The Strange Case of Leopardi

Universally recognized in his own country as one of the greatest of Italian writers, outside Italy Leopardi has uncertain status. In the nineteenth century he enjoyed a European reputation. Nietzsche praised him, Arnold and Sainte-Beuve admired and wrote about him, but in the present century his fame has receded. Although …

Giants in Dwarfs’ Jackets

Translation becomes interesting once it transcends what is now taken to be its primary function, that of providing those who don’t have the original with a substitute text. This remains and has always been an essential service, a difficult but relatively humble one. Translation shows its paces when it is …

Horacescope

Two more vessels land up on the Sirens’ coast, strewn with the wreckage of their countless predecessors. What is it that drives people to translate Horace, the most translated and least translatable of poets? Versions exist in their thousands, the successes can be fitted into a few pages. Surely, though, …

The Return of Virgil

A great poem? Yes, of course, but not in the very front rank, not quite in the same class as the Iliad and The Divine Comedy. So, I think, the common judgment on the Aeneid now runs. Eliot struck the note when, contrasting Tennyson’s “Ulysses” with the twenty-sixth canto of …

The Last of the Modernists

It is unusual that a poet as considerable as those who know his work believe David Jones to be should remain so little known for so long. [^1] It can hardly be mere chance, though chance may enter into it. The problem (itself one we are critically not quite at …

Lowell and the Furies

Lowell called his reworkings of foreign poems imitations. As a purely descriptive term, appropriations would do equally well. Where Pound’s translations are selfless, so many attempts to find voices through which the dead could speak, Lowell’s are (again neutrally) egotistical. All his poets talk Lowell and where they won’t or …

Cracking the Code

Translation, it might be argued, is something that should be done rather than discussed. “Is life worth living? Depends on the liver. La vie vaut-elle la peine? Question de foie.” Very neat, but what is there to say here that is not self-evident? Despite the long history of this craft, …

Dante Agonistes

A late starter on the road to classic status, Dante stands very high today. The Modernist masters and critics joined in paying him homage. His prestige in the literary world is unquestioned. And now Professor Singleton’s great edition of the Divine Comedy has been completed, each cantica with a volume …

On Looking Into Fitzgerald’s Homer

Of the many difficulties that test the translator of the Iliad two are worth singling out. Far more sharply than with the Odyssey he faces the problem of what to turn the poem into. Though the Odyssey is not “our first novel,” there is just enough life in the cliché …

Epic Overreach

A verse epic in twenty-four books complete with a council in heaven and a catalogue of heroes, the cast featuring a blind seer, Harpies and Sirens, an enchanted ship, and fire-breathing bulls. A mythological quest poem (the quest of the Golden Fleece) and a romantic tragedy rolled into one. Jason …

Sophocles Our Contemporary?

Jan Kott’s new book is addressed to those who believe that plays are meant to be played: to the director, armchair or practicing, rather than to the literary critic. At the same time The Eating of the Gods can profitably be read against the ambiguous state of classical antiquity today.

Getting Close to Catullus

It would be easier to determine how far the decline of classical culture had gone if everyone would agree to be candid. The evidence of criticism and the better literary conversation (in America, hardly in England) suggests that Homer and the tragedians stand rather high at present. Yet the translations …

A Master

Montale made his bow before the English-speaking public in June, 1928, when his first important poem. “Arsenio,” appeared in The Criterion in a strange translation by Mario Praz. Now, nearly forty years later, New Directions brings out a pioneer selection designed to introduce him, once again, to the English-speaking public.

Prima Donna

At Covent Garden there used to be (perhaps there still are) two kinds of performance. There were the smart evenings when the opera was sung in the original language by a strong cast sprinkled with distinguished visitors. And there were the dowdy evenings when the resident second eleven sang in …