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The Times Stephen Spender Prize 2010

18-and-under, commended

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Ben Pope

The Death of Icarus
from Metamorphoses 8
by Ovid

And now on their left side was
Juno’s isle Samos, both Delos and Paros had been left behind,
And right was Lebinthos and, fertile with honey, Calymne,
When Icarus started to revel in foolhardy flight.
And leaving his leader, quite touched with desire for Heaven,
He drove his route skyward.
But being too close to the sun with its scorching
Softened the sweet-smelling wax that was binding his feathers:
The wax melted.
Icarus flapped his bare arms but without the wings’ feathers,
Try as he might, he could not get a grasp on the breezes.
And as it was crying the name of his father,
His mouth was consumed by the sky-blue Icarian waves.
And the unlucky father, a father no longer, said, ‘Icarus!’
Cried, ‘Icarus! Where are you? Where am I to find you?’
‘Icarus!’ he was crying.
He caught sight of the feathers on the water,
And cursed his own skills and laid him to rest in a tomb,
And the land took its name after that of the boy who was buried there.

Translated from the Latin by Ben Pope

Metamorphoses 8, lines 220–235

et iam Iunonia laeva
parte Samos (fuerant Delosque Parosque relictae)
dextra Lebinthos erat fecundaque melle Calymne,
cum puer audaci coepit gaudere volatu
deseruitque ducem caelique cupidine tractus
altius egit iter.
rapidi vicinia solis
mollit odoratas, pennarum vincula, ceras;
tabuerant cerae:
nudos quatit ille lacertos,
remigioque carens non ullas percipit auras,
oraque caerulea patrium clamantia nomen
excipiuntur aqua, quae nomen traxit ab illo.
at pater infelix, nec iam pater, 'Icare,' dixit,
'Icare,' dixit 'ubi es? qua te regione requiram?'
'Icare' dicebat:
pennas aspexit in undis
devovitque suas artes corpusque sepulcro
condidit, et tellus a nomine dicta se


Translation commentary

Of the Classical literature I have read and studied (parts of the Metamorphoses, Book VIII are set texts for my A Level Latin course), I’ve found Ovid the most entertaining and intellectually absorbing. His famous wit is only half the picture; what really has grabbed my attention is the manner in which he creates such memorable, graphic imagery. The Metamorphoses is rich with such imagery as it involves countless visually interesting ‘transformations’ and the story of Icarus is a particularly fine example of this because the events in the story allow Ovid to mix his talent for conjuring mental images with his ability to evoke intense emotional response from the reader. This makes it a perfect passage to read or translate.

Obviously there are problems translating from Latin into English in verse. Primarily, Latin often contains in one or two words what we must say in several, which is why my lines may appear clumsier than Ovid’s. Similarly, I have not been able to keep to the (mostly) regular dactylic hexameter of the Metamorphoses, although I have attempted a loose dactylic meter to maintain the song-like rhythm of the original. This gives the piece pace where the lingual aspect of the translation is lacking but also distances the reader from the unreal elements of the story (flying etc.) so they can be appreciated symbolically and emotionally rather than in realism.

The extract is fairly emotionally intense and I was keen to keep the sense of tragedy in Icarus’ death, so I have tried to evoke pathos whenever I can – for instance, choosing to separate the phrase, ‘The wax melted’ to give his demise more finality – whilst attempting to maintain Ovid’s sense of wit – notice the cruel symmetry of the ‘sky-blue’ waves.

Ben Pope