hope finds its parallel in my own choice to retain it. Sure, it's more difficult, harder to read—but aren't there people out there who actually want that from a work of literature?