Friday, 26 February 2010

Ariosto, Orlando Furioso, (transl. David R. Slavitt, 2010)

Not so much a review, as a tale of disappointment. I bought this volume from amazon, hardback, for £24.07, in part on the strength of a dithyrhambic TLS review. But nowhere in that review, or on the amazon page, does it make plain that this is a translation (admittedly lively) of selected bits and pieces of Ariosto, not the whole text; and that it lacks all annotation, apparatus, and comes with only the mealiest of introductions. This is no good for me. Nor are these facts mentioned on the Harvard University Press page for the book. Chiz chiz. Do not buy this book.

I own, and have read, the Barbara Reynolds translation, which I found done very thoroughly and solidly, and only occasionally in a bad way (I mean: in terms of capturing the lively sprightliness of the original). I also own a charity-shop edition of this prose version by Guido Waldman, which is perfectly fine. Both are unabridged, and both contain fascinating critical apparatuses. My interest in the poem has a lot to do with the way its uninhibited and often sparkling Fantasy blurs for long stretches into Science Fiction. Here's English knight Astolfo flying to the moon on the back of his Hippogriff from Canto 34, in Slavittspeak:
Having crossed the fiery sphere they arrive
at the realm of the moon, which looks like a steel plate,
entirely spotless, and about the same size, I've
been told, as the earth -- and that would include our great
oceans which add to our globe. After the drive,
which has not taken long I would estimate,
Astolfo expressed his astonishment and surprise
that the moon, which looks small fron the earth, is of such a size. [609-10]
Sprezzatura is one thing; this is just fucking slapdash, sprawly and spooly and loose and not in a good way. The whole thing is like this. Aristo is sparkly and lively; but he doesn't trample all over the line-endings in big boots like this; and Reynolds, thought a little old-school posh, has more of a sense for the rhythms and pacing of a line of verse than this. Slavitt foregrounds an often goofy sense of humour (“and in short order they approach Marseilles/and are happy after traveling all that weilles”); but whilst I've no objection to a goofy sense of humour, it's no substitute for doing the translation fundamentals properly.

Elsewhere on the internet: Valvular Aristo.


GeoX said...

Hmm. That's a shame. Still, I personally think Barbara Reynolds' translation is pretty fantastic--there may be occasional short-comings, but given what a massive poem this is and how effectively she was able to maintain the rhyme scheme, it seems like folly to hope for better.

Isn't Ariosto fantastic, though? So appealingly urbane. I love the proto-feminism--the way there are badass female knights and nobody seems to think it's a big deal--and also the quite surprising religious broadmindedness--sure, your Christians are putatively good and your Saracens bad, but compare it to something like Jerusalem Delivered and Ariosto's touch seems very light indeed. When Marfisa gets converted in the end it feels more like a social formality than anything else, and I distinctly remember that when Medoro--the guy Angelica ultimately marries--gets wounded, he is described as praying to his "moon god" and Ariosto carefully leaves open the possibility that this god may actually be listening.

Anyway. Now I want to reread the thing.

Adam Roberts said...

Ariosto is great. I'm reading it properly for a second time now, and starting to find some very interesting things beneath the bubbly surface fun.

GeoX said...

Groovy. I hope you'll share your thoughts when you've finished.

Linda C. McCabe said...

I was unable to read very far into Slavitt's book. The problem I had was his using modernism terms such as cardboard to rhyme with broadsword.

It pulled me right out of the story. I tried again and saw something about a recycled envelope and threw my hands up in the air.

The other thing that bothered me was the abridgment. That's not Slavitt's fault though. That was done by the editors at Harvard University Press.

These editors did a hatchet job and eliminated almost all of the Bradamante/Ruggiero cantos. To me, I much preferred reading about the "badass female knights" like Bradamante and Marfisa to the object of male desire Angelica.

The Bradamante/Ruggiero tale of impossible love is the focal point of my novel "Quest of the Warrior Maiden" and unfortunately, I could not use Slavitt's work to help me understand my source material better. For the record, I like Reynold's translation better than Waldman's. Or at least I find her books easier to read with the bigger font size and white space!