I OFTEN read comedies which our poets have adapted and translated from the Greeks—Menander or Posidippus, Apollodorus or Alexis, and also some other comic writers. And while I am reading them, they do not seem at all bad; on the contrary, they appear to be written with a wit and charm which you would say absolutely could not be surpassed. But if you compare and place beside them the Greek originals from which they came, and if you match individual passages, reading them together alternately with care and attention, the Latin versions at once begin to appear exceedingly commonplace and mean; so dimmed are they by the wit and brilliance of the Greek comedies, which they were unable to rival. Only recently I had an experience of this kind. I was reading the Plocium or Necklace of Caecilius, much to the delight of myself and those who were present. The fancy took us to read also the Plocium of Menander, from which Caecilius had translated the said comedy. But after we took Menander in hand, good Heavens! how dull and lifeless, and how different from Menander did Caecilius appear! [p. 195] Upon my word, the armour of Diomedes and of Glaucus were not more different in value. 1 Our reading had reached the passage where the aged husband was complaining of his rich and ugly wife, because he had been forced to sell his maid-servant, a girl skilled at her work and very good looking, since his wife suspected her of being his mistress. I shall say nothing of the great difference; but I have had the lines of both poets copied and submitted to others for their decision. This is Menander: 2
Now may our heiress fair on both ears sleep.But Caecilius renders it thus: 3
A great and memorable feat is hers;
For she has driven forth, as she had planned,
The wench that worried her, that all henceforth
Of Crobyle alone the face may see,
And that the famous woman, she my wife,
May also be my tyrant. From the face
Dame Nature gave her, she's an ass 'mong apes,
As says the adage. I would silent be
About that night, the first of many woes.
Alas that I took Crobyle to wife,
With sixteen talents and a foot of nose.
Then too can one her haughtiness endure?
By Zeus Olympius and Athena, no '
She has dismissed a maid who did her work
More quickly than the word was given her,
More quickly far than one will bring her back!
In very truth is he a wretched man,Now, not to mention the charm of subject matter and diction, which is by no means the same in the two books, I notice this general fact—that some of Menander's lines, brilliant, apt and witty, Caecilius has not attempted to reproduce, even where lie might have done so; but he has passed them by as if they were of no value, and has dragged in some other farcical stuff; and what Menander took from actual life, simple, realistic and delightful, this for some reason or other Caecilius has missed. For example, that same old husband, talking with another old man, a neighbour of his, and cursing the arrogance of his rich wife, says: 4 [p. 199]
Who cannot hide his woe away from home;
[p. 197] And that my wife makes me by looks and acts:
If I kept still, I should betray myself
No less. And she has all that you would wish
She had not, save the dowry that she brought.
Let him who's wise a lesson take from me,
Who, like a free man captive to the foe,
Am slave, though town and citadel are safe.
What! wish her safe who steals whate'er I prize?
While longing for her death, a living corpse am I.
She says I've secret converse with our maid—
That's what she said, and so be laboured me
With tears, with prayers, with importunities,
That I did sell the wench. Now, I suppose,
She blabs like this to neighbours and to friends:
" Which one of you, when in the bloom of youth,
Could from her husband win what I from mine
Have gained, who've robbed him of his concubine."
Thus they, while I, poor wretch, am torn to shreds.
I have to wife an heiress ogress, man!But in this passage Caecilius chose rather to play the buffoon than to be appropriate and suitable to the character that he was representing. For this is the way he spoiled the passage: 5
I did not tell you that? What, really? no?
She is the mistress of my house and lands,
Of all that's hereabout. And in return
I have by Zeus! the hardest of hard things.
She scolds not only me, but her son too,
Her daughter most of all.—You tell a thing
There's no contending with.—I know it well.
But tell me, sir; is your wife captious, pray?—It is clear what your judgment ought to be about that scene also, found in both comedies, which is about of the following purport: The daughter of a poor man was violated during a religious vigil. This was unknown to her father, and she was looked upon as a virgin. Being with child as the result of that assault, at the proper time she is in labour. An honest slave, standing before the door of the house, knowing nothing of the approaching delivery of his master's daughter, and quite unaware that violence had been offered her, hears the groans and prayers of the girl labouring in childbirth; he gives expression to his fear, anger, suspicion, pity and grief. In the Greek comedy all these emotions and [p. 201] feelings of his are wonderfully vivid and clear, but in Caecilius they are all dull and without any grace and dignity of expression. Afterwards, when the same slave by questioning has found out what has happened, in Menander he utters this lament: 7
How can you ask?—But in what manner, then?—
I am ashamed to tell. When I come home
And sit beside her, she with fasting 6 breath
Straight kisses me.—There's no mistake in that.
She'd have you spew up what you've drunk abroad.
Alas! thrice wretched he who weds, though poor,Let us consider whether Caecilius was sufficiently inspired to approach the sincerity and realism of these words. These are the lines of Caecilius, in which he gives some mangled fragments from Menander, patching them with the language of tragic bombast: 8
And children gets. How foolish is the man
Who keeps no watch o'er his necessities,
And if he luckless be in life's routine,
Can't use his wealth as cloak, but buffeted
By ev'ry storm, lives helpless and in grief.
All wretchedness he shares, of blessings none,
Thus sorrowing for one I'd all men warn.
Unfortunate in truth the man, who poor,Accordingly, as I said above, when I read these passages of Caecilius by themselves, they seem by no means lacking in grace and spirit, but when I compare and match them with the Greek version, I feel that Caecilius should not have followed a guide with whom he could not keep pace.
Yet children gets, to share his poverty.
His fortune and his state at once are clear;
The ill fame of the rich their set conceals.