2 OCTOBER 1880, Page 17

THEOCRITIIS IN ENGLISH PROSE.* MR. LANG has rendered notable service

to one of the two classes of readers for whose benefit translations are made. Every student of literature must wish to know something of the poet whose inspiration has descended in turn to Virgil, Clement Marot, Spenser, Milton, Shelley, Tennyson, and Matthew Arnold. Every lover of poetry must wish to compare " Lycidas," "The Shepherd's Calendar," and a long list of other poems, with the Sicilian lamp at which they were

kindled ; while a host of passages in poetry gain added value, if recognised as allusions to Theocritns or reminiscences of him. There are many who have a taste for poetry, but no leisure to study the Greek classics in the original. They may not have altogether lost their school training, and may still be able to read their Testament in Greek ; or perhaps to enjoy their Homer, or even such plays of the great dramatists as they learnt at school or college. But Theocritus lies more out of the common track ; and a man may be tolerably familiar with Attic or Ionic Greek, and yet be strangely puzzled when he turns to a Doric author. Of course the dialectic difficulty is soon mastered ; but it is sufficient to keep back not a few whose lives are full of other business. For them, Mr. Lang's careful and scholarly translation will serve as a key. By its aid they will easily suc- ceed in reading the original. Others, whose Greek is better preserved, will be glad to keep Mr. Lang at hand for help in the more obscure or corrupt passages not unfrequent in tha Idylls ; and will enjoy his excellent essay on " Theocritus and his Age."

But we cannot think that this volume will do much for the wider public whose Greek is wholly wanting or forgotten. It cannot be to them what Chapman was for Keats, a means of access to a new world of poetry. It is of the essence of poetry to be poetical. Chapman's Homer is open to criticism from many points of view ; but whatever it has not, it has poetic force and fire of its own. Hence it meets the needs of those who want, not a help in reading an author in a foreign language, but some readable and not wholly inadequate representation of his work in their own tongue. Theocritus in many of his poems is one of the most poetical of poets; but the charm is subtle, and difficult to preserve in translation. Render it into prose, and the exquisite something which transported the reader into a world of ideal grace and beauty is gone. Mr. Lang seems to feel this, for occasionally his prose barely avoids a regular rhythm. For example, in the celebrated passage of the first idyll, the first line, the under-song of the piece, is rhythmical and the second would be, had the words we have placed within brackets been omitted :— "Begin, ye Muses dear, begin the pastoral song!

Thyrsis of Etna [am] I, and this [is] the voice of Thyrsis."

Thus the ear is led to expect something more than prose ; and is disappointed on reading "Where, ah ! where were ye, when

• Theocritus, Eton. and Mochas: Rendered into English Prom. By A. Lang, MA London: Macmillan and Co. 1980.

Daphnis was languishing; ye Nymphs, where were ye ? By Penens' beautiful dells, or by the dells of Pindus ? for surely ye dwelt not by the great stream of the river Anapus, nor in the watch-tower of Etna, nor by the sacred water of Ads." This is not an unfair specimen of Mr. Lang's prose. But it surely will not satisfy any one acquainted with Theocritus, or with Virgil or Milton ; nor, we fear, will it impress the unlearned reader with the sense of great beauty. Why Mr. Lang, whose graceful powers in verse are so well known, should have attempted no more than this may perhaps be imagined. A poetical trans- lation of Theocritns would be one of the hardest tasks of its kind conceivable ; and great labour would probably end in failure. However, we must take what is offered us, and judge it for what it is. Only it is necessary to warn the reader that such poems as the first, third, sixth, seventh, and eleventh idylls, and others of their order, are not more truly represented here than the glory of gentians on an Alpine ledge is represented by a botanist's herbarium.

But taking Mr. Lang's work for what it is and professes to be, there is little fault to find. He errs, perhaps, on the side of excessive care to give the result of the best reading of the text, and the exact and literal meaning of the words. Here and there this desire leads him to translate an idiom literally, in- stead of by correspondingly idiomatic English. The "watch- tower of Etria," in the passage cited above, will probably mis- lead no one ; yet had he been rendering, for example, the Tenth Book of the Odyssey, would he have spoken of the "craggy watch-tower" from which Ulysses surveyed the then unknown island of Circe ? In the eighth idyll, Er Ts raw; is a very com- mon Greek euphemism ; and the meaning is, "Thou wilt never conquer me, though thou shouldst kill thyself with singing." Of this, Mr. Lang, no doubt, is quite aware ; but he prefers to re- tain the ancient shrinking from direct mention of an unlucky event, though by so doing he fails to impart to the English reader the full force of the passage. Again, we should hardly speak of "stalking fish," as Mr. Lang does in the next idyll. Menalcas was probably on the look-ont for tunnies, as, for the opposite reason, the Great Bear watches Orion, according to Homer. A more serious question is whether the translator has rightly caught the meaning of a very beautiful passage in the sixth idyll. Poets of the age of Theocritus were very fond of representing the "youthful Polyphemus in love. They delighted in the contrasts with which the subject was so rich ; the land and the gray sea; the grotesque monster under the influence of the tender passion ; the rugged limbs of the Cyclops, and the slender grace of Galatea. In this poem Theocritus makes two shepherds sing each "a song of the Cyclops," in friendly rivalry. She first addresses Polyphemus, and warns him that he is missing his opportunity ; while he thinks of nothing but his pipe—laggard lover, and unhappy wretch—she is rising from the water, pelting his dog, and making gestures to gain his notice. The second shepherd replies, for Poly- phemus; that his inattention was assumed ; and credits the poor monster with the notion that by seeming careless he could torment her into jealousy and love. We venture to think that Mr. Lang misses the contrast between the two songs, when in the first he makes Daphnis call to Polyphemus, "Hard, bard, that thou art I" As we understand it, the first idea is that it is the unhappy fate, not the insensibility, of the Cyclops which makes him ignore Galatea's proceedings ;. while the assumed indifference is only brought out in the answering song of Darnoetas.

