There are abyssal depths

And then there’s Scarronides.

For quite some time now I’ve been hoping to find a copy of Nicholas Rowe’s translation of Lucan’s de bello ciuile online. I haven’t really paid much attention to Google Books, but I’ve been having a nose through them and remembered (well, half-remembered) Rowe’s work. It’s in two volumes (1722; Vol. I, Books 1-5; Vol. II, Books 6-10), but Google Books doesn’t list them together. I had to find another means to track down the second volume.

Emathian Plains with Slaughter cover’d o’er,
And Rage unknown to Civil Wars before,
Establish’d Violence, and lawless Might,
Avow’d and hallow’d by the Name of Right;
A Race Renown’d, the World’s victorious Lords, [5]
Turn’d on themselves with their own hostile Swords;

I actually have a copy of Rowe’s translation which, I think, I found by chance in Heffer’s one day. After I’d read that, I bought Susan Braund’s translation published in OUP’s World’s Classics series, but it didn’t quite have the same resonance for me.

Another work of that time that I’ve been more curious to peruse than to read was Charles Cotton’s Scarronides or Virgil Travestie, which is a translation from French of Paul Scarron’s Virgile travesti. The poem begins at a depth

I Sing the Man (read it who list,
A Trojan true as ever pist,)

And soon descends to

This Æolus, as Stories tell us,
Could backwards blow, like a Smith’s Bellows,
A Day, a Week, a Month together;
And, by his Farting, make foul Weather

He was, in fine, the loud’st of Farters;
Yet could command his hinder Quarters,

before plunging to the very Tartarean depths with

I’ll play these Rake-hells such a Hunts-up,
As, were they She’s, would turn their —— up.


So snug she was, and so array’d,
He took his Mother for a Maid:
A great Mistake in her whose Bum
So oft had been God Mars his Drum,
When oft, full oft the lusty Drum-stick,
Breaking quite through would in her Bum stick.

Which should give you some idea of the tone. Although the earlier edition (1765) I downloaded is much less censorious than the one dating from 1807, I note “I’ll terrify thee Day and Night;/Nay if thou dost but go to ——” (1765:108) and one or two other omissions such as the one above.

The novelty of the poem soon wears off because a lot of the humour is misogynistic, and it’s honestly not that clever. Aeneas should be portrayed as an incompetent navigator (How hard was it to sail from Troy to Latium even then?) and an appalling lover because he’s too dim to realise he’s gay. (You could have some love polygon in which Aeneas loves Achates who loves Pallas who loves Turnus who loves Lavinia who loves Aeneas; or some equally as convoluted arrangement) “In truth, the taste of the dying seventeenth century was not our taste, and we can only wonder at the indiscretion of our ancestors.”[1]

1. The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). Volume IX. From Steele and Addison to Pope and Swift. X. Writers of Burlesque and Translators. [Bartleby])

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