Friday, 18 February 2011

Rutilius' Return: Introduction

Rutilius Namatianus' poem De reditu suo describes the author's journey from Rome back to his home in Gaul in the autumn of the year 417. The poem is in two books, but most of the second book is lost, and this means that we do not know where exactly Rutilius was going or why. The poem has appealed to readers since its rediscovery in the 1490s. It has always been popular in Italy because of its descriptions of the Tuscan coast. The poem is elegiac, both literally in its metre and metaphorically in its tone; both metre and tone are also often described as elegant. Literary history often defines the Classical in opposition to Christianity, and Rutilius happens to be the last Latin poet we know was a pagan. And as an aristocrat who sings the glories of eternal Rome, but who also has a fondness for describing ruins, he can seem like the poet of a vanishing world. Old histories of Latin literature often used to end with him. (I do not endorse this interpretation of Rutilius' poem or of Latin literary history!)

My task for 2011 is to write a book on Rutilius - and though there have been lots of editions, there have been no monographs on Rutilius in English, and none in any language other than Italian since 1904. And to help me think about text and interpretation, I have decided to write a prose translation. There are three other translations in English that I know of, in decent blank verse by J.F. Savage-Armstrong in the 1907 edition by Keen, in prose by J.D. Duff and A.M. Duff in the Loeb Minor Latin Poets, and, in (sort of verse) by Harold Isbell in a Penguin Classics, now out of print. The latter is not recommended. I am going to be as accurate as I can, and never mind if it doesn't sound like natural English. For comparison, the Duffs' text and translation can be found at the ever useful Lacus Curtius, along with some excellent maps.

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