Paul Pascal, University of Washington

title.none: Adcock, Hugh Primas and the Archpoet

identifier.other: baj9928.9607.006 96.07.06

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Paul Pascal, University of Washington,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1996

identifier.citation: Adcock, Fleur, ed. and trans. Hugh Primas and the Archpoet. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Pp. xxii, 129. $39.9512194. ISBN: ISBN 0-521-39546-1.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: Bryn Mawr Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 96.07.06

Adcock, Fleur, ed. and trans. Hugh Primas and the Archpoet. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Pp. xxii, 129. $39.9512194. ISBN: ISBN 0-521-39546-1.

Reviewed by:

Paul Pascal, University of Washington

The new series from Cambridge University Press, Cambridge Medieval Classics (an intriguing quasi-oxymoron, rather like the Medieval Academy of America) has made an auspicious start with its first three volumes, all of which appeared in 1994: Nine Medieval Latin Plays, by Peter Dronke of the University of Cambridge, general editor of the series; Hugh Primas and the Archpoet, by Fleur Adcock; and Johannes de Hauvilla, Architrenius, by Winthrop Wetherbee.

The editor and translator of the volume on Primas and the Archpoet, Fleur Adcock, originally from New Zealand, is herself a distinguished and much honored poet. In her own poetry she is versatile, intensely personal, and mostly very serious, but a sense of humor is discernible often enough. (For me, a welcome bonus in preparing this review was the impetus it gave me to make the acquaintance of Adcock's own poetry.) She received a sound classical training. She is experienced in translating the poetry of others, and has proven herself to be undaunted by exceptionally severe challenges; for example, she has translated the works of several Romanian women poets, after learning the language apparently for that purpose. In working with the often difficult texts (sometimes macaronic) of Primas and the Archpoet, she had the benefit of the opportunity to consult with Peter Dronke; many indications in her Introduction and Commentaries make it clear that she took proper advantage of this (see, for example, her note on Primas 16.51). For an ideal translator of these two poets, one could hardly invent better specifications.

It is difficult for a reviewer to come to grips with any aspect of this volume other than the translations, as the Introduction, Commentaries, and other supplementary matter have been kept so brief and lacking in detail. My reaction to this decision is rather negative. After all, space should hardly be an issue; we are not dealing here with a large corpus--about thirty pages by Primas, twenty-five by the Archpoet, amounting to a total of less than two thousand lines.

The design of the Cambridge Medieval Classics series, as stated in the front matter, is "to provide bilingual editions of medieval Latin and Greek works of prose, poetry, and drama dating from the period c. 350-c. 1350." Farther on appears this statement of the intended audience: "Students and scholars of the literature, thought, and history of the Middle Ages, as well as more general readers (including those with no knowledge of Latin or Greek) will be attracted by this unique opportunity to read vivid texts of wide interest from the years between the decline of the Roman empire and the rise of vernacular writing."

Strictly interpreted, this statement of purpose does not explicitly promise anything that is not actually delivered in this volume. Still I have some doubts about whether any of the constituencies listed will in fact be adequately served by it. Adcock's Introduction consists of only seven pages, in which she must discuss the lives and times of two quite distinct poets, their strange and varied subjects, important elements of their style including meter and rhyme, their reputations during their lifetimes and after, textual matters, and the sources of our information, as well as her own guiding principles in translating. She at least touches on all these subjects, but her treatment must obviously remain quite superficial on all substantial issues. Peter Dronke adds a six-page note on "some historical testimonies"--magisterial and very readable, but still minimal. The student and the general reader (whose knowledge of the background of these works is now likely to be shaped largely by Disney's Hunchback of Notre Dame, unless they get better guidance) will surely need more than they will find here. The scholar will want a much fuller treatment of textual concerns, problems of interpretation, subjects of controversy. On these, Adcock says (p. x): " a relative amateur in the field I am content to leave such arguments to the scholars. My interest is in the poems themselves." Fair enough in a way, but not completely compatible with what one should expect from a series like this one.

The truly stripped-down Commentaries Adcock provides do little to alleviate the problem. To illustrate this proposition, I single out for analysis what she has to say about just one poem, the Confession of the Archpoet (Poem 10), a much admired masterpiece that cries out for extensive commentary for any class of readers--student, scholar, or general--whether their interest is in the literature, thought, history, or sociology of the Middle Ages. For this poem of exactly one hundred lines (in itself a circumstance perhaps worthy of comment), Adcock provides a total of some thirteen notes, amounting all together to about half a page. Of these, five are to identify (with no further comment) biblical reminiscences, which are particularly significant in this poem. Many more are known besides the ones she lists, and I am unable to discern the principles on which she has selected the few she chooses to identify. Certainly some of the ones she omits are more momentous than some of the ones she includes; see, for example, my comment on her note on 22.4 below.

