Jack Mitchell

Here is a sample of my work in translating ancient poets into formal English verse.

Table of Contents

 

Juvenal Satire 1

To listen ever, never settle scores—
Is that my fate, though croaking Cordus bores
The world with his
Theseids? Scot-free,
Therefore, must one recite me comedy
Another love-poems, ’til some Telephus
Destroys my day, his strength voluminous,
And dreads no retribution, only bested
By Orestes, whole-scroll, palimpsested
Margin-stuffed, to shut up oft requested?
No one knows his own house half as well
As I know Mars’s solitary dell,
Aeolus’ cliffs, or nearby Vulcan’s cave,
What the winds are up to, just which knave
Aeacus daily tortures, whence some dude
Is busy thieving fleeces golden-hued,
Just what Monychus’ ash-trees’ magnitude!
Fronto’s orchard echoes with such stuff
Forever, marble shudders, cries “Enough!”
And cracks, though still the reader will not stow it:
’T’s all the same, from least to greatest poet.
I’ve also dodged a teacher’s punishments
And freely offered Sulla my two cents’:
“It’s time to call it quits.” The bards are loose,
You meet them everywhere, so what’s the use
Of sparing paper sentenced to their noose?
Why ’cross this battlefield I’d rather run,
O’er which with fearsome steeds Arunca’s son
Once raced, I’ll now explain, if all here shall
Take time to calmly hear my rationale.
With supple eunuchs walking down the aisle,
With Maevia hunting gladiator-style
(Her tits exposed), with one whose rusty shear
Once trimmed my fledgling beard these days the peer
(Thanks to his cash) of each aristocrat;
And with Canopus’ servile kitty-cat,
Crispinus, chunk of the Egyptian slum,
Hitching the purple while the sweat runs from
That massive summer ring upon his knuckle
(Any heavier and he’d quickly buckle):
Satire’s the hard thing
not to write these days.
For who’s so patient with the loathsome ways
This city lives, whose iron will’s so strong
That he can bite his tongue when comes along
Matho’s new litter, bursting from each end
With Matho; then the one who sold his friend,
His high-placed patron, ready now to grab
Whatever crumb nobody else could nab
From our gnawed-down nobility, whose powers
E’en Massa fears, whom even Carus showers
With bribes, to whom Latinus trembling sent
Thymele to assure his kind intent!
You’re shoved aside by worthies such as these,
Who labour all night long for legacies,
Since nowadays to wealth there is no way as
Wide as rich old pussies. Proculeius
Gets but one part, Gillo gets eleven:
Heirs by length of cock raised up to heaven.
Let them take the price of swollen blood,
And turn as pale as he who steps unshod
Upon a snake, as he wh’ awaits the nod
To speak at Lugdunum. Shall I explain
With what dry rage, with what o’erwhelming pain
My liver seethes when flunkies break a way
Between the crowd for one who every day
Defrauds his helpless ward? For who’s abashed
About disgrace once that fat cheque is cashed?
God-censured, th’ exile Marius drinks deep
All night, while you, victorious province, weep.
Are not such vices worth Venusia’s candle?
Shan’t I take them up? Not rather handle
Hercules or Diomede, the roar
Within some labyrinth, the ocean floor
Smacked by a boy, the flying contractor?
When such a troop of husband-pimps connives
To rent away their disenfranchised wives,
To watch the floor and snore though wide awake!
Yet he who seeks a cohort takes the cake,
Who blew his family fortune on a horse,
Who like Automedon now flies the course
Down the Flaminian Way with wheels awhirl
And grabs the reins, his ego to unfurl
Before his sweetheart, th’ army-coated girl!
You’ll fill thick notebooks where the alleys meet
When on six necks now marches down the street
The curtains open, naked as you please
(So reminiscent of Maecenas’ ease),
Some forgerer, whose signatory stealth
And moistened ring brought happiness and wealth;
And next a puissant dame, her wine accursed
With toad’s-blood for to quench her husband’s thirst:
She’ll teach the rustic girls next door to souse
And mourn and blithly bury every spouse,
More skillful than Locusta! Try your hand
At what they punish with Gyara’s strand
Or years in jail, if you would make a name:
The honest man will starve to death of fame.
Their gardens, rank, and furniture are due
To crime, the ostentatious silver too.
Who’ll sleep for thought of in-law daughters bought
By husbands’ fathers, wedding vows for nought
Or teenage years in womanising shot?
If talent fails me, wrath will write my verse,
Howbeit: mine, Cluvenius’, or worse.
From when Deucalion climbed the lofty mount
By tacking o’er the cloud-fed main, the fount
Of prophecy to seek, and rocks grew soft
