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...

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