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Thread: Allen Mandelbaum's Ovid

  1. #1
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    Allen Mandelbaum's Ovid

    Mandelbaum is one of the few-- perhaps the only -- translator in the classicist sense whose name I know and recognize, and it is his hardback edition of Ovid's Metamorphoses I am going to start rereading, and I wanted to ask anyone, but in particular, mortalterror, how Mandelbaum's translations compare to others?

    I am not always entirely confident in his ability to make classical verse feel like poetry in modern English.

  2. #2
    Artist and Bibliophile stlukesguild's Avatar
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    I actually greatly enjoyed Mandelbaum's Metamorphoses... as I did his Dante. Perhaps... if you become enamored enough of the work... you will want another translation as well... I which case I'd recommend Rolfe Humphries. Seriously, Mandelbaum's translation was quite well written for me.
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    Registered User billl's Avatar
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    I read his Dante (X3), and his Aeneid (and only his... so I can't compare...) and I really enjoyed all four. I don't know if he's the best, but he didn't screw up those ones, enjoyment-wise, for me.

  4. #4
    Don't know. I've also got the Mandelbaum Dante, but my Metamorphoses is translated by an A. D. Melville - its the Oxford World Classic edition.

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    I have not started my fresh reading yet, but I have read critics complain that what Mandelbaum sacrifices for accuracy he loses in poetic vibrancy, particularly when translating Greek, and while it has been a long time since I have been intimate with this edition (I have not touched it since I moved to center city) I do remember getting that sense of stilted flow through him.

    I do not treat poetry like prose. I only read small sections at a time, so I can steal in stealthy fashion, so I should not be too long away from posting some samples. If luke has other translations of those, it would be interesting to compare.

    I do not own his entire Dante, just The Inferno, but he seems fine with tersa rima.

  6. #6
    Excellent idea, post away when you have time. I too take your attitude to verse - in not reading it like prose. When I read Paradise Lost over for example, I would restrict myself to one book from it every two days or so, I would dwell with a book as much as I could and go back over it time and again. Then when I finished the book I started again immediately.

    I don't think that there is anything wrong in reading verse quickly, in fact it is a good idea to get a feel for the text, the rhythm etc, but for me it is important to pull out the subtle nuances of the text, bit by bit, which is best done slowly, for me at least. I suppose I sort of follow Keats’s idea of dwelling with poetry by day.

    I want to read Dante again because it is so clearly a work which absolutely demands multiple readings - and that is aside from getting to grips with some of the biographical references - so an interesting thread on the comedy sounds pretty good to me. I have re-read passages again, but I still don't think that I have got anywhere close to grips with this mammoth work yet.

    Edit: oh, silly me you were probably referring to Ovid, never mind, that's cool too.
    Last edited by LitNetIsGreat; 01-31-2010 at 10:08 AM.

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    Bibliophile Drkshadow03's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Neely View Post
    Don't know. I've also got the Mandelbaum Dante, but my Metamorphoses is translated by an A. D. Melville - its the Oxford World Classic edition.
    That's the translation I have been reading. Like Joz, I'm also reading Ovid right now. I really like it so far, although occasionally I find my interest waning depending on the myth.
    Last edited by Drkshadow03; 01-31-2010 at 12:23 PM.
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    Mandelbaum seems a fluid enough read, save for the off-and-on rhyming, (the original was, as everyone likely knows, certainly metered, but not rhymed). Happens to be a huge pet peeve of mine, but I shan’t presume for all! I have the Loeb Classical Library edition myself (the selling point for me being that it offers a bilingual comparison of texts), translated by one Frank Justus Miller, faithful in that it does not rhyme, but, compared to Mandelbaum, perhaps a bit, mmmmm, garrulous, if not bombastic (not necessarily a bad thing, as far as I'm concerned )? The first five lines:

    My mind is bent to tell of bodies changed into new forms. Ye gods, for you yourselves have wrought the changes, breathe on these my undertakings, and bring down my song in unbroken strains from the world’s very beginning even unto the present time.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jozanny View Post
    I have read critics complain that what Mandelbaum sacrifices for accuracy he loses in poetic vibrancy...
    Hehe, conversely, Ted Hughes sacrifices nothing for accuracy yet still accomplishes naught in the way of poetic vibrancy:

    Now I am ready to tell how bodies are changed into different bodies. I summon the supernatural beings who first contrived the transmogrifications in the stuff of life. You did it for you own amusement. Descend again, be pleased to reanimate this revival of those marvels. Reveal, now, exactly how they were preformed from the beginning up to this moment.