And hot, and women with their clothing doffed
Were shown by Pyrrha to their husbands oft,
The doings of mankind, vows, fears, and rage,
Lusts, joy, and babblings — fodder for my page.
For when was vice more trouble to escape?
Whenever did the jaws of greed thus gape?
Whenever gambling thus so universal?
Leave your purse, but bring for quick dispersal
Treasure-chests indeed. What battles dire,
Each with his own accountant for a squire:
Pure madness, no, to drop a hundred thou’
And leave your shirtless servant shiv’ring now?
What sire of ours put all those houses up
On courses seven secretly to sup?
Yet nowadays the scanty dole is stuck
Before the door for toga’d mobs to pluck;
Though still the patron peers into your face
For fear that by deceit you make your case:
It’s you, alright; he bids the butler call
Forth first the Trojan-blooded founders all —
They too upon the doorstep meekly yearn:
“First it’s the Praetor, then the Tribune’s turn.”
But no, the freedling’s first. “I’m first in line,”
He says. “So what? Who cares? First place is mine!
Though born beside Euphrates’ lazy flow
(As glancing at my window’d ears you’d know
Though I’d deny it); still each year now I’ve
Four hundred thousand, since my shops are five.
Sure, what’s the point of that fat purple band
Now that Corvinus o’er Laurentian land
Herds flocks of sheep? For I’m more rich, more great
Than Pallas or Licinus.” Let the tribunes wait!
Let wealth prevail! Lest such a man give in
To sacred titles, whose chalk-whitened shin
Appeared just yesterday within this town,
For nowadays no god has such renown
As wealth in Rome, though yet, o hateful Cash,
To your new shrine no consul cut the sash,
Nor have we decked your holy altar’s block,
Nor with Good Faith and Virtue set your rock,
Alongside Peace, and Concord with its flock!
But when the highest office computates
Its yearly dole, then sums up its estates,
What of the rest, who from the same amount
Must reckon clothes and shoes into account
And bread and warmth? A vast array of litters
Hunts that hundred bucks, the counterfeiters
Thronged: a sickly or a pregnant wife
Will trace her husband’s steps; deceit is rife,
As with the well-known trick another louse
Points out the curtained chair wherein his spouse
Never existed. “Galla’s there,” says he.
“Let’s have it quick - you don’t have faith in me?
Come out, my dear! Oh, quiet, she’s asleep.”
The day we to a lovely schedule keep:
The dole, the forum, then well-schooled Apollo,
Vict’ry statues where (what’s hard to swallow)
Some Egyptian Arabarches dared
To set his titles: let no man be scared
Thereon to piss and more! Now from the laird
The tired clients wend their homeward way
(Though hope for dinner is the last to say
Goodnight) to buy their cabbage and their fuel;
Meanwhile their king o’er fish and fowl will drool,
Supping alone (though empty tables spread
About are wide, antique, unblemishèd),
His appetite his patrimony’s doom,
His parasites endangered; yet to whom,
Does luxury so miserly not stink?
Down what a gullet can a whole boar sink?
The beast was born for friendly cheer and drink!
And yet you’ll pay when to the bath you puff
With bloated belly, into which you’d stuff
That unchewed peacock meat; then in the buff
Alack! It’s death, without a testament:
The happy news around the room is sent,
Your funeral starts with cheers of ill-intent.
No further vice the future knows to add
To life these days; our children ape the fad,
They act like us; vice is the slippery slope.
So now, full speed, o good ship Misanthrope!
Yet “How,” perhaps you wonder, “can you cope
With satirising evil of such scope?
Will you be free to write a single page
Like our forefathers wrote in simple rage?
“What man do you suppose I dare not name?
Who cares if Mucius read and rant and blame?”
Just try the same with Tigellinus, friend,
And as a human torch you’ll make an end
Like those who hang and sizzle to applause
’Til each his furrow ’cross th’ arena draws.”
So he who’s poisoned uncles shall ride free,
From cushioned seat look down his nose at me?
“Yes: when he passes, check your accusation:
Don’t denounce him; that’s called defamation.
Better write of Turnus’ bravery
Or of Aeneas; there’s no obloquy
In how Achilles died, or Hylas slipped
Though much sought-for, and down that well got dipped.
But when like some hot blade Lucilius clashes,
Frigid teeth the guilty listener gnashes,
Breaking out in spiritual rashes.
Think it through, then, ere the trumpets sound;
The helmet donned, your foes you must confound.”
I’ll guess I’ll treat of men of olden days,
Guests of the Latin and Flaminian Ways.



