Saturday, 25 June 2011


This is how Lucan's Pharsalia beins:
Bella per Emathios plus quam civilia campos
iusque datum sceleri canimus, populumque potentem
in sua victrici conuersum viscera dextra
cognatasque acies, et rupto foedere regni
certatum totis concussi viribus orbis
in commune nefas, infestisque obvia signis
signa, pares aquilas et pila minantia pilis.
Which wikipedia handily translates for us as:
Wars worse than civil on Emathian plains,
and crime let loose we sing; how Rome's high race
plunged in her vitals her victorious sword;
armies akin embattled, with the force
of all the shaken earth bent on the fray;
and burst asunder, to the common guilt,
a kingdom's compact; eagle with eagle met,
standard to standard, spear opposed to spear.
. That first line is a famously tricky one to render. 'Uncivil civil wars' and all the variants stumble, in English, on the fact that 'uncivil' is far too watery a term (with its implications of poor manners at a dinner party) to counterbalance 'civil war'. There's also, I'd say, an unfortunate echo of 'civil service'. But I'm not sure what to suggest instead. Un-nice interneicine conflict? Not-right fight? Civil war that serves ill? The Roman war no man wins? All farcical.

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