    A shame he didn't translate the Metamorphoses in its entirety.

  9. #9
    Alea iacta est. mortalterror's Avatar
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    For the Metamorphoses I'd definitely go with Rolfe Humphries over Mandelbaum. He's a little too clunky for such a smooth poet, and as someone above me has already noted, the rhyme jars on the ear.

    Here's Mandelbaum:

    Before the sea and lands began to be,
    before the sky had manteled every thing,
    then all of natures face was featureless-
    what men call chaos: undigested mass
    of crude, confused, and scumbled elements,
    a heap of seeds that clashed, of things mismatched.
    There was no Titan Sun to light the world,
    no crescent Moon- no Phoebe- to renew,
    her slender horns; in the surrounding air,
    earth's weight had yet to find it's balanced state;
    and Amphitrites arms had not yet stretched
    along the farthest margins of the land.
    For though the sea and land and air were there,
    the land could not be walked upon, the sea
    could not be swum, the air was without splendor:
    no thing maintained it's shape; all were at war;
    in one same body cold and hot would battle;
    the damp contended with the dry, things hard
    with soft, and weighty things with weightless parts.

    That just seems so passionless and dry to me. Ovid ought to be translated with the sensual luxuriance one would give to the writings of a French decadent (Baudelaire),

    You too Silenus, are on fire, insatiable lecher:
    Wickedness alone prevents you growing old.
    -Ovid, Fasti, Book I

    and the sort of exactness of phrase and poise which we find in scholars like Petrarch, Eliot, and Leopardi. It completely lacks the rhythm of Roman rhetoric which was as much a part of poetry then as it would be in the Renaissance. You don't get the feeling of how intensely conscious he is of poetic tradition. The phrases here don't even sound like they come from the right period. They should sound at least a little bit like Tibullus or Propertius, the way that Eliot sounds a little like Pound and Yeats.

    If I had
    A hundred tongues, a hundred mouths, a voice
    Of iron, I could not tell of all the shapes
    Their crimes had taken, or their punishments.
    -lines 835-838, Book VI, Virgil's Aeneid

    If I had a tireless voice, lungs stronger than brass, and many mouths with many tongues, not even so could I embrace them all in words for the theme surpasses my strength.-Tristia, Bk. I, v. ln. 43-74, Ovid

    Also, what's with some of his diction choices, "scumbled?"

    Here's the Humphries:

    Before the ocean was, or earth, or heaven,
    Nature was all alike, a shapelessness,
    Chaos, so-called, all rude and lumpy matter,
    Nothing but bulk, inert, in whose confusion
    Discordant atoms warred: there was no sun
    To light the universe; there was no moon
    With slender silver crescents filling slowly;
    No earth hung balanced in surrounding air;
    No sea reached far along the fringe of shore.
    Land, to be sure, there was, and air, and ocean,
    But land on which no man could stand, and water
    No man could swim in, air no man could breathe,
    Air without light, substance forever changing,
    Forever at war: within a single body
    Heat fought with cold, wet fought with dry, the hard
    Fought with the soft, things having weight contended
    With weightless things.

    He should be as humorous as Chaucer, the way Marlowe makes him:

    We which were Ovids five books, now are three,
    For these before the rest preferreth he:
    If reading five thou plainst of tediousnesse,
    Two tane away, thy labor will be lesse:

    Fun loving, but also moral:

    I saw a man who laughed at shipwrecks, drowned
    in the sea, and said: ‘The waves were never more just.’
    -Ovid's Tristia, Book V

    though not so severe as Horace, or pious as Virgil. One's a mercenary, the other a priest, but Ovid is a retiring man of letters. Raised to the purple, he's conscious of his aristocratic status and writes with a conscious stately nobility. Certain feelings, and people, are beneath him

    One person alone (and this itself is a great wrong)
    won’t grant me the title of an honest man.
    Whoever it is (for I’ll be silent still as yet about his name)
    -Ovid, Ibis tr. Kline

    People tend to think of Roman society as chauvinistic, but like Euripides before him he shows a deep concern for the plight of women. He frequently heaps praise and tenderness upon his loving wife and in the Heroides draws many subtle portraits women who have been ill treated by their paramours.

