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Dido's Death from Book 4 of the Aeneid


This picks up at the very end of Book 4. Anna has just learned of her sister Dido's death and is basically distraught.

Poetic Translation:

While she spoke, Anna climbed the towering steps of the pyre,
and now she gathers her dying sister to her breast and clings to her
with a moan, drying her scarlet blood with her robe.
Dido tries in vain to lift her weary eyes;
the deep wound hisses beneath her breast.
She raises herself three times and rests upon her elbow.
She twists in the sheets and searches with wandering eyes
for the light of far away heaven, and when at last she finds it, she sighs.

Then almighty Juno, taking pity on her drawn-out suffering
and never-ending death, sends Iris down from the sky, a messenger,
who might free her struggling soul from her bound-up limbs.
Her death was undeserved and premature,
brought on by her own madness,
so Proserpina had not yet taken a lock of her golden hair,
had not yet delivered her life to Death himself.
And so, Iris falls through the dewy sky on her saffron wings,
trailing a thousand different colors in her wake as she faces the sun,
coming to stand above Dido’s head. “I bring these hairs sacred to
Jupiter as I was ordered and release you from this body”:
as she speaks, she cuts the queen’s hair with her right hand,
and with all her warmth drifting away, her life passes into the winds.

Literal Translation:

Thus having spoken, Anna had climbed the high steps of the pyre,
and having embraced her half-dead sister to her breast, she was holding her
with a groan and she was drying up the dark blood with her robe.
Dido, having tried to raise her heavy eyes, fails again;
the implanted wound hisses beneath her breast.
Raising herself three times and having rested upon her elbow, she lifts herself,
she rolled three times on the bed and with her wandering eyes,
she searched for the light of far away heaven and having found it, she sighed.

Then omnipotent Juno, having taken pity on her long suffering
and difficult endings, sends Iris down from Olympus
who might release her struggling soul from her bound-up limbs.
For, because she was dying neither by fate nor a deserved death,
but wretchedly before her time, and having been aroused by a sudden madness,
Proserpina had not yet taken a lock of golden hair from her head
and had not yet delivered her life to Stygian Orcus.
Therefore, Iris descends through the dewy sky with her saffron wings,
drawing a thousand different colors with the sun facing her
and stood above Dido’s head. “I carry this object
sacred to Jupiter as I have been commanded and free you from this body”:
thus she spoke and cut her hair with her right hand, and with all
the warmth having disappeared at the same time, her life passed into the winds.


     


Last edited by magyproductions, Jul/10/2012, 3:50 pm
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Christine98 Profile
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Re: Dido's Death from Book 4 of the Aeneid


Wow, magy! I've read this three times and I'm
sure I'll read it three times more (at least.) What strength and clarity in the writing. Thank you for translating and sharing it here. Thank you very much,

Chris
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magyproductions Profile
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Re: Dido's Death from Book 4 of the Aeneid


Thanks for the comment! I have to admit I was never in love with Latin class, but this passage moved me more than all the others I ever translated. I always felt so much empathy for Anna. She not only lost her sister, but unknowingly helped to build her funeral pyre. Pretty rough. But the Latin is beautiful and conveys the emotions so well.
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Re: Dido's Death from Book 4 of the Aeneid


I'm curious magy,

does translating affect your writing?

Chris
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Re: Dido's Death from Book 4 of the Aeneid


Well, I don't translate Latin actively anymore, but when I did, I think it definitely affected my writing in an interesting way. I remember my Latin teacher said once that only about 20% of the Latin language lines up perfectly with the English language when you're translating, so translations that sound beautiful don't often stay true to the Latin, and staying true to the Latin often produces some incredibly odd-sounding English phrases.

For example, Latin has a thing called a Perfect Passive Participle. The closest equivalent in English is saying something like "having been (verb)ed," but that sounds awful. Being a poet, I always wanted to mess around with my translations to make them sound as beautiful as possible, but then my teachers would get mad at me for not being strict about the Latin. But I think staying true to the Latin could mean a lot of things. It could mean translating everything as exactly as possible, or it could also mean trying to make your English translation come alive in the same way the Latin does. Virgil and Catullus and all those brilliant guys were poets after all and very interested in rhythm and the sounds of language. I personally think they would've cringed at most of the fumbling, awkward, forced-sounding translations that are produced in Latin classrooms across the country.

But anyway. No matter what you feel a good translation looks like, playing around with words like that, studying grammar, trying to find a common ground between two different languages--it all made me think about my writing in cool ways. emoticon
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Re: Dido's Death from Book 4 of the Aeneid


Hi Magy,

Yay! Someone is using the translation forum; I'm so glad.

You've done a wonderful job turning this tragic passage into a moving, very readable English translation, and I'm thinking that was no easy feat. Your word choices seem just right to me: precise and appropriate to the occasion.

If I had one suggestion, it would be to change a few of the pronouns to proper nouns for the sake of clarity and/or greater emotional impact. For example:

While she spoke, Anna climbed the towering steps of the pyre,

Then almighty Juno, taking pity on her drawn-out suffering
and never-ending death, sends Iris down from the sky, a messenger,
who might free Dido's struggling soul from her bound-up limbs.

as she speaks, she cuts the queen’s hair with her right hand,
and with all Dido's warmth drifting away, her life passes into the winds.

