– Eh bien, voilà; après avoir beaucoup travaillé – je parle du travail de l’esprit – après avoir longuement médité et PHILOSOPHÉ, je suis arrivé à la conclusion irréfutable que le seul bonheur possible c’est d’être un homme de la Nature. J’ai besoin d’air, j’ai besoin d’espace pour que ma pensée se cristallise. Je ne m’intéresse plus qu’à ce qui est vrai, sincère, pur, large, en un seul mot, l’AUTHENTIQUE, et je suis venu ici pour cultiver l’AUTHENTIQUE. J’espère que vous me comprenez?

– Oui, dit Ugolin. Évidemment.

– Je veux vivre en communion avec la Nature. Je veux manger les légumes de mon jardin, l’huile de mes olives, gober les oeufs frais de mes poules, m’enivrer du seul vin de ma vigne, et dès que ce sera possible, manger le pain que je ferai avec mon blé.

“Well, well, here it is; after having worked a lot – I’m talking about the work of the mind – after having meditated and philosophised at length, I arrived at the irrefutable conclusion that the only possible happiness is being a man of Nature. I need air, I need space for my thoughts to crystallise. I’m only interested in what’s true, sincere, pure, broad, in only a word, authentic, and I came here to cultivate the authentic. I hope that you understand me?”

“Yes,” said Ugolin. “Obviously.”

“I want to live in communion with Nature. I want to eat my garden’s vegetables, my olives’ oil, to gulp down my hens’ fresh eggs, to get myself drunk on the only wine of my vineyard, and as soon as possible, to eat the bread that I’ll make with my dough.”

Written for Dungeon Prompts: the message we’re selling

If I’m honest, I don’t know what I’m selling. Probably nothing. I’ve never liked the notion that I’ve got to sell lies to people, to stick my neck out and sell myself with flashy presentation and catchy soundbites. It feels dishonest – and it feels wrong, too. I like telling the truth, without ornamentation or omission. I’m also very shy and reclusive; I let my work speak for me because I find speaking for myself exhausting. If my work is loud – good. Job done. I can take pride in a good day’s effort and the fact that other people actually paid attention to it.

So I don’t like selling. I like sharing.

And what do I share?

Not much, if I’m honest. At the moment I’m going through a very selfish and isolated phase in my life, where I hide away from everyone. This isn’t necessarily because anything’s wrong (though my brain doesn’t work normally and I’m worried about my friends right now for personal reasons); it’s because I have several exams coming up and I need to revise. Well, I guess that does count as something being wrong because I hate exams (they test your ability to parrot and give you an arbitrary score), but most people consider them a necessary, if stressful, part of life and can’t be bothered to change this.

But when I do share, I share things that are important to me. The state of the world. The importance of eradicating suffering. And – most relevant to this blog – I share emotions and ideas that people put down in different languages, so that the barriers of language might be broken down a little.

I would like to change the world, but I’m not nearly brash and harsh and power-hungry enough to do it on my own. And I’m not prepared to scream and shout myself hoarse selling soundbites. So I share instead, and I hope that sharing touches someone.


J’ai aimé la vérité… Où est-elle?… Partout hypocrisie, ou du moins charlatanisme, même chez les plus vertueux, même chez les plus grands.

I loved the truth…Where is it? Hypocrisy everywhere, or at least charlatanism, even among the most virtuous, even among the greatest.

Stendhal (and by proxy Julien Sorel, for maybe the second time in his short life) really hit the nail on the head with this one.

In just about every translator’s note I’ve ever read, the wrangling and inner angsting over just how literal a translation should be seems obligatory – and with good reason. When translating, just about everyone’s first instinct seems to be trying to produce a word-for-word analogue in the target language, an instinct partly driven by the desire to reproduce the text faithfully and partly driven by years of teaching that literal translation is the way to go, particularly when you’re younger; in my French class I was pretty shocked at my teacher telling us not to translate literally. Then again, she’s a native French speaker and French teaching is not as old-school as the teaching of Latin is…

…You can probably see my conservatism coming out here when I say that there’s still a place for literal translation. This place is where getting a message across matters more than aesthetics, for example in technical writing or in providing assistance understanding a text. The Loeb Classical Library is a very good example, as its literal translations are designed to make Greek and Latin texts accessible to everyone and are often very useful when trying to make sense of a tricky passage.

However, despite old fogeys like me (I’m 18, does that make me ancient yet?) complaining about how the youth of today don’t read enough, people still read for pleasure. And when people read for pleasure, how pleasing the text is to the eye and the ear matter just as much as its clarity. This is where literal translations stop being useful.

