A Small Book of Translations: 01 - Preface
Author(s): Alexander Hutchison
Copyright holder(s): Alexander Hutchison
A kind of chronology may be picked out in the order of the poems included here; but since it depends partly on historical content and partly on the dates of authors it is not strictly maintained. The carmina of Catullus in Scots (or most of them) were translated first, when I returned to Scotland from Canada in 1984. These were made in a north-east dialect, close to the language I used outside the house and school when I was growing up. At home and in school this was modified towards Standard English, and later the accents of academia and North America were added as an overlay.
The Scots in all the translations where it appears is intended as a spoken language. The orthography aims to give a guide to pronunciation without being too idiosyncratic. I have never seen the point of a standard orthography for Scots, since it would reduce variety in the main elements – musicality being one of these.
The use of Scots in rendering classical texts has a long tradition: Gavin Douglas's version of The XIII Bukes of Eneados being the earliest. From my own point of view I have relished the energy, flexibility and humour (especially with a vituperative edge) provided by the Scots vocabulary. In considering the poems of Pasolini's youth, the parallels between Doric and Friulian – their essentially rural origin – made the decision to use Scots a natural one. In tackling Catullus, Scots is particularly useful when the context is direct, levelling, emotive, and – though it's in a different register – it also serves as well as English in delivering ironic disdain.
Buckie, where I was born and grew up, lies long and narrow along the Moray Firth coast: the countryside at the broadest point of the town being only about a kilometre from the sea. Both the fishing and farming communities were generous to me in a number of ways, and their differing accents and idioms were readily assimilated during the process of growing up. Subsequently, sources as diverse as Dunbar and Henryson, Montgomerie, Urquhart, the varied deposits of folk tradition and balladry as well as nearer contemporaries, all contributed to thickening the broth. But the stock was basically Banffshire and Moray coast.
If the Italian connection began indirectly with Catullus, the first personal encounter was with Roberto Sanesi – translator of Eliot, Blake, Thomas, all of Paradise Lost – whom I met at Leuven in Belgium in 1985. Thereafter we corresponded, met once more, and swapped translations when he came to read at the Edinburgh Festival in 1988. This friendship has led to contacts with other writers and artists in Pavia, Milan, Rome, Trieste and Verona – not least coming together in tribute after his death to remember Sanesi's skillful elucidations.
One section of this book contains a series of re-creations or re-arrangements, taken one line at a time in a flick through generally well-known texts. What resulted was a refracted syntax, part accident part design. This method, based on a stratagem which Gael Turnbull has employed in several ways, produced work which didn't seem out of place in a book of translations.
Hamish Henderson always supported and egged me on: he once landed me in it – straight in the door, I could have done with a glass in my hand – to deliver "Amabo, dulcis Ipsitilla" to an afternoon crowd in Sandy Bell's Edinburgh bar. The first batch of Catullus poems was printed in Chapman 42 – an issue which by coincidence was a tribute to Hamish.
My high school Latin teacher, the late Thomas Laing, first encouraged me to try versions of the classics in Scots. He taught me Cicero too, of course; though I didn't warm to that passionate discourse and complicated sensitivity till much later, when I read the letters and had a chance to see where he lived – and where he learned to speak the way he did.
To friends and collaborators who contribute translations here, or gave assistance at any stage – particularly Giuseppe Bonaviri, Peter Brand, Mariarosaria Cardines, Alec Finlay, Laura Fiorentini, Daniela Fraioli, Peter France, Duncan Glen, Rody Gorman, Tom Hubbard, Tomaso Kemeny, Dante Marianacci, Luisa Matera, Peter McCarey, Richard Price, Tessa Ransford, Carla Sassi, Massimo Struffi and the Fondazione Umberto Mastroanni – special thanks.
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A Small Book of Translations: 01 - Preface. 2022. In The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow. Retrieved July 2022, from http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=449.
"A Small Book of Translations: 01 - Preface." The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow, 2022. Web. July 2022. http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=449.
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