 

Propertius 1.1

Twas Cynthia, a lass, who with her eyes
   Took me, whom no desire otherwise
Had touched; my stubborn pride by Love was stooped,
   And soon my head between my ankles drooped.
From Love I learned to hate the lady chaste,
   From wily Love my days I learned to waste:
Though now a year is gone, the fever gains,
   For still the gods take pleasure at my pains.
Tullus, that drudge, Milanion, did not tire
   In overcoming Atalanta’s ire:
He wandered witless through the Parthene cave,
   Among the savage animals would rave,
And though the Centaur’s club might clean his clock
   He would yet groan upon th’ Arcadian rock,
Until he could the fleetfoot maid enthral:
   For deeds and pretty pleases conquer all.
Latecomer love thus prompts a certain art,
   And bids me on untrodden paths to start.
But come, all ye who swindle down the moon,
   Whose magic lips can drone the séance tune,
Come shift my lady’s fancy to romance,
   Come make her blush and stammer at my glance;
And in exchange I’ll swear your far-out schemes
   Can charm the stars, and stop the river’s streams;
My friends, who would your sympathy impart,
   Invent a balm that heals the sickly heart:
The cauter’s flame I’ll bear, the surgeon’s steel -
   Just leave me free speak what lovers feel;
Or ship me overseas, to foreign folk,
   From women’s eyes my destination cloak;
Though you may stay, whose prayers are heard above,
   And never change your lot and happy love;
Venus alone enjoys my bitter night,
   Each hour spent in longing for delight;
Remember my sad case, and never switch
   Your girlfriend, your habituated niche:
Whoever little heeds my earnest warning
   Soon enough rereads my verses, mourning.



 

Propertius 1.2

Why fuss, my life, why cut your tresses cute
   And strut your slimness in a Coan suit?
Why soak your hair with myrrh from Eastern hills,
   Exchange yourself for evanescent thrills,
Trade inborn worth for what the stalls bestow,
   And block the body from its proper glow?
Trust me, your shape cannot be shaped to please,
   For naked Love no figured figure sees.
Consider how the unturned soil flowers,
   And how the untaught ivy taller towers,
How tastier the fruit the more recessed,
   And how the brook pursues its inborn quest:
Mere local boulders deck the shining strand,
   And songbirds sweet no cleverness command.
Not thus did Castor Phoebe’s flame assess,
   Nor Pollux marvel at her sister’s dress;
Not thus, when Idas fought with Phoebus’ lust,
   Evenus’ shorebound girl did place her trust,
A Phrygian mate no fake complexion sealed
   When overseas was Hippodamia wheeled:
No gems disgraced their faces’ healthy flush
   Which glowed as if touched by Apelles’ brush;
Not coarsely would they long to conquer lovers:
   Modesty no carnal scheme discovers.
Must I dread comparison with fashion?
   Aren’t you chic enough with one man’s passion?
Phoebus furnishes what you may sing,
   Calliope provides th’ Aonian string,
And harmony is simple when you speak:
   It’s all that Venus and Minerva seek.
And thus you’ll be my sweetheart evermore
   As soon as abject luxury’s a bore.



