Too Hard to Translate!

Carlo Aretino, 

Preface to the Batrachomyomachia, addressed to Marrasio Siculo (Part 1/2)

Recently, my sweetest Marrasio, when I had praised Homer among some youths who were most eminent and dedicated to the pursuit of the humanities, and when I had talked about how much power he had to show his genius not only in great things, (which usually offer the greatest field for speaking to the orator or the poet), but even in that war of frogs and mice which he wrote in his youth, my listeners urged me with prayers and with force to translate that poem into Latin and argued that, should I not have the strength to do it in verse, I should at least attempt to give a prose translation of it. And so, since I was in no way able to resist their entreaties, I embarked upon the project of translating it in prose. But when I had translated just a few of the verses, the whole text seemed to me so unformed and so lacking in composition that there appeared in it nothing sweet, nothing elegant, and nothing Homeric.

So I changed my plan and called upon the Muses to inspire me and sprinkle upon my lips, if not the sacred waves of Parnassus, at least the waters of the Fonte Gaia, about which you recently published the most charming elegies. I promised them a hecatomb if I should suddenly come forth a poet from a crow (as that man says). On the very next night, I dreamt that I was born upon the lap of the Muses and submerged in the Fonte Gaia. For that reason, when I awoke a little later, I flew to writing with all mental haste and translated this little work into our language. If there seems to be anything elegant in it, you should attribute it both to Homer (that most excellent poet) and especially to those waters, with which, as you say, your own poems constantly drip. But if you think that anything in the translation is poorly done, you can attribute it to me.

Frontispiece of 'Batrachomyomachia or, The Battle of Frogs and Mice', translated by George Chapman
The Crowne of all Homer’s Worckes, eh?

Nuper, suavissime Marrasi, quom apud quosdam praestantissimos iuvenes studiis humanitatis mirifice deditos Homerum summopere laudassem dixissemque eum non solum in rebus magnis, quae mediocri oratori vel poetae maximum orationis campum praestare solent, verum etiam in eo bello quod adolescens de ranis muribusque finxit quantum iam ingenio valeret ostendisse, et precibus et vi a me exegerunt ut id in Latinum converterem ac, si non valerem versu, saltem id, quoquo modo possem, soluta oratione transferrem. Itaque, cum eorum studiis nullo pacto obsistere quirem, liber omni pede id traducere aggressus sum; sed, cum perpaucos transtulissem versus, ita ea oratio incondita et incomposita mihi visa est, ut nihil suave, nihil elegans, nihil denique Homericum resonare videretur.

Itaque mutato consilio, Musas invocavi, ut mihi aliquantulum aspirarent meaque labra si non Parnasi sacris undis, saltem lymphis illius Gaii fontis, de quo nuper quam plures suavissimos elegos edidisti, aspergerent. Ac si repente ex corvo (ut inquit ille) poeta prodirem, eis hecatombem pollicitus sum. Proxima deinde nocte in somnus mihi visum est Musarum gremio sublatum in Gaio fonte esse demersum, quamobrem paulo post experrectus, alacri animo ad scribendum accessi et hoc opusculum in nostram linguam transtuli. In quo si quid elegans visum fuerit, tum Homero, omnium poetarum praestantissimo, tuo maxime illis undis, quibus tua carmina uda esse dicis, attribuito; sin autem aliquid ineptum offenderis, id a me editum esse credas.


For anyone interested in a contemporary translation and commentary on the Batrachomyomachia, a couple of your favorite bloggers may have something published in that line:

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