Saturday, February 18, 2012



Pliny, Natural History 2.5.22 (tr. H. Rackham):
Everywhere in the whole world at every hour by all men's voices Fortune alone is invoked and named, alone accused, alone impeached, alone pondered, alone applauded, alone rebuked and visited with reproaches; deemed volatile and indeed by most men blind as well, wayward, inconstant, uncertain, fickle in her favours and favouring the unworthy. To her is debited all that is spent and credited all that is received, she alone fills both pages in the whole of mortals' account; and we are so much at the mercy of chance that Chance herself, by whom God is proved uncertain, takes the place of God.

toto quippe mundo et omnibus locis omnibusque horis omnium vocibus Fortuna sola invocatur ac nominatur, una accusatur, rea una agitur, una cogitatur, sola laudatur, sola arguitur et cum conviciis colitur: volubilis, a plerisque vero et caeca existimata, vaga, inconstans, incerta, varia indignorumque fautrix. huic omnia expensa, huic omnia feruntur accepta, et in tota ratione mortalium sola utramque paginam facit, adeoque obnoxii sumus sorti, ut sors ipsa pro deo sit, qua deus probatur incertus.

Update from Karl Maurer:
The English translation is a pale shadow! Not that it's Rackham's fault; English just can't manage this. E.g. ruined is the first phrase, where 5 nouns -- mundo... locis... horis... vocibus -- are interwoven with the 3 adj. omnibus ... omnibusque ... omnium. That's better than Rackham's inert repetition of "alone" 6 times! Then the curious rhyming of "-atur" and "-itur" (5 + 3). Also the simultaneous A A B B and A B B A in "una agitur, una cogitatur, sola laudatur, sola arguitur". Then the carefully varied adj. endings: -ilis, -ata, -aga, -ans, -erta, -ia, -trix. And Pliny's anticlimactic last phrase is far more powerful than Rackham's climactic one.

And yet with all this it isn't really 'overwrought', it's rapid and transparent. Focus is not on the language but on the truth he is pointing to.

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