As any translator knows, languages work in fairly different ways. I can do things in French that I can’t do in English, things in English that I can’t do in Latin, and things in Latin that I can’t do in Hebrew. This makes trying to do a completely literal translation futile, because there will be some constructions in the original language that simply do not exist in the target language (gerundives) or that sound unnatural if translated literally. This is a major cause of garbled translation when not done by machines – and it’s been around since people have had different languages. For example, in ancient Rome most schoolchildren would learn Greek (indeed, most educated Romans were bilingual, partly because they were taught by Greek slaves from a young age). Thanks to them leaving rather a lot of…well…stuff behind them, we now have wax tablets showing children’s attempts at prose composition in Greek and a teacher’s correct version below, and they made the exact same mistakes that people learning languages make today when translating. Some things never change.

Languages are also idiomatic. This is fantastic when you want to express certain ideas without being literal and rubbish when you’re translating, because you’ve then got to try and find equivalent idioms. By “try”, I mean “frantically scrabble for the closest thing to the idiom in your target language and possibly end up having to put explanatory notes at the end of your translation”. Otherwise, you end up with such wonderful phrases as people losing their freedom twice a week.

Besides, particularly with older texts, there’s no shortage of literal translations out there; it can be fun to explore different niches. There are some very fine translations of Homer and Ovid that take a lot of liberties with the texts in bringing them up to date with the 21st century while still keeping the spirit of the poetry.

I’m sat here doing prose composition (so it’s pretty bad to be blogging while I’m supposed to be doing my work – on the other hand, it is technichally my lunch break). Generally, while I’m doing this, I have at least one prose composition book open (over the past couple of years my teacher’s loaded me up with several guides – thanks, Mr Smith!), my Pocket Oxford Latin Dictionary (it’s nowhere near pocket-sized, it’s getting too brief for my needs, and I need to reinstall my Lewis & Short program on my computer), and my Kennedy’s Revised Latin Primer (which will always lead you back onto the straight and narrow path when you find yourself having to use some ridiculously rare irregular verb). In addition to this, I also own several commentaries and Latin texts, a couple of books of unseens and at least one other dictionary. And several folders full of cutesy handouts about rules I’m never really going to remember because there are simply far too many of them. And several old workbooks for old set texts. And a couple of Latin textbooks. And I’d have more, but I threw away all my GCSE stuff because it’s incredibly basic. When you study Latin, you just end up accumulating…well…stuff, and having to carry around a lot of this stuff to and from lessons. (And that goes without mentioning the merchandise that a lot of Latinists end up getting – I’ve still got my Non Omnis Moriar badge knocking around somewhere!)

Anyway, you get the picture: Latinists own a lot of random stuff. That’s somewhat interesting, but not at all the subject of this blog post; I was actually going to talk about how hard prose composition is.

Dark sign with a white snowflake and the words

My generation

At this point, should any hard-nosed traditionalists have finally figured out this internet business and managed forte (non-Latinists probably won’t get this unless they can think of a certain derivation, because I’m a hipster like that) to stumble upon this blog, they’ll probably be guffawing and rolling their eyes. I’m yet another poor sod complaining about the difficulty of writing Latin – as if I expected it to be easy! Honestly, this generation wants everything on a plate, flurry of special snowflakes that we are. Next thing they know, we’ll start complaining about cases and plurals, and respectable British society shall crumble before our entitlement. Sic transit gloria mundi and all that. Or something.

The thing is, I know that prose composition is difficult – and I don’t object to that. I simply have an idea about it.

For those not in the know, one of the things that makes prose composition so difficult (for me at least) is the multitude of rules, regulations and fairly obscure style points that you have to remember, like when time is subjunctive and what case durations of time take. Time is a problem. So are dates, because they’re all done in relation to certain days in certain months and you count up to them or down to them. There are several examples, and they are generally not difficult on their own; the trouble comes in how many of them there are. You will almost certainly forget some of them, or their usage, unless you’re a genius. In textbooks and on handouts they generally all tend to be whacked together in one big set of rules right before the exercise – and the longer I think about this the odder I find it.

You see, although nobody actually speaks Latin properly anymore, and although Classical Latin was an exclusively written language (it’s too complex to use in everyday conversation), its quirks and irregularities resemble those of living languages; irregularities in nouns, verbs and adjectives come about from being said and written so frequently that the original words lose their lovely, regular form. Complex grammar mostly comes from style and idiom. This is because living languages are fluid and constantly evolving – and the same thing has happened with Classical Latin, except its present state is just a petrified form of an evolving language. Trust me, if we still used it regularly it would be constantly changing – and indeed it did, from Classical Latin into Late Latin and evolving into all the Romance languages we know today. Even then it survived in Medieval Latin, and is still used today in certain applications (albeit it’s now evolved so far that it’s mostly unintelligible to people who only know Classical Latin, just as most English speakers don’t understand Medieval English or Anglo-Saxon for obvious reasons).

