The Complete Poetry

The Complete Poetry

Book - 1964
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Publisher: [Ann Arbor] : University of Michigan Press, [c1964]
Branch Call Number: 871 C369c
Characteristics: 141 p.


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Feb 09, 2020

In his introduction of Catullus, Copley the translator writes:
"He saw the cogency and power of the ordinary spoken language of Italy; his poems for the most part have all the ease and simplicity, the clarity and the subtlety of a conversation between good friends. But he also understood the poetry of slang and obscenity."
Copley has gone to some lengths to capture that quality in his translation of the work into ordinary English. I suspect some scholars will feel that he has gone too far; in places it can best be termed scatological.
I’m finding it hard to get a handle on what sort of poet Catullus really was; his style is all over the map. His accounts of several stories from Greco-Roman mythology (e.g. 63, 64) are done in the mode of the great poets of his day; 61 is a swinging, ringing wedding-ballad; 66, re-telling the Callimacus tale of the Lock of Berenice is the most lyrical of all, a sheer delight! And then he rather shockingly follows that with 67, a gutter song that’s as crude as a Bronx cheer! Many of the rest are little more than bits of literary graffiti. Here and there, he tosses out droll or wistful little epigrams, e.g.
"What a woman says to her lover that wants her she should write on wind and running water"
or "Where there’s talk there’s desire."
Copley breezily captures the spirit of some of Catullus’ zingers about people he dislikes, e.g.
"He looks like six feet of earth would do him good."
I decided to read Catullus primarily to find out how he handled the story-within-a-story of the wedding of Thetis and Peleus and Ariadne’s abandonment by Theseus. The Ariadne legend has been told in part and in different ways many times (my first introduction was Richard Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos). Copley’s translation here is a fair bit different from Thomas Banks’ 1997 translation, but every bit as good (each of them picks up different aspects of Catullus’ style.)


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