Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Horace and the Thunder: notes on a recension

I’m a fan of Seamus Heaney. I’m also a Latin teacher who has on occasion set his classes an exercise in which they must rewrite the preamble to the US Constitution using no Latin or Greek roots. They complain about how hard it is and how impoverished Anglo-Saxon must have been. Then I read them some Seamus Heaney, usually something from his Beowulf. It is astounding to hear those old Germanic roots thundering off the page. (BTW, does anyone know of an unabridged edition of Heaney reading this epic? I have the two disc abridged version and lust for more.)

I also tend to trot out Heaney’s resetting of Horace’s Odes 1.34 at least once a semester -- on 11 September and when we start a unit on Horace. It is an astounding poem -- not a translation but a cathartic reworking. It is apparently also a work in progress and has been published in several different forms.

I first saw a version of this poem early in 2002 and scribbled it down by hand. I did not then note from where I was copying it, but some scruple kept me from either tearing it out or taking the magazine / newspaper with me. Were it on the web, I would have mailed myself a copy & paste. Whatever the source, what I wrote down was virtually identical to the text as it subsequently appeared in Alexander Nehamas’ comments at Princeton on the first anniversary of the September 11 attack. One difference I take as an uncorrected typo on the Princeton website, where line 6 reads “the clogged underneath” instead of “the clogged underearth.”* (I ignore this variant in my tiny little app. crit.) The other difference between my handwritten version and that on the Princeton website is in line 10, where Nehamas’ version has “hooked-beak Fortune” rather than the usual (and far better) “stropped-beak Fortune.”

While poking around in late summer 2003 for a more authoritative version to use with my classes on the second anniversary, I came across a free-lance Armenian translator whose website has a version of the poem nearly identical with my handwritten version. The single difference is in the final two words, “boil away” instead of “darken day.” (Pipoyan’s Armenian version does not appear in the Amnesty edition, which is a shame; it would have made a nice diptych with Turkish.)

When I got my copy of the Amnesty International edition (ISBN 186059235X), I found two English versions. One entitled “Horace and the Thunder,” dated 2001; the other, “Anything Can Happen,” dated 2004. Aside from internal differences, both have differences from the poem as I had known it up to that point. The “esteemed” of line 10 has been wisely changed to “regarded,” lines 11 and 12 have undergone significant revision, and line sixteen has two new versions.

And now I’ve received (as a birthday present to myself) a copy of last year’s District and Circle (ISBN 0374140928), where I find yet another version of “Anything Can Happen,” one that is (oddly) more in agreement with Amnesty’s “Horace and the Thunder” than with Amnesty’s “Anything Can Happen.” It also has a unique variant, “tallest towers” at the end of line 8 instead of “tallest things.”

So what’s a Latin teacher to do when it comes time to talk about Horace’s influence on other poets and / or the usefulness of poetry in processing these dark days? Simple enough; use the variants he prefers to construct his own recension. Which is what I’ve done below. As far as I know, the version that I’ve posted below exists nowhere else, and is in no way authorized by the poem’s author. I’m enough of a pinhead that I’ve even included an app. crit. to remind me what and where the variants are. In those notes, I’ve used the following abbreviations:

Aa “Anything Can Happen” as printed on p. 11 of the Amnesty edition, 2004
Ad “Anything Can Happen” as printed on p. 13 of District and Circle, 2006
Ha “Horace and the Thunder” as printed on p. 20 of the Amnesty edition, 2004
Hn “Horace and the Thunder” as printed in Nehamas’ comments, c. 2002
Hp “Horace and the Thunder” as printed on Pipoyan’s website, c. 2003

This is meant to be neither exhaustive nor authoritative; it is entirely idiosyncratic, and all I’ll ever do with it is use it in my Latin classes. If anyone wants to talk about which variants you prefer and why, that’s what com boxes on blogs are for. But as far as I’m concerned, poems are better savored than dissected.

*Postscript: Be careful to avoid reading lines 5 & 6 as “It shook the earth / And clogged the underearth.” Sure, that rhythm works better, and your mind naturally wants to read clogged as a verb instead of as an adjective, but the and is joining earth and underearth, not shook and clogged. It’s NOT “and clogged the underearth”; it IS “and the clogged underearth.”

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