Here are the remaining eight notes to the Confession, in their entirety, followed by my comments:

1 This well-known poem appears in a great many manuscripts, and with a number of minor variations. As early as the 13th c. it was known as the 'Confession'.

I, and I suppose many other readers, would disagree with the proposition that several of the juicy variants of which Adcock makes no mention are "minor." A few words on the relationship of the poem to a real "Confession" would also not be out of place.

8,3-4 Lit. 'where Venus hunts young men with a [beckoning] finger, ensnares them with her eyes, preys on them with her looks.'.

Given the paucity elsewhere of Adcock's comments on the Latinity of these poems, I am at a loss to account for her feeling the need to provide a supplementary "literal" translation here. The Latin is: "...ubi Venus digito iuvenes venatur, / oculis illaqueat, facie predatur...." Her translation in the text is: "Venus preys on young men here, lures them with a gesture, / snares them with a glancing eye or a pretty feature." This seems very close to the original (there are in fact plenty of much freer translations elsewhere that are left unglossed), and perfectly understandable without comment, to say nothing of its elegance. If Adcock were rationing her words here, they would be better expended by calling attention to the word-play in "Venus...iuvenes venatur."

9,1-2 Hippolytus was famous for his chastity when tempted by his stepmother Phaedra: see Vergil Aen. VII, 761ff. and Ovid Met. XV, 487ff.

Entirely acceptable (although perhaps a reference to Euripides too might not be amiss); the point I would make here is that there should be many more notes like this one, for this poem and everywhere.

9,4 Alethia (lit. 'Truth') is used here, for the sake of the rhyme, in place of the Christian concept of Virtue.

Students, scholars, and general readers alike deserve to be told that there is a lot more than this to be said on this particular passage, which has several wildly differing variants in the manuscripts, and which has been the subject of much inconclusive discussion. For a readily accessible start, see the note by F. J. E. Raby in Speculum VII (1932), p. 394.

14-19 These six strophes are repeated from Poem IV,10-15.

Cross-reference to the passage in IV leads to the following note: "These strophes occur again in Poem X. 14-19, where they have a slightly different function. They seem originally to have been composed for IV, however, and offer a basis for the poet's refusal of Rainald's commission." The important matters of the composition and chronology of the two poems, and of the different function of the six stanzas in question in their two contexts, call for more exposition and argument than they get here.

20,1-2 He returns to the charges laid against him (cf. strophe 10,1) and turns them against his accusers.

There are too many notes of this kind, considering how few there are overall. Even beginning students might be trusted to make this observation for themselves. To give just one other example, on Primas 6,1, Idibus his Mai: "May: spring was the traditional season for love."

22,4 'Jove' for 'God', for the sake of the rhyme.

Here, Adcock seems uncharacteristically insensitive to a touch of wry humor. I am suspicious of any claim that a virtuoso like the Archpoet would choose a seemingly inappropriate word merely for the sake of the rhyme. If anything in the rhyme deserves comment here, it is the facetious pairing of novi (the adjective) with novi (the verb). Finally, Adcock should mention here that the entire line, "Homo videt faciem, sed cor patet Iovi," is an impudent reworking of I.Kings.16.7; the biblical passage relates the anointing of David, the poet-king.

24 Lit. 'you who are the [Archbishop] elect of Cologne'. Rainald long delayed his acceptance of the office of Archbishop, because he preferred imperial politics to pastoral duties.

This useful information belongs in the Introduction, together with a systematic account of Rainald, rather than only in a note as the last words of the volume.

That's it. Not a word on any of the other aspects of this multifaceted poem; for example, on stanzas 11-13, the tavern scene, an exceptionally provocative one, which Dronke and others have elucidated interestingly and usefully in various publications.

I now turn with pleasure to my comments on the translation. First, I am happy to observe that after what seemed a reasonable amount of spot checking, I stopped bothering to make a systematic attempt to note outright errors or misconstruings of the Latin, as it became obvious that there would not be any to speak of. (The same observation applies to typographical errors. Of those, perhaps one rather amusing specimen that does deserve mention here is "ummum" in Primas 7.42. for "nummum.") Furthermore, I found nothing obtrusively awkward, nothing overly obscure, few substantial additions, subtractions, or alterations, few cases where I was more conscious of Adcock than of Primas or the Archpoet, no grave disappointments in her versions of my own favorite passages--nothing in fact but genuine delight everywhere.