Thank you so much for posting this. I'm envious! Looking back, my one academic regret regarding high school is that I didn't study Latin when I had the opportunity to do so. I have a hunch you'll always be happy you did.

If you have more of these translations, please feel free to post them. emoticon
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Re: Dido's Death from Book 4 of the Aeneid


quote:

Being a poet, I always wanted to mess around with my translations to make them sound as beautiful as possible, but then my teachers would get mad at me for not being strict about the Latin. But I think staying true to the Latin could mean a lot of things. It could mean translating everything as exactly as possible, or it could also mean trying to make your English translation come alive in the same way the Latin does. Virgil and Catullus and all those brilliant guys were poets after all and very interested in rhythm and the sounds of language. I personally think they would've cringed at most of the fumbling, awkward, forced-sounding translations that are produced in Latin classrooms across the country.



I agree with you: to those readers who aren't Latin teachers making the poems sound wonderful in English is more important than a strict translation. Readers want a good story well told, whether that story is being told in verse or prose.
 
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Re: Dido's Death from Book 4 of the Aeneid


Such beautiful poetry -- nicely done, Magy. I studied some Latin as a youth (never too great at it) and clumsily plodded through some of The Aeneid. My translations never were this poetic and graceful. Yours is powerful! "Searches with wandering eyes/for the light of faraway heaven," for example. Gives me chills. I'm going to read the rest of the Aeneid translations that are here, posted awhile ago. You've gotten me in the mood!
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Wish I could speak to you on your own terms but I cannot, since, Latin illiterate. But the art of translating poetry facinates the hell out of me. Think on it and you are forced to admit it amounts to an impossible, untenable, indefensible proposition. A game in which the translator must always lose, n'est pas? Go for the poetry and the literal translation gets eschewed. Go for the literal translation and the poetry gets trashed. Pretty much sums up the case.

Ezra Pound may have been the only translator, certainly the first, to settle on a workable premise. Foremost for him was that a poem's 'poetry of thought' get carried over from the original to the translation, or from one language to the next. With this in mind he went for a poem's transliteration. Again the prize for him was to carry over poetry of thought. I think it fair to say he met with considerable success. Enough at least to make Latin poetry sensible, even desirable, sexy to the Modern ear. That is a fair assessment. So I am curious. What would be your position vis a vis the imposibility of translating, carrying over a poem from one language to another?

Tere
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Re: Dido's Death from Book 4 of the Aeneid


I once took a Russian lit class being offered in the English dept. at my college, but taught by a Russian language professor. It was awesome. On one of the first days of class, she read us a passage from Pushkin in Russian. Sounded good -- but it was Russian. Then she translated it herself, literally, word for word from the original. Extemporaneous translation. So then we knew "what it said." She then read the same passage from a popular translation that had been published in many editions over the years. We heard it and were appalled at how much of the original sense was lost. The poetry sounded good and all, but at this point we knew what Pushkin had been trying to get across, and this translation did not do that. So then she read us her preferred translation. It was gorgeous poetry, sounding rhythmically similar even to the Russian, despite the very different language. It also stayed much truer to the "thought" (to use Tere's idea) of the original, and also the specifics. The first translator changed adjectives so that sense was altered, or even used verbs that conveyed an entirely different meaning. The second translator managed something incredible. It was the first time in my life that I realized how at the mercy of the translator we are. If we do not speak Russian, Japanese, Swahili... we depend on the translator to do justice to the original while making something wonderful for us to read. So-- hats off to translators who are worth their salt!

And Magy, I do believe that your decision to make poetic a translation by working around awkward verb constructions etc. is a noble one. You are a writer first, a translator second (and, it seems, somewhat by default!).
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Re: Dido's Death from Book 4 of the Aeneid


To answer your question, Terreson, I would say that translating is an almost impossible endeavor, because, to me, it seems something always is "lost in translation".

I think the best way to do it would be to have a book with the literal translation on one side of the page--a translation that stays true to the nitty-gritty details of the grammar and word choice and a more "poetic" translation on the other side. In other words, it would combine vkp's Russian Lit teacher's "Translation for Meaning" and the far more moving and beautiful "Translation for Feeling". I feel like this way of going about things would at once acknowledge the impossibility of translating while at the same time making a good attempt at making the work of the foreign author accessible.
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Re: Dido's Death from Book 4 of the Aeneid


In light of my last comment, I decided to post my literal translation of this passage beneath the poetic one (the original one I posted).

Looking at it now, almost four years after writing it, I am reminded of some of the hard decisions I made when transitioning from the "literal" to the "poetic" translation. I think something was lost on the way, which makes it even nicer to have the two translations side by side. This way, readers can have it all. emoticon
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magy --
Way to walk the walk! You say it and then you do it (or at least post it): your idea of the literal with the poetic side by side (an idea I like a lot!). Very cool. Can you give us some more like that...? emoticon
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