What I’m getting at is that for teaching purposes, it might be easier to treat Classical Latin as a living language, or at least as a fossilised one, rather than considering it as dead. After all, living languages have confusing irregularities and strange grammatical rules as well, and people still manage to learn them just by taking those rules in stride instead of…well, revering them, I suppose.

One of the things that doesn’t immediately seem obvious about this poem is how fun it is to translate. After all, who but a bitter old harridan could find pleasure in translating a break-up poem – not just a break-up poem, but one that also contains programmatic references (referring to the art of poetry itself) that imply Propertius might lay down his pen?

Strangely enough, it really is fun. It’s one half of a slanging match carried out by a man who trained in law (if you’ve ever read Cicero, you’ll know there was a large component of “elaborate slanging match” in Roman courts), was highly educated, and was perhaps a little too unafraid of showing it – and so there’s a lot of spite in the original Latin that classy English sadly doesn’t translate particularly well.

Risus eram positis inter convivia mensis,
et de me poterat quilibet esse loquax.
quinque tibi potui servire fideliter annos:
ungue meam morso saepe querere fidem.
nil moveor lacrimis: ista sum captus ab arte;
semper ab insidiis, Cynthia, flere soles.
flebo ego discedens, sed fletum iniuria vincit:
tu bene conveniens non sinis ire iugum.
limina iam nostris valeant lacrimantia verbis,
nec tamen irata ianua fracta manu.
at te celatis aetas gravis urgeat annis,
et veniat formae ruga sinistra tuae!
vellere tum cupias albos a stirpe capillos,
iam speculo rugas increpitante tibi,
exclusa inque vicem fastus patiare superbos,
et quae fecisti facta queraris anus!
has tibi fatalis cecinit mea pagina diras:
eventum formae disce timere tuae!
When the tables were put in place among the guests I was mocked,
and anyone who wanted to could gossip about me.
I could serve you faithfully for five years:
your nails bitten, you’ll often grieve for my loyalty.
I am moved by no tears: I was captured by that art;
Cynthia, weep forever through guile alone.
I will weep as I leave, but your abuse overcomes my weeping:
you don’t let a yoke fit you well.
Now the weeping thresholds bid farewell to my words,
but not the door shattered by an angry hand.
But may heavy age weigh down upon you with hidden years,
and may unlucky wrinkles crease your beauty!
Then may you burn to tear out your white hairs by the root,
as already the mirror derides your wrinkles,
and may you, excluded in turn, suffer proud haughtiness,
and, changed into an old woman, you have done these things; may you regret them!
My page sang of these dire things, fated for you:
learn to fear your beauty’s destiny!
Magnum iter ad doctas proficisci cogor Athenas
ut me longa gravi solvat amore via.
crescit enim assidue spectando cura puellae:
ipse alimenta sibi maxima praebet amor.
omnia sunt temptata mihi, quacumque fugari
possit: at ex omni me premit ipse deus.
vix tamen aut semel admittit, cum saepe negarit:
seu venit, extremo dormit amicta toro.
unum erit auxilium: mutatis Cynthia terris
quantum oculis, animo tam procul ibit amor.
nunc agite, o socii, propellite in aequora navem,
remorumque pares ducite sorte vices,
iungiteque extremo felicia lintea malo:
iam liquidum nautis aura secundat iter.
Romanae turres et vos valeatis, amici,
qualiscumque mihi tuque, puella, vale!
ergo ego nunc rudis Hadriaci vehar aequoris hospes,
cogar et undisonos nunc prece adire deos.
deinde per Ionium vectus cum fessa Lechaeo
sedarit placida vela phaselus aqua,
quod superest, sufferre, pedes, properate laborem,
Isthmos qua terris arcet utrumque mare.
inde ubi Piraei capient me litora portus,
scandam ego Theseae bracchia longa viae.
illic vel stadiis animum emendare Platonis
incipiam aut hortis, docte Epicure, tuis;
persequar aut studium linguae, Demosthenis arma,
librorumque tuos, docte Menandre, sales;
aut certe tabulae capient mea lumina pictae,
sive ebore exactae, seu magis aere, manus.
aut spatia annorum aut longa intervalla profundi
lenibunt tacito vulnera nostra situ:
seu moriar, fato, non turpi fractus amore;
atque erit illa mihi mortis honesta dies.
I’m compelled to set out on the grand tour to learnéd Athens
so that that long road might free me from love’s burden.
For my care for my girl grows continuously as I look at her:
love itself provides its own greatest nourishment.
Everything’s been tried by me, in whichever way it could be
banished: but out of everyone, the god himself besets me.
But she hardly receives me, or once when she’s refused many times before:
or if she comes, she sleeps covered on the edge of the bed.
There is one remedy: when the land’s changed, Cynthia will be as far from
my eyes as love travels from my heart.
Now let’s go, my friends, to launch a boat upon the level sea,
and draw out by lot the equal places at the oar,
and hoist the happy sails to the very top of the mast:
now the wind helps sailors along their watery path.
Farewell, Roman towers, and farewell, my friends,
and you too, my darling, whatever you were like to me, farewell!
So now I’ll be carried along as a new guest of the level Adriatic,
and now I’ll be forced to approach with a prayer gods who make the waves roar.
Then when my yacht has been carried through the Ionian sea
and rested its tired sails in the calm waters at Lechaeum,
for what remains, keep going, feet, to endure the work,
where the Isthmus wards off one sea and another from the land.
Then when the shores of Piraeus’s harbour capture me,
I’ll ascend the long arms of Theseus’s roads.
There I might even begin to repair my mind at Plato’s Academy
or in your garden, learnéd Epicurus;
or I’ll pursue the study of language, Demosthenes’s weapon,
and the salty wit of your books, learned Menander,
or certainly painted pictures will capture my eyes,
whether in the ivory of a pointed hand, or more frequently in bronze.
Either the length of the years or the long spaces of the deep
will heal my wounds in a silent heart:
if I die, I will be broken by fate, not shameful love;
and that day of death will be an honour for me.

