Sunday, February 8, 2015

Translation Exercise

Michael Gilleland published a poem yesterday (link) reputedly by Claudian (Claudius Claudianus (370-404)—poets didn’t live long then) titled “De Luna” or “To the Moon.” Brigitte immediately began a process of trying to find a translation—which process I continued this morning. A failure all around. What with the poem only recently attributed to Claudian (as further explained by Michael), the poem seems to have no following except among curmudgeons.

So, just to get a little handle on that text, I started an exercise in translation. For that my meager qualifications are about three years of Latin when I was a boy—and ownership of a couple of decent Latin dictionaries. Herewith the results:

Hymn to the Moon

Glorious moon, the sky’s greater part,
Paired with the sun, a moving light—fire, wine,
Creatrix of months, many births’ mother
Yoked to the stars you rule sub-solar poles.
Rising, you gather up the past day’s hours,
Paternal Ocean once more sees his stars.
Your breath livens the earth, envelops Tartarus.
With Isis’ rattle you wake the solstice, cymbals clash,
Isis, Luna, Choris, Heaven’s Juno, and
Cybele! By turns you give the days their names
And again renew the light of months. First
Slender, then full, then fully resurgent: when
Thin ever waxing, when waning the world’s dark.
Come hither our lovely goddess whose
Light-making force binds heifers to flocks
And turns Fortune’s wheel so prosperity runs.

The original—including two versions—are on Laudator.  I used the first version shown. Now I’ve no idea, really, how close I’ve managed to come to the actual meaning of that Latin—beyond a “feel” that gradually develops over many decades of such play. I’ve stuck closely to the meaning of the underlying words, only taking such liberties as translating sistro, which means “rattle,” by indicating that that word was used to mean, once, rattles shaken in the worship of Isis. Claudian, I learned, equated the Moon with Isis, so that seemed appropriate.

In the course of my endless search for a translation, I came across one (here)  by Claudian titled “The Lonely Isle.” The translator’s name isn’t given, but the poem testifies to Claudian’s powers of producing an image. Here it is:

The Lonely Isle

Deep in a distant bay, deeply hidden
There is an island far away from me
Which lulls the tumbling waves to dreamy quiet;
And there steep cliffs against the water’s riot
Stand up, and to their shelter ships are bidden,
Where those curved arms shut in a tranquil sea.

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