What started as a way of passing time on the free bus to campus has led to international recognition for Dr Colin Anderson, who was named runner-up in the John Dryden translation competition for his work on Odes by Horace.
Dr Anderson, a senior lecturer at the School of Language Studies in Palmerston North, teaches French and Spanish. His decision to translate the Odes from Latin to English is part of his ongoing fascination with “how language works”.
“I did it for amusement really and as a challenge to see if I could render the poetry into a modern English form. The approach I took though was distinctive, to maintain the meters from the original poems.”
Dr Anderson, who says he has been learning Latin from age 13, not only aimed to echo the meters but to maintain the number of syllables in each line.
“The idea was that if you could achieve the same or similar you would give an idea of the original musicality of the poem. The original would have been written to be recited or declaimed aloud.”
This led to almost a year of journeys creating the translation of some 26 odes.
“I would write the words down then play around with them and then even read them aloud to try and find the rhythms … Because I did the translation on the bus I thought we might call it Horace On–the–bus rather than A Horace Omnibus.”
Dr Anderson says The Odes, written between 33 and 25 BC, were in part adaptations of earlier Greek works.
“The original poems were, at least on the surface, quite light and about everyday things, love and drinking, and that kind of thing. Horace was not an epic poet writing about mythology or graphic battles.”
As well as taking a prize of £200, presented at the British Comparative Literature Association conference in London, Dr Anderson was invited as a guest to the Horatian Society dinner. Enthusiasts for attempting translations of Horace’s poetry have included poets Milton and Dryden, doctors, lawyers, classics professors and even former British Prime Minister William Gladstone.
Translation of the classics is particularly important because, despite continued interest in classical studies, most students no longer had Latin language skills. Dr Anderson aims to publish his translated Odes as a resource for students.
“The standard way is to use the translation on the facing page to the Latin but I don’t think that’s accessible to the vast majority who don’t have the Latin anyway,” he says. “My aim was that the poems would stand alone except for a few notes explaining some of the more obscure references I allowed myself the liberty of changing.”
* Horace’s best-known work is probably Ode I-XI, which contains the phrase “carpe diem”, now popularly translated as “seize the day”, but more correctly translated as harvesting or gathering the day in the manner of gathering crops or fruit. Quintus Horatius Flaccus, known in English as Horace, was the son of a former slave. As a young man he studied philosophy in Athens, and later enlisted in the army of Brutus, fighting at Philippi. His first book was published in 35BC. Horace died in 8BC, having become famous after being commissioned by the Emperor Augustus to write his fourth volume of Odes.