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Not the servile path

September 26, 2010

Laugh out loud at anyone who tells you that my translation strays far from the original. Shishkov alone is capable of translating Ariosto word for word, line for line, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, as the Gospels say.

Thus Batiushkov wrote to Gnedich on December 29, 1811, and thus Fridman begins a section that claims Batiushkov’s accomplishments as a translator were on the same order of magnitude as Zhukovskii’s (123-24).

The poet didn’t know Greek and didn’t know Latin well enough to read Cicero or Tacitus in the original. He even caused himself some trouble by mistranslating a Latin phrase in an official diplomatic document (124-25). But he could make it through Latin poems with the help of French translations, which is how he translated so much Tibullus (125).

Tasso (1544-1595)

He knew French well, like many of his peers, and like few of them he also was superb at Italian. This let him draw on Petrarch, Ariosto, and especially Tasso. He appreciated the battle scenes in Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered (1580), as well as his love scenes. Translating them, he emphasized the erotic element, as he had with Tibullus. But Tasso’s major work was so enormous that Batiushkov gave up on the idea of translating very much of it (125-31). Of more recent Italian poets he favored Casti and translated something by Metastasio (131-32).

Parny (1753-1814)

Of French writers we have already seen Boileau and Voltaire were important to the early Batiushkov, as were Jean-Baptiste-Louis Gresset (1709-1777) and La Fontaine, whom Batiushkov associates with his beloved лень (132-34). Fridman has the most to say about Parny. Batiushkov was attracted to his erotic and exotic themes, which he proceeded to make more erotic, more exotic, and more concrete in his free translations. He took Parny’s Chansons madécasses (1787) for actual folk songs from Madagascar and translated one of them as Мадагарская песня (1810). Batiushkov’s Сон воинов (1808-11), a free translation of Parny, provoked an argument with Gnedich where the latter attacked his friend’s translation, Parny himself, and “light poetry” in general (134-39).

See section 5 of chapter 2 of N. V. Fridman’s Поэзия Батюшкова (Moscow, 1971), pp. 123-40.

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