Friday, April 20, 2012


A Professor

Ausonius 5.18, tr. Guy Davenport (1927-2005) in Thasos and Ohio: Poems and Translations 1950-1980 (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1986), p. 57, with the title A Professor at Bordeaux:
Let us say of you, Marcellus, that Fortune
took you in when your mother threw you out.
Her cold fury drove you to Narbonne
where strangers were kinder to you than your kin.
Clarence kindly gave you his noble daughter,
the hall was full of students when you lectured,
you became known, rich, and promoted.
Then Fortune, liking turns, varied her hand,
perhaps because she saw a weakness in her pet.
I will not join your critics. I merely mention
your sudden collapse. Professor you remain,
I grant the title, justly, for it admits
the half-talented, the glib, and the lucky.
The Latin:
Nec te Marcello genitum, Marcelle, silebo,
  aspera quem genetrix urbe, domo pepulit:
sed fortuna potens cito reddidit omnia et auxit:
  amissam primum Narbo dedit patriam.
nobilis hic hospes Clarentius indole motus
  egregia natam coniugio adtribuit.
mox schola et auditor multus praetextaque pubes
  grammatici nomen divitiasque dedit.
sed numquam iugem cursum fortuna secundat,
  praesertim pravi nancta virum ingenii.
verum oneranda mihi non sunt, memoranda recepi
  fata; sat est dictum cuncta perisse simul:
non tamen et nomen, quo te non fraudo, receptum
  inter grammaticos praetenuis meriti.
A prose version by H.G. Evelyn-White (split by me into lines roughly corresponding to the Latin):
I will not pass you by without a word, Marcellus, son of Marcellus.
The harshness of your mother drove you from your home and your city,
but all-powerful Fortune soon restored all you had lost and added more.
For firstly, in Narbo you found the country you had lost;
and here Clarentius, a stranger of high birth, was led
by your noble nature to give you his daughter to wife.
And in due time your classes and lectures, thronged with crowds of boys,
brought you the title of grammarian and wealth.
But Fortune never favours a career of unvarying success,
especially when she finds a man of a crooked nature.
Howbeit, 'tis not for me to make heavier your destiny: my task is to recall it.
It is enough to say that you lost all at one stroke;
yet not your title also, whereof I do not rob you, but give you a place
amongst grammarians of very scant deserving.
Hmm. A possible epitaph: Grammaticus praetenuis meriti.

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