Translating the Metrics of Plautus’ Pseudolus


  • Nada Grošelj



Roman comedy, Latin, metrics, translation


As far as can be inferred from the scantily preserved Greek New Comedy (the chief model for Plautine comedy), Plautus introduced into his works far more elements of music and song, creating a genre which might well remind a contemporary spectator of musical comedy. In addition to (a) the iambic senarii of spoken verse, his plays include: (b) ‘recitatives’: sequences of long lines in trochaic, iambic and anapaestic metres, performed to a musical accompaniment but not sung; the commonest metre in Plautus, commoner even than the iambic senarius, is the trochaic septenarius; (c) true songs (cantica) in the most varied metres, including some which were rare in Greek poetry, such as cretics and bacchiacs. A song may show the preponderance of a single metrical form but more often contains a medley of metres; in fact, the metrical scheme may vary literally from line to line.
A survey of the Slovenian practice in the extant book-format Plautine translations – inAmphitruo,Mostellaria and Aulularia as translated by Kajetan Gantar, in Miles gloriosusas translated by Alojz Rebula, and in the new version of Menaechmi by Jera Ivanc – reveals the approach explicitly proposed by Gantar and Ivanc in their studies on the texts translated: ever since Anton Sovre, the Slovenian translators of Greek and Roman drama have preferred to use (often hypercatalectic) blank verse, which is close to the spoken idiom and therefore most commonly used in Slovenian translations of drama. Occasionally, however, the original diversity of Plautine metrics is hinted at through passages in other rhythms.
In my own translation of Plautus’ comedy Pseudolus, rendered in Slovenian as Kljukec, I decided to follow the established strategy to the extent of using blank verse as a counterpart to the unrhymed iambic senarius of spoken verse. In the recitatives and songs, on the other hand, I decided to experiment and introduce metrical variation on a larger scale – both because the translation was to appear in a bilingual edition and because Plautus’ “innumerable rhythms” are one of the hallmarks of his style. On the other hand, conscious pursuit of the musical comedy effect led me to digress from the original by consistently endeavouring to furnish the songs and recitatives with rhymes or at least assonances. The article presents my translation guidelines: how and why I faithfully reproduced some types of Plautine verse (e.g. iambics, trochaics, cretics) while consistently replacing certain other types with more natural-sounding Slovenian variants (e.g. bacchiacs with dactyls), how I tackled the passages where the metre originally changes from line to line, etc. I conclude with an extensive appendix, which provides a line-by-line survey of the metrics employed in the original and in my translation.


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31. 12. 2010




How to Cite

Grošelj, Nada. 2010. “Translating the Metrics of Plautus’ Pseudolus”. Keria: Studia Latina Et Graeca 12 (2-3): 171-86.

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