Friday, December 19, 2008

Sentence I particularly enjoyed by EJ Kenney

'In usurping Apollo's function Cupid has to know his metrical onions'
- Introduction to AD Melville's translation of Ovid The Love Poems

You might assume from the above that this book was written some time between 1910 and 1970, and the rest of Kenney's piece and Melville's Translator's Note would seem to support that. Melville spends much of the Note chuntering on about how Ovid in English has to rhyme, then ends by apologising for the whole book:

The entertainment is not always innocent and many readers will find it none the worse for that. But I prefer innocence; and when I had finished my translation of the Metamorphoses it was not my intention to tackle these poems. My defence (if defence were needed [quite!]) is that I was provoked by Green's recent translation, which is widely available and in my view wholly unsatisfactory, and my publishers urged me to provide an alternative. Much — perhaps all — should be forgiven to a poet who writes with such sparkling wit and unfailing elegance.

You have to wonder about the wisdom of someone embarking on a translation of a work they positively disapprove of, though at least he's generous enough to forgive Ovid's 'faults'.

Anyway. First published: 1990. Apparently in a pocket of space-time consisting mainly of Bakelite, slippers, pipes and fulmination. Astonishing. Still, that sentence... What I really enjoy about it is the collision of arch academicism (Cupid usurping Apollo's function) with studied colloquialism: whole lifetimes, milieux, quiet afternoons are wafted before us. It's laughable, poignant, seductive, pert, dusty.


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