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  Philologica 2 (1995)  


(Dmitriev — La Harpe — Scaliger — Tibullus)


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Dmitriev’s Imitation of Tibullus’ First Elegy was first published in 1795; this translation of Tib. 1. 1 laid a foundation for the “tradition of a ‘Russian’ Tibullus” (I. Z. Serman). However, this work itself is part of a wider tradition, that of a “modern European” Tibullus. It has never been considered from this point of view, a fact which has been the cause of critical misinterpretations. Dmitriev’s translation technique has been barely analysed by means of a comparison of his text with the text of Tib. 1. 1, which was finally established by the efforts of nineteenth- and twentieth-century scholars. This approach leads to such statements as the following: “of the whole <elegy> nothing but the last two lines have anything to do with Tibullus” (Serman).

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, authoritative versions, which had already become “entrenched” in culture, were as important for the new up-and-coming translators as was the original text; what was actually translated was a certain macrotext, consisting of both the original and the already existing imitations. The unfaithfulness of Dmitriev’s translation is exaggerated: when working on Tib. 1. 1, he followed La Harpe’s imitation of the same elegy (1773). As regards the latter, it appears different from the First Elegy we know, because La Harpe translated Joseph Scaliger’s version of Tibullus. In Scaliger’s noua editio (1577), the ordering of Tib. 1. 1 was changed, and a fragment from Tib. 1. 2 was inserted. Scaliger’s rearrangement of Tibullus’ elegies was rejected by Volpi (1749), but it still had some later influence on litterateurs. Other evidence of Russia’s acquaintance with the Scaligerian Tibullus is Batiushkov’s supposed “mistake”: he called his imitation of the concluding elegy of Tibullus’ Book One (1. 10) an imitation of the Eleventh Elegy, in conformity with Scaliger whose transpositions made the First Book consist of 11 elegies, and not 10.

Dmitriev was familiar with both the French imitation and the Latin text: in his version he often accepts La Harpe’s “amendments” but sometimes restores original expressions. What distinguishes Dmitriev’s version from La Harpe’s is the meter. The French text is heterometric, with an irregular combination of octo- and dodecasyllabic lines, and free rhyming (vers libres). In the Russian text, the regular 6-foot iambus (iambic hexameter, the Russian analogue of the Alexandrine) with regularly alternating rhymes (rimes plates) is used. La Harpe’s choice can be understood through his explanation on another occasion: “I risked, when translating, changing the rhythm many times, in order to give a better rendition of the variety of tones”. In 1772—1777, his translations from the Classics appeared, in which the 8-/12-syllabic vers libres were used: of Hor. Carm. 1. 5, Tib. 1. 1 and Hor. Carm. 1. 30. A similar meter (irregular combination of iambic hexameters and tetrameters) was not foreign to Dmitriev’s imitations either: when “he experiments <...> with a rendering in iambic ‘free verse’ without strophic division (for Horace Carmina I, iii)” (W. E. Brown), it is most likely that he recalls the French models.

For La Harpe, imitations of Horace and Tibullus belonged to the same category, while for Dmitriev, the Tibullan elegy was different from the separately established “Horatian ode”. Later imitations of Tibullus, written by Batiushkov, Milonov, Merzliakov, and Ryleev, were composed using the regularly rhymed Alexandrine (as Dmitriev’s translation was); by the 1810s and early 1820s, this meter had became appropriate for “imitations of the ancients”. In Russia, Tibullus proved to be the most popular Augustan elegist, and, for some poets, the elegy “imitated from the ancients” was, in fact, Tibullus’ elegy. In the Elegies section of Batiushkov’s Essays in Verse and Prose, of three poems written in regularly rhymed Alexandrines all are imitations of Tibullus. The only 6-foot-iambic (regularly rhymed) poem in the three Books of Elegies from Baratynskij’s 1827 collection is he Homeland — being a not so obvious variation on Tib. 1. 1 and 1. 10. Of all the elegies published by Ryleev during his lifetime the only 6-foot-iambic was his o Delia: Imitation of Tibullus (1820). With the appearance of this work, which was extremely close to his predecessor’s imitations and probably written without consulting the original, “Dmitrievian” Tibullianism was exhausted. In his 1825—26 collection of imitations from the Classics, Merzliakov published Tib. 2. 1 translated in regularly alternating unrhymed 6- and 5-foot dactyls, a rough equivalent of the elegiac distich.


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