from The Ep[is]odes: A Reformulation of Horace
The sky is rough, fierce with sound, as Jupiter launches rain and snow. From woods to sea, nothing but northern winds. Let’s celebrate the occasion, friends, before our blooming knees are shrouded and broken by age. By my order, let’s open the wine pressed in that consul’s year. Submit another question to the gods, perhaps, or leave it in the back seat. I’d rather bathe in the orchard than worry over quicksilver. Let’s sing the warrior Achilles, as his centaur tutor did so long ago:
son of the goddess
the earth is little. Someday, you will go to Troy, split by cold, slippery rivers. Your stay will be long, for you won’t return. Fate, overlooking from the cliff, awaits you. Your greedy mother, who wants you all to herself, will never carry you to the blue house. There are many ugly realities in this world; smooth your pain with wine and song. Let them be your comfort.”
from The Epodes by Horace
Horrida tempestas caelum contraxit et imbres
nivesque deducunt Iovem; nunc mare, nunc siluae
Threicio Aquilone sonant. rapiamus, amici,
Occasionem de die dumque virent genua
et decet, obducta solvatur fronte senectus.
tu vina Torquato move consule pressa meo.
cetera mitte loqui: deus haec fortasse benigna
reducet in sedem vice. nunc et Achaemenio
perfundi nardo iuvat et fide Cyllenea
levare diris pectora Sollicitudinibus,
nobilis ut grandi cecinit Centaurus alumno:
‘invicte, mortalis dea nate puer Thetide,
te manet Assaraci tellus, quam frigida parvi
findunt Scamandri flumina lubricus et Simois,
unde tibi reditum certo Subtemine Parcae
rupere, nec mater domum caerula te revehet.
illic omne malum vino cantuque levato,
deformis aegrimoniae dulcibus adloquiis.’
From “Commentarium”: A Selection of Translator’s Notes for The Ep[is]odes: a reformulation of Horace
2. Google software engineer Dmitriy Genzel co-authored “‘Poetic’ Statistical Machine Translation: Rhyme and Meter” for the 2010 Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing (EMNLP) Conference.
3. Genzel et al. purport, “Statistical machine translation techniques, unlike their traditional rule-based counterparts, are in fact well-suited to the task [of translating poetry]” because line length, metrics, rhyme3, etc. can be treated as constraints to be fulfilled using a mashup of algorithms, modules, feature functions, and hierarchical systems.
4. Alas!—we mere mortals cannot make use of the Google poetry engine because “[it] at present is too slow, and [the engineers] cannot make it available online as a demo.”
5. “It seems,” say Genzel et al., “that at the present state of machine translation, one does indeed have to choose between getting either the form or the meaning right…however, we can already find good translations, as a sort of found poetry, by translating a large quantity of text, whether poetic or not.” [emphasis added]
6. Poetic reformulations are not new, but digital technologies and the rise of remix culture have increased their significance and broadened community interest in such projects.
9. I opted to run three translation iterations: Latin to English, with each poem converted to prose; one from Latin to English, with each poem retaining its lineation;5 and Latin to Romanian to Italian to Catalan to Spanish to French to English, with each poem retaining its lineation.6
10. Google’s Latin translator is “not quite up to the same quality standards as [its] other languages.” As a result, my machine translations were often garbled and incomplete. I compensated by consulting several English translations7 and Latin dictionaries,8 but whenever possible, I gave preference to “good [machine] translations, as a sort of found poetry.”
3 The engineers chose a “weak definition” of rhyme based exclusively on end syllables “because [they preferred] to err on the side of over-generation and accept even really bad poetry.”
4 Mashup artist Ari Eckols’ 10 POEMS RUTHLESSLY MANGLED BY GOOGLE TRANSLATE, for example, strikes me as particularly relevant; Eckols has released the book into public domain and invites readers to tweet their reviews via a series of links on his Tumblr, thus exposing his work to hundreds—if not thousands—of potential new fans.
5 Translations of individual epodes varied based on the inclusion of line breaks, despite the lack of poetry engine implementation. For this reason, I ran prose translations as a kind of control group, hoping to avoid contextual errors. This strategy was only partly successful.
6 If you’d like, think of this as a Romance-language fustuarium (gauntlet/gantlet).
7 A. S. Klein, C. Smart, Warren H. Cudworth, and both Untermeyer’s and “The Chandos Classics” anthologies.
8 John C. Traupman’s The New College Latin & English Dictionary, Charlton T. Lewis’ An Elementary Latin Dictionary, and The Perseus Project’s Word Study Tool.
Quintus Horatius Flaccus, better known as Horace, was born in Italy in 65 BCE. After Rome’s transition to empire, he befriended Maecenas, an advisor to Emperor Augustus, and became a leading poet of the period. He is most well known for his Odes, but his satirical Epodes, a poetic experiment that recast the Greek epode form into Latin meters, have all but overshadowed its earlier Greek models. He died in 8 BCE, shortly after Maecenas, and left his estate to Augustus.
T.A. Noonan is the author of several books and chapbooks, most recently four sparks fall: a novella (Chicago Center for Literature and Photography, 2013) and, with Erin Elizabeth Smith, Skate or Die (Dusie Kollektiv, 2014). Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in West Wind Review, Reunion: The Dallas Review, Hobart, Ninth Letter, specs, and Phoebe, among others. A weightlifter, crafter, priestess, and all-around woman of action, she is the Associate Editor of Sundress Publications.