11 April, 2006

Pamphile translata

Priusque apparatu solito instruit feralem officinam, omne genus aromatis et ignorabiliter lamminis litteratis et infelicium navium durantibus damnis, defletorum, sepultorum etiam, cadaverum expositis multis admodum membris; hic nares et digiti, illic carnosi clavi pendentium, alibi trucidatorum servatus cruor et extorta dentibus ferarum trunca calvaria. (Apuleius, Metamorphoses, Book III).
Marvelous stuff; here the sorceress Pamphile prepares to do her voodoo with a hair-sample which, she wrongly imagines, belongs to a young Boeotian hunk. Apuleius was first Englished by William Adlington in 1566, the start of a golden dawn of translation—one thinks of Florio, Holland, North, and all the rest—and this work indeed has the rumbustious vigour characteristic of the period. Here's Adlington's rendering of our passage:
. . . preparing her selfe according to her accustomed practise, shee gathered together all substance for fumigations, she brought forth plates of mettal carved with strange characters, she prepared the bones of such as were drowned by tempest in the seas, she made ready the members of dead men, as the nosethrils and fingers, she set out the lumps of flesh of such as were hanged, the blood which she had reserved of such as were slaine and the jaw bones and teeth of willed beasts. . .
The most well-known version today is that of Robert Graves, a pedestrian writer and thinker who produced little of interest after his homage to Frazer, The White Goddess (1948-66). In fact, his plundering of historical source-material for almost every literary word he wrote might suggest a nickname: Graves Robber. Here's our boy coughing out Apuleius, 1951:
She had everything ready there for her deadly rites: all sorts of aromatic incense, metal plaques engraved with secret signs, beaks and claws of ill-omened birds, various bits of corpse-flesh—in one place she had arranged the noses and figures of crucified men, in another the nails that had been driven through their palms and ankles, with bits of flesh still sticking to them—also little bladders of life-blood saved from the men she had murdered and the skulls of criminals who had been thrown to the wild beasts in the amphitheatre.
There are some anomalies in both versions. I'm confident that Graves gets his 'ill-omened birds' from a reading of 'avium' for 'navium'. But he insists on spelling out the (possibly) implicit, so the birds are given their 'beaks and claws', just as the nails are given their 'palms and ankles', the blood is given its 'little bladders', and the beasts are given their 'criminals' and 'amphitheatre'.

Adlington, as well as being a far superior handler of English, is generally more honest, even tending towards compression, eliding 'sepultorum', 'clavi' and 'trunca calvaria'. The last phrase, incidentally, should be 'maimed skulls wrested from the jaws [lit. 'teeth'] of wild animals'. Adlington also introduces the elegant articulation of 'instruit' (the only finite verb in the Latin) into 'she gathered together', 'she brought forth', 'she prepared', 'she made ready', 'she set out'. This linguistic variation on one concept was a common precept of classical rhetoric, one which Augustine metaphorically applied to history itself. Interesting also is 'willed beasts'; I don't know if this is a spelling of 'wild' (which has no etymological connection to 'will'), the actual word 'willed' (as in 'strong-willed') or a pun on both. We also see here the classic early modern spelling of 'nosethrils'.

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