Roget's Int'l Thesaurus
Fowler's King's English
The King James Bible
Brewer's Phrase & Fable
Frazer's Golden Bough
Shelf of Fiction
Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton
INDEX OF ALL CHAPTERS
The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes
Volume IV. Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton.
§ 11. Goldings
The best loved of all the ancient poets was Ovid, whose popularity is attested by many translations of varying worth. The first version in point of date is
The Fable of Ovid treting of Narcissus, translated oute of Latin into Englysh Mytre, with a moral therein to, very pleasante to rede.
This was followed, five years later, by the first edition of Arthur Goldings work (1565), of which more will be said presently. In 1567, George Turbervile printed
The Heroycall Epistles of the learned Poet Publius Ovidius Naso,
and, in 1577, there came from the press two versions of
Ovid his Invective against Ibis,
one of which is the work of Thomas Underdowne, to whom, also, we owe the
of Heliodorus. Marlowe turned the
into rimed couplets, and George Chapman, in 1595, published
Ovids Banquet of Sauce, a coronet for his Mistress Philosophy, and his amorous Zodiac. De Tristibus
was Englished by Churchyard, and Francis Beaumont gave proof of his skill in a lively version of
Salmacis and Hermaphroditus.
The cause of Ovids popularity is not far to seek. He was an efficient guide to the Greek and Roman mythologies, and he furnished the poets with theme, sentiment and allusion. Of all the translations, by far the most famous was Arthur Goldings rendering of the
The first edition (1565) contained but four books. In 1567, the work was complete. It is described on the title-page as a worke very pleasaunt and delectable, and a stern couplet warns the reader against frivolity:
With skill, heede, and judgement, thys work must be red,
For els to the reader it stands in small stead.
Goldings motive, in truth, was above suspicion. His work was pleasaunt and delectable by accident. He wished to improve the occasion before all things. In a long epistle, addressed to Robert earl of Leicester, he clearly sets forth his purpose. There is no fable of Ovid which does not make for edification. For instance:
In Phaetons fable untoo syght the Poet dooth expresse
The natures of ambition blynd, and youthful wilfulnesse.
And a little ingenuity will interpret every book in a sense most profitable to the reader. That Ovid and his heroes were paynims he confesses with regret, and takes heart in the reflection that they may all be reduced too ryght of Christian law. In the same spirit, he hopes that the simple sort of reader will not be offended when he sees the heathen names of feigned gods in the book, and assures him that every living wight, high and low, rich and poor, master and slave, maid and wife, simple and brave, young and old, good and bad, wise and foolish, lout and learned man, shall see his whole estate, words, thoughts and deeds in this mirror. It is a bold claim of universality, which Ovid himself would not have made. But it was in tune with the temper of the age, and, doubtless, added to the popularity of the work.
The chief characteristic of the translation is its evenness. It never falls below or rises above a certain level. The craftsmanship is neither slovenly nor distinguished. The narrative flows through its easy channel without the smallest shock of interruption. In other words, the style is rapid, fluent and monotonous. The author is never a poet and never a shirk. You may read his mellifluous lines with something of the same simple pleasure which the original gives you. Strength and energy are beyond Goldings compass, and he wisely chose a poet to translate who made no demand upon the qualities he did not possess. He chose a metre, too, very apt for continuous narrativethe long line of fourteen syllablesand it is not strange that his contemporaries bestowed upon him their high approval. Puttenham paid him no more than his due when he described him as in translation very cleare and very faithfully answering his authors intent. He won the rare and difficult praise of Thomas Nashe, and he was honoured by Shakespeare, who did not disdain to borrow of his verses. The lines which follow will recall to everyone a celebrated passage in
Ye Ayres and windes: ye Elves of Hills, of Brookes, of Woods alone,
Of standing Lakes, and of the Night approche ye everychone.
And Golding was by no means a man of one book. He turned Latin and French into English with equal facility. Had it not been for Holland, he might justly have been called the Translator Generall in his age. A friend of Sir Philip Sidney, he completed that poets translation of De Mornays
Woorke concerning the trewnesse of the Christian Religion.
To him we owe our earliest and best version of Caesars
The abridgemente of the Histories of Trogus Pompeius, gathered and written in the Latin tung by the famous Historiographer Justin
(1570), several works translated from Calvin and the
Politicke, Moral and Martial Discourses written in French by M. Jacques Hurault
(1595). In brief, he tried his hand at many enterprises and failed in none, and Webbes panegyric might still stand for his epitaph:
For which Gentleman surely our Country hath greatly to gyve God thankes: as for him which hath taken infinite paynes without ceasing, travelling as yet indefatigably, and is addicted without society by his continuall laboure to profit this nation and speeche in all kind of good learning.
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