Tuesday, 27 October 2015

An honourable predecessor

"This is an insanely ambitious project", said the blogger known to his public only as Nick, back in the day:

It's all still there - in 2004 and early 2005 he set out to translate all Martial's poems. Nick made it most of the way through Book 3, and as attempts go, that's got to be plenty good enough; certainly I'd never have the nerve to try. Kudos.

Monday, 26 October 2015

None more avid: Sam Hayes's Martial blog

I heartily recommend Sam Hayes's academic blog on our author, Martial Musings. It's clever, thoughtful, and well written.

Sam is a PhD student working on the epigrams and how Martial constructs (and maybe also shoots down) his ideal reader - brilliant stuff and he'd better do a book of it or something.

He also tweets (@SamHayez) which I hardly ever get round to.

Martial 1.73 (NSFW)

No-one in Rome wanted to touch your wife, Maecilianus even for free. Thats while they could; but now youve posted guards, theres a whole crowd fucking her. You really are clever!

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

World's Classics reading group: taking Martial to general readers

Martial is a name most classicists know, but what we mean by 'classics' isn't quite what most readers would think. OUP's World's Classics imprint covers authors from antiquity onwards. It has its own online book club, popular with readers: Charles Dickens, Bram Stoker, Emily Bronte are the choices they've covered so far. 'My' Martial is their first try at a classical-in-our-sense Classic:


There'll be some blog posts there, and some online chat, and perhaps a few converts to class. civ. by the time we're done? Also, video of me sounding a lot more confident than I feel.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Translating Tettius Caballus

My first post of a new translation, Martial 1.41, is also my blog's first failure - or at least, a dodgy compromise. The poem had lots I could work with - I knew I could get into the repetition, for instance - but the concluding play on words was always going to be a cop-out.

Let me explain. The closing joke is on the name of a supposedly famous comedian and wit, Tettius Caballus (I say 'supposedly' because, as so often in Martial, he only exists thus far in Martial). The merely crude and mud-slinging humourist, says Martial, is no Tettius; he is merely a Caballus. Caballus is a Latin word for 'horse' (probably from the Gaulish, I'm told).

So the estimable Shackleton Bailey renders:

He who jests with blockish impudence is no Tettius, he's a Caballus.

- because what else can he do? He's making a Loeb, and that's the literal sense. But it loses the joke completely. All he can do is add a clarifying footnote, and very useful it is too:

Caballus= 'horse', probably with a depreciatory flavor, 'nag'.
Plays on words like this are impossible to get across - though if you can think of a topical modern equivalent, please let me know. I decided to signal the fact of wordplay in the Latin with another kind of verbal play in the English - rhyme - and after much tinkering the best I could come up with was,

doesnt have sass; hes just an ass.
Along the way I toyed with, and thankfully discarded, such gems as 'isn't [Eddie] Izzard; he's just a lizard.' So you see, it could have been much worse; you have the least dodgy compromise I could contrive...

Friday, 16 October 2015

Martial 1.41: You think you're smart, Caecilius...


You think you’re smart, Caecilius. Trust me: you’re not. So what are you? A troll. A bridge-and-tunnel hawker who barters yellow sulphur matches for broken glassware — that’s what you are. The bloke who sells soggy chickpeas to the tourists — that’s what you are.

That’s you — the jumped-up snake-charmer,
That’s you — the vile spawn of the salt-vendors,
That’s you — the bawling cook who touts charred sausages round the cheap tavernas,
That’s you — a pasquinader, and second-rate at that, 
That’s you — a Cadiz whoremonger,
That’s you — the big mouth of a clapped-out poof.

So stop thinking you’re something, Caecilius: no-one else does. Reckon your jokes outperform Gabba, even Tettius Caballus? It’s not just anyone who gets to have style. The man whose ‘jokes’ are stupid smut doesn’t have sass; he’s just an ass.

Introductory post: 'The man you read, the man you want...'

The man you read, the man you want - here he is: Martial, famous all round the world for his gossipy little books of epigrams. While he still lives and breathes, Avid Fan, you have conferred on him distinction such as few poets achieve when dead and gone.
 Marcus Valerius Martialis - 'Martial', to readers in English - was a poet in Latin in the late first century AD. He wrote epigrams - thousands of epigrams, a miniaturist on a massive scale. The Rome of his poems became the Rome of Martial and is still the big, bad city of our collective imaginings.

I'm Gideon Nisbet, I teach and research classics at the University of Birmingham in England, and I was lucky enough to be asked to translate Martial for the World's Classics series, published in paperback by Oxford University Press. This blog is for fellow Avid Fans. I'll post occasional thoughts about Martial and some further translations, which I hope you will enjoy.

A warning to readers: Martial is a member of a slave-owning, patriarchal, and (kind of) homophobic society; his poetry includes personal attacks, describes sexual acts, and uses obscene language.