Sunday, December 7, 2008


An Asinine Supplement: O'Donnell on O'Donnell on J. Relihan, Apuleius. The Golden Ass. Response to 2008.11.26
Reponse by James J. O'Donnell, Georgetown University (

Two kind readers of my review of Relihan's translation Apuleius. The Golden Ass. Or, A Book of Changes (BMCR 2008.11.26) have written to ask why I omitted to mention Jack Lindsay's version, published by Indiana University Press in 1962, in a happy time when Indiana published a series of translations of neglected and not-so-neglected classics (e.g., Rolfe Humphries' versions of Ovid Met. and Ars. Am. -- in those far-off days when Ovid was a neglected classic -- and his Juvenal and Lucretius). To Lind's Vergil they have now also added Nagle's Silvae of Statius and Fasti of Ovid. Happily, all are still in print.

I made a feeble attempt to persuade my correspondents that my extreme youth could be invoked to explain my ignorance, but gladly sought out the volume for purposes of comparison. It does boast on its cover the image of a donkey, a feature I had praised in my review of Relihan's similarly-graced volume. Within, it is an admirable work, but I think I will retain my preference for Relihan, if only on the grounds of contemporaneity. Lindsay was an Australian who lived in Britain (more on him below) and his diction has an appreciably British and dated quality today (wine is quaffed, landlords raise legal fribbles -- that sort of thing) that would slow some students and convey implicitly the message to others that even a ribald classic is best seen when marked by the prestige or obscurity of un-American English. That said, I can well understand that others would still prefer him, for he deserves full credit from those days for a frank translation widely disseminated, the days when Arrowsmith's Aristophanes was similarly revolutionary.

Lindsay himself is worth a note. His father was a distinguished and daring (for erotic themes) painter and writer in Brisbane. (He sent a batch of his paintings to safety in the US during World War II, where the authorities came upon them in the wake of a railway accident and had them confiscated and destroyed as pornography.) The son took his classical education in Brisbane but shortly after moved to Britain, refusing in later years to go back to the antipodes. He had a long career (b. 1900, d. 1990) as writer and translator outside the academy, publishing by one account more than 160 books (a listing of just the evidently classical titles in his bibliography appears below). In the 1930s at least he had a flagrantly Marxist period, still evidently devoted singlemindedly to his literary interests but with sufficient ideological rigor that more than a million copies of his works in translation were sold in the Soviet Union. I had known one remarkable volume, Song of a Falling World (1948), an evocation of late Roman culture remarkable for its nonjudgmental sensitivity to the excellences and idiosyncrasies of that period, long before the "late antique turn" shaped scholarly conversation in English. Seeing only the titles of almost all these books, one may easily surmise their limitations, limitations that would be more acute now after half a century's further scholarly progress in the areas and authors he dealt with, but at the same time it is impossible not to admire the range and the passion that he brought to these studies. They don't make them like that any more, but they never made very many of them.

Lysistrata by Aristophanes (1925) illustrated by Norman Lindsay
The Mimiambs of Herodas (1929) Translated by Jack Lindsay, Decorated by Alan Odle, with a Foreword by Brian Penton
Propertius in Love (1927) translator
Homage to Sappho (1928)
Dionysos: Nietzsche Contra Nietzsche. An Essay in Lyrical Philosophy (1928)
Homer's Hymns to Aphrodite (1929)
Women in Parliament by Aristophanes (1929) illustrations by Norman Lindsay, foreword by Edgell Rickword
Theocritos, The Complete Poems (1929) introduction by Edward Hutton, illustrations by Lionel Ellis
The Complete Poetry of Gaius Catullus (1930) editor
The Complete Works of Gaius Petronius (Rarity Press, 1932) translator, Norman Lindsay illustrator
The Golden Ass (Limited Editions Club, 1932) translator, illustrated by Percival Goodman
Medieval Latin Poets (1934)
I am a Roman (1934)
Rome for Sale (1934)
Caesar is Dead (1934)
Last Days With Cleopatra (1935)
Despoiling Venus (1935)
The Romans (1935) illustrated by Pearl Binder
Marc Anthony. His world and his contemporaries (1937)
To Arms: A Story of Ancient Gaul (1938) illustrated by Martin Tyas
Brief Light: A Novel of Catullus (1939)
Hannibal Takes a Hand (1941)
Daphnis and Chloe (1948) Daimon Press translator,illustrated by Lionel Ellis
Catullus: The Complete Poems (Sylvan Press, 1948) translator
Song Of A Falling World: Culture During The Break Up Of The Roman Empire A.D. 350-600 (1948)
Byzantium into Europe (1952)
The Romans Were Here- The Roman Period In Britain And Its Place In Our History (1956)
Arthur and His Times -- Britain in the Dark Ages (1958)
The Discovery of Britain: a Guide to Archaeology (1958)
The Loves of Asklepiades (Myriad Press, 1959) translator, illustrated by Paul Rudall
The Satyricon (1960) translator
The Golden Ass of Lucius Apuleius (1960) translator
Ribaldry of Greece (1961) editor
Ribaldry of Rome (1961) editor
Daily Life in Roman Egypt (1963)
Leisure and Pleasure in Roman Egypt (1965)
Thunder Underground; a novel of Nero's Rome (1965)
The Clashing Rocks: A Study of Early Greek Religion and Culture and the Origins of Drama (1965)
Our Roman Heritage (1967)
The Ancient World: Manners and Morals (1968)
Men and Gods on the Roman Nile (1968)
Greece, I Keep My Vigil For You by Teferos Anthias (1968) translator
The Origins of Alchemy in Graeco-Roman Egypt (1970)
Cleopatra (1971)
Origins of Astrology (1972)
Blast-Power & Ballistics Concepts of Force and Energy in the Ancient World (1974)
Helen of Troy, Woman and Goddess (1974)
Death of a Spartan King and Two Other Stories of the Ancient World (Inca Books, 1974) illustrated by Noel Counihan
The Troubadours and Their World (1976)


  1. >Lindsay was an Australian who lived in Britain . . . and his diction has an appreciably British and dated quality today (wine is quaffed, landlords raise legal fribbles -- that sort of thing) that would slow some students and convey implicitly the message to others that even a ribald classic is best seen when marked by the prestige or obscurity of un-American English.<

    Naturally this sounds less damning to a Briton than is evidently intended, nor am I any judge of what American undergraduates are likely to comprehend; but I should like to know on what grounds 'contemporaneity' should be thought a virtue in a translation of Apuleius, whose language is anything but the commonplace Latin of his or any other day. Heavy admixture of the markedly modern and the markedly unmodern would be far more appropriate. From that point of view, Lindsay was faithful to the original in admitting such words as 'quaff' and 'fribble', already dated even in Britain when he used them (though the former has been revived in the phrase 'a quaffing wine'). Why should an author who had no intention of being plain be rendered into commonplace modern English, whether British or American?

    Leofranc Holford-Strevens

  2. A minor point re his father, Norman. He lived in Sydney, not Brisbane.

    R. Willmot


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