on January 19, 2002
Buy this book before it goes out of print for another thirty-five years!
If Golding's Ovid is not, "the most beautiful book in the language," it's among the top two-dozen "most beautiful books" you can find in English. I've searched for a second-hand copy of the 1965 Simon and Schuster edition since the late sixties, ever since I read Pound's ABC of Reading. I never had any luck finding it, though I did come across a non-circulating copy in a university library once. Its title page explained that only 2500 copies had been printed and that the previous edition -- the one Pound must have used -- was a small, deluxe Victorian production, itself unattainable by 1965.
After all my years lurking in second-hand bookshops, Paul Dry Books has finally done the decent and brought Golding's Ovid out again, this time as a beautifully printed, well-bound, but inexpensive paperback. I grabbed up my copy at first sight.
Is this an "accurate" translation of Ovid? As a previous reviewer has said, if you really want accuracy, you should read Ovid in Latin and leave the wild Elizabethan translators alone. Unlike that reviewer though, I'd say that, if you want Ovid in perfectly accurate modern English, with his poetry and voice included, you should read him in Mandelbaum's beautifully rendered version; but if you want an accurate modern English translation -- the type of thing your Latin prof would give you excellent marks for -- then read him in Melville's able, though sometimes sightly flat translation.
But if you love Elizabethan literature, then you should read Golding. You read his Ovid for the ripe, quirky, full-on Elizabethan English, deployed in his long, rambling fourteeners. Golding's metre was becoming antiquated in his own day but, as with a good deal of his rustic vocabulary, he didn't seem to care much about literary fashion. Reading him now, I find it's his joy with his original that matters. Open the volume anywhere -- at the Cyclops Polyphemus singing to the Nymph Galatea for example -- and there is Golding rolling magnificently on:
"More whyght thou art then Primrose leaf, my Lady Galatee.
More fresh than meade, more tall and streyght than lofy Aldertree.
More bright than glasse, more wanton than the tender kid forsooth.
Than Cockeshelles continually with water worne, more smoothe."
Where "forsooth" is outrageous metrical padding, and "forsoothe/smoothe" was probably a forced rhyme even in 1567. But who cares? Golding's music carries the reader past any such concerns, and the beauty and energy of the thing are undeniable.
So buy the book! Make sure it sells tens-of-thousands of copies! Give the publisher a reason to keep reprinting, so it never disappears again.
on August 1, 2001
I'd like my review to correct what seems to be an over-hasty, unreflective lionization of Golding's translation by the other reviewers. Yes, it is a "great translation," in the sense that Marlowe's translations from Latin are, or Motteaux' Don Quixote is, or Pope's Iliad, or Robert Lowell's Imitations, or Pound's Chinese "translations," or even Ted Hughes' Tales From Ovid: that is, it is an powerful, compelling, wholly literary work in its own right, but it is nowhere near the original in terms of accuracy. The Latinless reader would do much better to buy Melville's excellent Oxford translation (which lacks nothing in poetic splendor) or perhaps Allen Mandelbaum's. As for the poetic "quality" of Golding's verse, that's of course subjective, but I could easily think of at least ten Elizabethan poets who are more satisfying to my taste. Golding's chief literary interest, as Nims points out, is his absolutely odd-ball English; attentive readers will find him a veritable storehouse of strange, funny, quaint Elizabethanisms that didn't quite make it into Shakespeare or the other mainstream writers of the period. (Much of the same joy can be found in Chapman's marvelous translations of Homer, reprinted by Princeton.) And the much-quoted Pound maxim comes from his wonderfully cantankerous ABC of Reading, certainly a fascinating book, but one in which Pound indulges in various critical pronouncements that seem, at times, merely whimsical or rhetorical. Much of Golding is rough, much dull, much of its interest is linguistic rather than poetic. He also adds a lot to round off his fourteeners (which I can't imagine are palatable to most readers for long stretches): his additions are fun, but they're not Ovid. Golding "Englished" Ovid to a great degree: his imagery often comes from English culture, not Mediterranean. Of course, any translation is fallible, and Golding's faults as a translator are, in my view, his greatest strengths as a poet, but he's definitely not a good place to start reading what is certainly one of the world's greatest books. This is a fine book, well worth the five stars, but emphatically NOT for the reasons cited by my colleagues. If you want Ovid, go for the original; failing that, Melville's your man.
on July 21, 2000
A wonderful work of the imagination disassembles to a pit off cess when mundanely told. If one is seeking word - for - word accuracy in a translation, pass on, but if you seek the bowels of OVID but lack skill in Latin, as I do, tarry. If Pound's translation of CAVALCANTI and DANIEL 'tickle your gizzard' this edition is sure to do so also. This translation is to others what a live performance of a Bach Concerto is to the drone in a bus depot. And who cares the translator. They are safely dead, anyway, and "One graveyard is as good as another if your dead." [Hemingway]
on July 15, 2000
For an account of Golding's Ovid, see Ezra Pound's essay on Elizabethan translators. Uncle Ez was excessive to call it "the most beautiful book in the English language," but not by as much as you'd think.
The De Vere comment by the previous reviewer is a reference to a fringe element that ascribes Shakespeare's writings to De Vere. Consider it to have the scholarly value of ascribing authorship to the Men in Black (see Schoenbaum's *Shakespeare's Lives* for an account of this movement).
on April 27, 2000
This is probably the most unique, nay, outrageous translation ever. (And it wasn't by Golding--it was primarily the work of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford [1550-1604]. Golding was as witty's a menu. Clears up some confusion in the prefatory material, eh?) I've wanted this translation for a long time; buy it now. Reading it aloud is the way to go, as the language flows along in a flood of words which will entertain till the world ends. Highest recommendation.