Posted by Eric » 5 Comments »
I thought I’d begin a new feature here on the new CAMPVS to give regular practice in translation. With that in mind, I thought I might try to blog through the first book of Lucan’s Bellum civile in five- or ten-line selections. After the jump, as they say, there will be a rough translation, which our readers are free to emend in the comments, with a few notes on the passage (if I can think of anything to say).
- Bella per Emathios plus quam civilia campos
- iusque datum sceleri canimus, populumque potentem
- in sua victrici conversum viscera dextra
- cognatasque acies, et rupto foedere regni
- certatum totis concussi viribus orbis
- in commune nefas, infestisque obvia signis
- signa, pares aquilas et pila minantia pilis.
Of wars worse than civil on Thessalian plains
and of lawfulness given to wickedness I sing, and of a powerful people
turned against its own guts with conquering hand,
and of kinsmen’s battle-lines, and, with the regime’s treaty broken,
of shared wickedness contested with all the forces of the
shattered world, and of banners set against hostile banners,
of equal standards and of javelins threatening javelins.
Notes: It is interesting that the opening sentence–which is also the opening thought of the poem and is usually treated as the poem’s first paragraph–is seven lines long: exactly the same length as the opening sentence/paragraph of Vergil’s Aeneid. As arma virumque gives Vergil’s subject in the poem’s very first words, so here bella, Lucan’s first word, gives the subject of his poem. Vergil’s cano (1.1) here becomes the (grandiose?) canimus.
The four compounds of cum (conversum, cognatas, concussi, and commune) reinforce the theme stated in l.1: the wars are civil wars (civilia). (A more artful translation than mine might find better ways to reflect this–though one could mount a folk-etymology argument connecting ‘kinsmen’s’ with cum/con- in cognatas! Alas, the OED tells me they are not connected by real etymology.) The theme of a people turned against itself is also emphasized by the repetition signis signa, with the second enjambed, and pila…pilis.