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LOVE EPISTLES OF ARISTÆNETUS:
Translated from the Greek into English Metre
Milt. Par. Lost, book viii.
THE critics have not yet decided at what time Aristænetus appeared, or indeed whether or not he ever existed ; for, as he is mentioned by no ancient author, it has been conjectured that there never was such a person, and that the name prefixed to the first Epistle was taken by the publisher for that of the writer. This work was never known nor heard of till Sambucus gave it to the world in the year 1566 ; since which time there have been several editions of it published at Paris, where the book seems to have been held in greater estimation than amongst us. As to the real date of its composition, we have nothing but conjecture to offer. By the twenty-sixth Epistle it should seem that the author lived in the time of the later emperors, when Byzantium was called New Rome: and therein mention is made of the pantomime actor Caramallus, who was contemporary with Sidonius Apollinaris.
These Epistles are certainly terse, elegant, and very poetical, both in language and sentiment; yet, pleasing as they are, they have scarcely anything original in them, being a cento from the writings of Plato, Lucian, Philostratus, and almost all the ancient Greek authors, whose sentences are most agreeably woven together, and applied to every passion incident to love. This circumstance, though it may lessen our idea of the invention of the author, should not in the least depreciate the performance, as it opens to us a new source of entertainment, in contemplating the taste of the composer in the selection of his sentences, and his ingenuity in the application of them, whilst the authority and reputation of the works from whence these sweets are extracted, adds dignity to the subject on which they are bestowed.
Having said thus much of the original, custom seems to demand some apology for the translation.
And, first, it may to some appear a whimsical undertaking to give a metricai translation of a prosaic author ; but the English reader, it is to be presumed, will not find any deficiency of poetical thoughts on that account, however the diction may have suffered by passing through unworthy hands; and to such as are acquainted with that elegant luxuriance which characterizes the Greek prose, this point will not need a solution. Nor can it be deemed derogatory from the merit of our own language to affirm, that the superiority of the Greek in this respect is so forcible, that even the most trifling of these Epistles must have suffered considerably both in spirit and simplicity, if committed to the languid formality of an English prosaic translation.
The ingenious Tom Brown has translated, or rather imitated, some select pieces from this collection, but he 'either totally misconceived the spirit of his author, or was very unequal to the execution of it. He presents you, it is true, with a portrait of the author, and a portrait - that has some resemblance to him; but it is painted in a bad attitude, and placed in a disadvantageous light. In the original, the language is neat, though energetic; it is elegant as well as witty. Brown has failed in both ; and though a strict adherence to these points in a metrical translation may be esteemed difficult, yet it is hoped that the English dress in which Aristænetus is at present offered to the public, will appear to become him more than any he has ever worn in this country.
It were absurd to pretend that this translation is perfectly literal'; the very genius of prose and verse forbid it; and the learned reader who shall consult the original, will find many reasons for the impropriety as well as difficulty of following the author's expressions too closely. Some things there were which it were scarce possible to handle in verse, and they are entirely omitted, or paraphrastically imitated; many passages have been softened as indelicate, some suppressed as indecent. But beside these allowable deviations, a still further licence has been taken ; for where the subject would admit of it, many new ideas are associated with the original substance, yet so far affecting the author's proper style, that its native simplicity might not be obscured by their introduction. And two or three Epistles there are in this collection which must shelter themselves under the name of Aristænetus, without any other title to his protection than that of adhering to the subject of the several Epistles which they have supplanted. The only
apology which can be offered for this, is an avowal that the object of this translation was not so much to bring to light the merit of an undistinguished and almost unknown ancient, as to endeavour to introduce into our language a species of poetry not frequently attempted, and but very seldom with success; that species which has been called the “ simplex munditiis ” in writing, where the thoughts are spirited and fanciful without quaintness, and the style simple, yet not inelegant. Though the merit of succeeding in this point should not be given to the present attempt, yet it may in some measure become serviceable to the cause, by inciting others of better taste and abilities to endeavour to redeem our language from the imputation of barbarity in this respect.
As to the many different measures which are here introduced, something besides the translator's caprice may be urged in their favour. For by a variation of metre, the style almost necessarily undergoes an alteration; and in general, the particular strain of each Epistle suggested the particular measure in which it is written. Had they been all in one kind of verse, they would have fatigued, they might have disgusted. At present, it is hoped that some analogy will be found between the mode of passion in each Epistle and the versification by which it is expressed ; at the same time that a variety of metres, like a variety of prospects on a road, will conduct the reader with greater satisfaction through the whole stage, though it be short.
There remains but one thing more to be said. The original is divided into two parts; the present essay contains only the first. By its success must the fate of the second be determined.
Halhed and Sheridan
EPISTLE I. LAIS.
ARISTÆNETUS TO PHILOCALUS.
Blest with a soul beyond that form,
With all that can a mortal warm,
Could add—“A fourth bright grace," she said,
Shall raise my power in this sweet maid."
Gave all his little arts could reach :
He taught—'twas all was left to teach.
Ofairest of the virgin band !
Her cheek with native crimson glows,
Yet health has added something too : * There is a studied propriety in the very names of the supposed cor. respondents in these Epistles ; having in the original this peculiar beauty, that generally one, and often both of them, bear an agreeable allusion to the subject of the several letters to which they are prefixed.
+ In this letter Aristænetus describes the beauties of his mistress to his friend. This description differs in one circumstance from the usual poetic analysis of beauty, which is this, that (if we except the epithets “ruby,"
snowy,” &c., which could not well have been avoided) the lady it paints would be really beautiful ; whereas it is generally said, “ that a negro would be handsome, compared to woman in poetical dress.”