The genius of Theocritus had more than one side, and there is another class of his poems which is better suited for prose translation. Sometimes he gives us a dialogue between two shepherds, two friends in a higher rank of life, or two fishers, as vivid and lifelike as Shakespeare's own. One of these, the seventh idyll, should be mentioned, if only for the great beauty of the scene towards the close, where the party rest at mid-day ; and this passage may be read with pleasure in Mr. Lang's version. But the most remarkable of this section of the poems is the wonderful dialogue between the two Syracusau women in the fifteenth idyll. Here Mr. Lang has a formidable com- petitor. Mr. Matthew Arnold, in his Essays in Criticism, has also translated almost the whole of this poem, and also into prose. Mr. Lang has used a later, and probably a better text, and is more anxious to be strictly accurate. Perhaps he might say, with Sir Andrew, "He does it with a better grace, but I do it more natural." One short extract will serve to show the difference between the two. Mr. Lang thus renders Praxinoe's speech :—" Dear Gorgo, how long it is since you have been here! She is at home. The wonder is that you have got here at last ! Eutioe, see that she has a chair. Throw a cushion on it, too." Now for Mr. Arnold :—" My dear Gorgo, at last ! Yes, here I am. Enna, find a chair,—get a cushion for it." Mr. Arnold, for his purpose, has omitted one sentence ; but the first is sufficient to show how much of the life and movement of the one rendering is absent from the other. However, it should be remembered that Mr. Lang has the great disadvan- tage of being the second in the field, and the necessity of finding words differing from those already in Mr. Arnold's version has probably driven him into balder prose than he would otherwise have employed. We will give a more favourable specimen, "The Song of the Reapers," "a string, apparently, of popular rural couplets, such as Theocritus may have heard chanted in the fields "


"Demeter, rich in fruit, and rich in grain, may this corn be easy to win, and fruitful exceedingly !

Bind, ye binders, the sheaves, lest the wayfarer sbonld cry, Men of straw were the workers here, aye, and their hire was wasted l' See that the cut stubble faces the North wind, or the West, 'tis thus the grain waxes richest.

They that thresh corn should shun the noon-day sleep ; at noon the chaff parts easiest from the straw.

As for the reapers, let them begin when the crested lark is waking, and cease when he sleeps, but take holiday in the heat.

Lads, the frog has a jolly life, he is not cumbered about a butler to his drink, for he has liquor by him unstinted !

Boil the lentils better, thou miserly steward ; take heed lest thou chop thy fingers, when thou'rt splitting cumin-seed."

We have said nothing of the other two poets, Bien and Moschus, included in this volume, and can only now say that the acquaint- ance of both of them, and especially of the latter, is well worth making. We must rather turn, before concluding, to the epi- grams of Theocritus, unfortunately but few in number. Here we have one or two complaints to make. "Math let carve this statue," is paralleled by a line in one of Mr. Kingsley's ballads, "Go, to all your Thanes let cry." But Mr. Kingsley was purposely writing in an archaic style. Again, "Far from my rich fatherland I lie, clothed on with alien soil," holds by the original with verbal accuracy; and Mr. Tennyson's "Then she rode forth, clothed on with chastity," may be quoted in justi- fication. Both these expressions strike us as harsh and strained. But we have done with criticisms, the smallness of which may be taken at least as negative evidence of the value of the work as a whole. One epigram has peculiar interest, if, as we are inclined to think probable, it suggested to Words- worth the main idea of his "Poet's Epitaph." We give a trans- lation of the epigram, although the similarity of the thought to that in the last stanza of Wordsworth's poem is perhaps better seen in the original, or in Mr. Lang's prose version :—

" The poet Hipponax lies here ;

Dullards and knaves your distance keep ; True sons of worthy sires draw near, Fear not to sit, or safely sleep."