    Penelope to the tardy Ulysses:
    do not answer these lines, but come, for
    Troy is dead and the daughters of Greece rejoice.
    But all of Troy and Priam himself
    are not worth the price I've paid for victory.
    How often I have wished that Paris
    had drowned before he reached our welcoming shores.
    If he had died I would not have been
    compelled now to sleep alone in my cold bed
    complaining always of the tiresome
    prospect of endless nights and days spent working
    like a poor widow at my tedious loom.
    Imagining hazards more awful than real,
    love has always been tempered by fear:
    I was sure it was you the Trojans attacked
    and the name of Hector made me pale;
    if someone told the tale of Antilochus
    I dreamed of you dead as he had died;
    if they sang of the death of Menoetius' son,
    slain in armour not his own, I wept,
    because even clever tricks had failed
    -Ovid, Heroids tr.Isbell

    A monologue worthy of Browning.

    I don't know any one translation that captures these various sides of him, but Humphries is the best I know of for the Metamorphoses. Mandelbaum seemed like an also ran in his translations of Dante, not even rising to the level of Ciardi or Longfellow. It's been some time since I've read Melville, but if his Ovid is half as good as his work on Statius' Thebaid it should be fine:

    The strife of brothers and alternate reigns
    Fought for in impious hatred and the guilt
    Of tragic Thebes, these themes the Muses' fire
    Has kindled in my heart.

    Statius is the only writer who wears his learning on his sleeve more than Ovid. Each line of Melville's translation is lush, allusion laden, and delicious. But on the other hand, Humphries did put out a very readable Juvenal. If I recall correctly they had these beautiful long lines that show off Latin hexameter so well. I'm sure whichever you pick, it should turn out all right.

    Now I have done my work. It will endure,
    I trust, beyond Jove's anger, fire and sword,
    Beyond Time's hunger. The day will come, I know,
    So let it come, that day which has no power
    Save over my body, to end my span of life
    Whatever it may be. Still, part of me,
    The better part, immortal, will be borne
    Above the stars; my name will be remembered
    Wherever Roman power rules conquered lands,
    I shall be read, and through the centuries,
    If prophecies of bards are ever truthful,
    I shall be living, always.
    Last edited by mortalterror; 02-02-2010 at 05:59 AM.
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  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jozanny View Post
    I have not started my fresh reading yet, but I have read critics complain that what Mandelbaum sacrifices for accuracy he loses in poetic vibrancy, particularly when translating Greek, and while it has been a long time since I have been intimate with this edition (I have not touched it since I moved to center city) I do remember getting that sense of stilted flow through him.
    I recently read Ted Hughes' translation of Aeschylus' Oresteia and I've never read a translation with more vibrancy and power. It's almost up there with Shakespeare in these respects (though it lacks, somewhat, his beauty and intelligence...)

    Hughes has translated Ovid.

    Shakespeare is very influenced by Ovid, and the RSC Shakespeare points out which bits are heavily influenced. For instance, in Titus Andronicus you can see how he takes gore-fests from Ovid and produces poetry that is the most vibrant and powerful I have encountered--except for a few other plays by the bard.

    I'm reading Mandelbaum's Dante at the moment -- it doesn't have quite the power and vibrancy of Hughes, but it is very good.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jozanny View Post
    I do not own his entire Dante, just The Inferno, but he seems fine with tersa rima.
    If you mean he produces a clear, readable text based on sound scholarship, then I agree. But, if you'll excuse my disambiguating pedantry, potential buyers should note that he does not write the translation in terza rima. Several other translators do, e.g. Dorothy L. Sayers, but I prefer Mandelbaum's clarity.
    Last edited by mal4mac; 02-02-2010 at 07:03 AM.

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    I read Mandelbaum's Inferno then could only find the penguin version of Purgatorio, which seemed a little weaker, though neither of them mainatin the rhyme. He seems a capable enough translator, if not an overwhelming one.

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