The most serious translation problem Adcock had to face was the matter of rhyme, so different in English and in Latin, and furthermore one where she was up against two grand masters of the art. On this subject she says at the end of her Introduction (p. xv):

The Archpoet is admittedly a more polished performer than Hugh Primas, but both sparkle with wit, vigour and technical ingenuity. I should not like to have to choose between them. Translating them into verse, though, has sometimes been a mixed pleasure--often rewarding, always challenging, and occasionally frustrating to a degree which made me admit defeat....The fact that English is a far less homogeneous language than Latin means that rhyme is correspondingly more difficult to achieve within the constraints of the original meaning. There have had to be compromises: long sequences of tirade rhyme were impossible, under the circumstances, and in many cases I had to settle for half-rhymes or even less satisfactory substitutes.

But in fact, I would say that her recourse to "half-rhymes" and assonance to represent the full-scale rhymes of her originals turns out often to be very pleasing. In her own poetry, Adcock plays frequently with partial rhymes and other such sound effects, and her practiced skill with them has served her well for this project. Despite her modest disclaimer, it strikes me that she has solved the problem excellently.

The reader may profitably test this proposition by comparing Poem III of the Archpoet with Adcock's version. The original is a tour de force of rhyming monosyllables. The Archpoet provides a four-line introductory passage in which he gradually builds up to the fantastic rhyme scheme that dominates the remaining nineteen lines of the poem, whereby, to give a few examples, "cuius" rhymes with "manu ius"; "iuste" with "precibus te"; "minimos" with "viri mos"; "certe" with "per te"; and finally "interitu" with "mei tu". Adcock's translation does full justice to the fascination of the original.

I can think of no better way to validate my admiration for this translation than by quoting a couple of passages of it, with the originals for comparison. First, here is a passage, chosen almost at random, the beginning of Poem 8 by Primas, that is typical rather than in any way special:

Jussa lupanari meretrix exire, parari / provida vult ante, quamvis te sepe vocante. / Conponit vultum, meliorem dat sibi cultum, / illinit unguento faciem, prodit pede lento. / Cum venit ingressa, residet spirans quasi fessa / seque verecunde venisse refert aliunde, / quamquam venit heri, simulans timuisse videri. / Cuius in adventum famulorum turba frequentum / extendit leta cortinas atque tapeta.

You've sent out for a whore but she won't leave the / brothel before / she's ready, never mind how many messages you send. / She does her face and hair, finds something prettier to / wear, / rubs cream into her face, and then sets forth with / leisured pace. / As soon as she's arrived she sits down panting as if / tired: / she's come from somewhere else, she says; though she came / to your house / yesterday, she'll feign a bashful fear of being seen. / Welcoming her advent a happy crowd of willing servants / hangs curtains all around and spreads a carpet on the / ground.

I find it difficult to imagine a translation that could be more literal and more accurate than this, and yet so smooth and readable (including orally). Indeed, its quality is such that I think the sample would inspire many readers to want to read the rest of the poem, whether in English or in Latin.

I conclude with one more demonstration passage, this from the beginning of one of Primas's best known poems (23), involving the kind of tirade rhyme about which Adcock expresses despair in her Introduction. (I note in passing that Adcock's "et" for the usual "est" in the last line quoted may be a typographical error; if not, it deserves some comment from her.)

Dives eram et dilectus / inter pares preelectus: / modo curvat me senectus / et etate sum confectus. / Unde vilis et neglectus / a deiectis sum deiectus, / quibus rauce sonat pectus, / mensa gravis pauper lectus, / quis nec amor nec affectus / sed horrendus et aspectus.

I was rich and people loved me; / there was none they set above me; / now decrepitude has bent me / and old age has quite undone me. / So I'm poor, and they neglect me; / even down-and-outs reject me-- / those whose chests resound with coughing, / who sleep rough and feed on offal, / those who live unloved and friendless, / whose appearance is horrendous.

For anyone who compares this version with that of, for example, George F. Whicher, or with any other translation known to me, the superiority of Adcock's solution to the challenge of the rhyme will, I think, be readily apparent.

We can all be grateful that these marvelous poems are now available to a much larger audience of Latinists than was the case before, and that they are accompanied by a nearly flawless translation that I hope will give them currency among the wide general audience they deserve.