A quick note on the edition, for those who know and care about such things: I’m using Camps (1985), as that’s what my exam board are using. I know, I know, I don’t like it either as I’d much rather use Heyworth’s edition – but I don’t set the exams. Anyway, if the Latin text looks a bit different, that’s why.

Nox media, et dominae mihi venit epistula nostrae:
Tibure me missa iussit adesse mora,
candida qua geminas ostendunt culmina turres,
et cadit in patulos nympha Aniena lacus.
quid faciam? obductis committam mene tenebris
ut timeam audacis in mea membra manus?
at si distulero haec nostro mandata timore,
nocturno fletus saevior hoste mihi.
peccaram semel, et totum sum pulsus in annum:
in me mansuetas non habet illa manus.
nec tamen est quisquam, sacros qui laedat amantes:
Scironis medias his licet ire vias.
quisquis amator erit, Scythicis licet ambulet oris,
nemo adeo ut feriat barbarus esse volet.
luna ministrat iter, demonstrant astra salebras,
ipse Amor accensas percutit ante faces,
saeva canum rabies morsus avertit hiantis:
huic generi quovis tempore tuta via est.
sanguine tam parvo quis enim spargatur amantis
improbus? exclusis fit comes ipsa Venus.
quod si certa meos sequerentur funera cursus,
talis mors pretio vel sit emenda mihi.
afferet haec unguenta mihi sertisque sepulcrum
ornabit custos ad mea busta sedens.
di faciant, mea ne terra locet ossa frequenti
qua facit assiduo tramite vulgus iter!
post mortem tumuli sic infamantur amantum.
me tegat arborea devia terra coma,
aut humer ignotae cumulus vallatus harenae:
non iuvat in media nomen habere via.
It was the middle of the night, and a letter from my mistress came to me;
she ordered me to come to Tivoli without delay,
where the white hilltops show twin towers,
and Anio’s water falls into wide lakes.
What am I to do? Do I trust myself to covering darkness
to fear a bold hand on my body?
But if I brush aside these orders out of my fear,
her tears will be fiercer for me than enemies by night.
I sinned once, and was kicked out for a whole year:
she lays no merciful hands on me.
But there is no-one who would harm sacred lovers:
they may go freely in the middle of Sciron’s roads.
Whoever shall be a lover may walk on Scythian shores,
no-one would want to be so barbarous as to attack him.
The moon tends to the way, the stars show the rough ground,
Love himself waves flaming torches before him,
the fierce madness of dogs turns aside its gaping fangs:
For them the road is safe at any time.
For what dishonest man is so splashed with the scanty blood
of a lover? Venus herself becomes the companion to those shut out.
But if my course leads to certain burial,
even such a death might be worth buying at that price for me.
She would bring to these perfumes and garlands to my grave;
sitting as guard, she’ll watch over my tomb.
May the gods make sure that she doesn’t place my bones in crowded earth
where the common crowd constantly make their way along the track!
Thus after death are the tombs of lovers defamed.
Let the leaves of a tree cover me in faraway ground,
or let me be buried, surrounded as a mound of unknown sand:
to have my name in the middle of the road brings me no joy.