Looking through my old files, I came across a translation of a part of the Tristia by Ovid which was made by my old Latin teacher, Geoff Powell. Although it is verse, Geoff rather sensibly eschewed that and produced a prose translation. Here's the second part of his translation, and I have to say the descriptions of the boat at sea always made me feel slightly sea-sick.
It is interesting reading this after so long to see how the mind-set of Ovid is full of the Roman gods and goddesses. We also see the idea of death, which was one of the potent Pagan representations in Roman and Greek beliefs, that after death all that remains is a shade, living a shadowy existence. An example of this is found in Homer:
"Achilles held out his arms to clasp the spirit, but in vain. It vanished like a wisp of smoke and went gibbering underground. Achilles leapt up in
amazement. He beat his hands together and in his desolation cried: 'Ah then, it is true that something of us does survive even in the Halls of Hades, but with no intellect at all, only the ghost and semblance of a man; for all night long the ghost of poor Patroclus (and it looked exactly like him) has been standing at my side, weeping and wailing, and telling me of all the things I ought to do."
And likewise, here in Ovid, the afterlife is not some joyful otherworld, but an endless wandering of the shadows that once were people. It is a place of sorrows, where the ghosts wander the earth, rather like the vision of the chained ghosts in Dicken's Christmas Carol, because there is nothing to look forward to in this semblance of past existence.
A Translation of the Tristia – Part 2
by Geoffrey Powell
The guardian of the Erymanthian bear is dipped in-the ocean, .and troubles the waters of the sea with his constellation. Yet I am cleaving the-Ionian sea not of my own will, but compelled to be bold through fear, Wretched me..! With what great winds the waters swell, and the sand thrown up from the bottom of the sea boils. A wave not lower than a mountain leaps against the prow and the curved ship, and lashes the painted gods, Pine fabrics resound with the buffeting and the ropes with creaking, and the very keel groans at my misfortunes.
The sailor confessing a cold fear by his paleness, now defeated follows the boat, he does not control it by his skill as a rider who is not strong enough gives the useless reins to the stiff neck of his horse, so not where he wishes, but where the force of the wave carries him, I see that our helmsman has given the sails to the ship. And unless Aeolus sends out changed breezes, I shall be carried to places which I must not now approach. For with Illyrials shores far behind on the left, Italy forbidden to me is sighted. I pray that the wind may cease to press on to forbidden lands, and that with me it may obey the great god. While I speak, at the same time eager and-yet fearful to be driven back; with what strength the wave causes the side to resound. Spare me, you gods of the blue sea, let it be enough that Jupiter is hostile towards me. Save a tired life from a cruel death,' if only it is possible for one not to have perished who has perished.
My ship is the care of golden Minerva and I pray that it may always be, and it has its name from a painted helmet. If sails are needed, it runs well at the slightest breeze, if oars are needed, it makes its way with a rower. Nor is she content to overcome her companions in a swift course, she outstrips boats no matter how long before they have set out, And alike she bears the waves and the silent waters far and wide, nor does she yield, a victim to the cruel waters. She, known to me first at Corinthian Cenchreae, remains the faithful guide and companion of my anxious flight. She was safe by the power of Pallas amid so many events and waters driven by the unfavourable winds.
Now also I pray that she may cut a safe mouth of the vast Pontus and may enter the waters of the Getic shore which she is seeking. As soon as she brought me down to the sea of Aeolian Helle, and made her long journey in the narrow track, I (we) turned course to the left-and from the city of Hector we came to your ports, O land Of Imbroe. Then having reached the Zerynthian shores with a light wind, the tired boat touched Thracian Samos. From here the passage is short for a voyager to Tempyra opposite: she followed her Master thus far.
For it pleased me to travel by land through the Bistonian plains: she left the waters of the Hellespont and made for Dardania bearing the name of its founder and you, Lampsacus, reverenced in respect of the rustic god, and through the strait of that maiden carried badly through the narrow waters, the strait which separates Sestos from the town Abydos, and to Cyzicoe clinging to the shores of Propontis; Cyzicoe, the famous work of the Haeminian races and Byzantium's shores which hold the straits of Pontus: this place is the huge entrance of twin seas, I pray, may she struggle free from these, and driven by strong south-east winds may she nimbly cross the drifting Cyaneae, and the Thynian bays, and from these may she shape a course past the city of Apollo and under the narrow walls of Anchialus. Then may she pass by the ports of Mesembria and Odesos, and the citadels called by your name, Bacchus, and those exiles arisen from the walls of Alcathous whom they say have established their home in these abodes. From these may she come safe to the City of Milesii whither the anger of a displeased god has banished me. If these things happen, a lamb shall fall to deserving Minerva: a greater sacrifice does not suit my wealth.
And you also, brothers Castor and Pollux, whom this island worships, approach as a gentle power our twofold way,I pray. For one (boat) prepares to go through the narrow. Symplegadae, and the other ship to cleave the waters of Bistonia. Make it so that one may have the winds, no less than the other, although we are making for different places.
Shall I die therefore so far away on unknown shores, and shall my fate become sad by the place itself ? Will my body not languish in its customary bed, nor will there be anybody to weep for me when I am laid out for burial? Nor with my wife's tears falling on to my face will a short respite be added to my life? Shall I not give messages, nor with a last lament will a loving hand close languishing. eyes? But without funeral rites, without the honour of a grave, .will the foreign land cover this head unmourned ?
When you hear this, will you not be troubled in your whole mind, and strike your loyal breast with trembling hand ? Stretching your arms in vain to these parts, will you call the empty name of your wretched husband ? However, do not tear your cheeks, nor tear your hair: not now for the first time my love, shall I have been taken from you. When I lost my native land, then think that I perished: that was my earlier and more sorrowful death. Now, if by chance you can, but you cannot, o best of wives, rejoice that so many misfortunes have been ended for me by death.
You can do this, lessen by bearing them with a brave heart misfortunes-in which for a long time-now you have a heart not inexperienced. But would that our souls might perish with the body and that no part of me night escape the greedy pyres. For if the spirit lacking death flies on high in the empty air, and the words of the Samian old man are true, a Roman shade will wander among Sarmatian shades, and will always be a stranger among wild spirits.
But see that my bones are brought back in a small urn; so shall I not be an exile even in death. No one forbids this. The Theban sister buried her dead brother in a tomb, with the king forbidding it. And mingle these bones with leaves and powder of amomum, and place them in suburban soil. So that the traveller may read them with a hasty eye, carve on the marble of the inscription these verses in large letters: I who lie here, a writer of tender loves, Naso the poet, I have perished with my talent. Let it not be irksome to you whoever is passing by who has loved, to say, "may the bones of Naso rest in peace."
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