 

Propertius 1.3

I thought of how, when Theseus sailed away,
   On shore the Cretan maiden fainting lay;
I thought of how, free from the precipice,
   Andromede slept first in fearlessness;
Of how, I thought, in Thracian dance fatigued
   The Maenad rests beside th’ Apidian reed;
Just so, I thought, she seemed an ease to breathe,
   Cynthia mine, whose hands her head did wreathe,
While I, still dazed, my drunken footsteps dragged,
   And in my servants’ grip the spent torch sagged;
So then I sought, as yet unvanquishèd,
   To join her with the utmost care in bed:
By double lust inflamed, I felt the call
   Of Love and Bacchus, brutal gods withal,
To stroke her sweetly, let my hand explore,
   Declaring love and thus declaring war;
But I was loath indeed her ease to break
   And thereby risk a wrath I could not slake;
And there I stuck, by indecision torn,
   Like Argus, sentinel of Io’s horn.
So now I pluck the garland from my head
   And tuck it, Cynthia, round your own instead;
And now I braid your hair with pleasure bold,
   And furtively I give you fruit to hold;
I laden you with presents without number,
   Presents which tumble as you stretch in slumber;
While as often as you moaned or sighed,
   I feared the omen could not be denied,
Either that visions spooked your sleeping sense
   Or that you suffered some man’s violence;
Until the moon, now passing into view,
   Which ever would its falling light renew,
With gentle beams her eyelids’ closure broke;
   Then rising on her elbow thus she spoke:
“You've come to bed to groan of your defeat -
   The other girl has left you in the street?
Or where exactly did you waste my time
   In limply watching constellations climb?
Liar, I wish you had to spend your night
   As I do, thanks to you, my lasting plight:
First with my needle I kept sleep at bay
   And then, more tired, played an Orphic lay,
While in my lonesome mind the thought would grate
   How often in relationships you wait
Til slumber bore me to the sleepy spheres;
   And that was how I shut my eyes, in tears."



 

Sappho 58 ("The New Sappho" of 2006)

Yourselves, girls, now seek out
The purple-bosomed Muses' spell
So fine, and that clear shout
From song-fond shell

I find old age has spread
In waves across what once was quite
A soft complexion; on my head
The black is white.

My heart's grown heavy, knees
Won't bear me, knees that once would steer
Me to the dance with ease
Like lissom deer;

Indeed I'll ever rage
Against it; yet for what? To be
A human being and to age:
Necessity.

And thus, they used to say,
In love Tithonus did ascend
With rose-arm'd Break of Day
To world's end,

When he was young and fine;
And yet grey age picked up his trail
In time, his wife divine
To no avail.
 

Bacchylides 2 as a Sonnet

Arise, o grandeur-granting Glory: bring
To holy Ceos tidings glorious:
Fast-fisted in the combat of the ring
Young Argius shall return victorious,
Recalling noble Ceos’ deeds of yore,
When at the mythic Isthmus’ neck we fought
So bravely, far from Euxas’ holy shore;
Seventy garlands thus the Island got.
So to the Muse this moment must belong:
The blaring of the bagpipe has begun,
So in the dance of epinician song
She celebrates the fate of Pantheus’ son.
    [Dacylo-epitrites shall testify
    To his worth and ours also, by and by.]