Best translation of Lucretius
June 26, 2011 10:42 AM   Subscribe

Hey classicists! What's the best translation of Lucretius' De Rerum Natura?

I care about clarity and ease of reading more than accuracy or aesthetics. My main goal is to understand Epicurean philosophy, though of course it would be nice if it sounded good too. It seems like a verse translation would be more "authentic" and maybe more fun, but I'd read a prose one if it were clearer.

There's a ton of translations available, and I have no idea why I should choose one over another. For example, all of these recent-ish ones got good reviews:

Richard Melville (Oxford World's Classics)
A.E. Stallings (Penguin Classics)
Ronald Latham (older Penguin Classics)
Rolfe Humphries
Anthony Esolen
Frank Copley

Thanks for any comments you have about these or any others.
posted by Chicken Boolean to Writing & Language (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I have the Humphries one although it's in storage at present. Seemed to read well (and the title, The Way Things Are, strikes the right note. Disclaimer: I don't read Latin.
posted by Logophiliac at 10:57 AM on June 26, 2011

I don't have an answer (and it's been ages since I read Lucretius), but I can recommend the Encyclopedia of Literary Translation into English as a possible source for an answer. Its entries compare different translations, and there appears to be an entry for Lucretius. I've personally never found verse translations of Latin poetry to be all that pleasant to read, but your mileage may vary.
posted by asperity at 10:59 AM on June 26, 2011

Everyone used Esolen when I read it at school. We had very picky people recommending translations to us, but I don't remember the particulars of choosing Esolen over others -- still, I'd recommend it without reservation upon the assumption that those who recommended it to me would know what was The Best Translation.
posted by pupstocks at 11:01 AM on June 26, 2011

Response by poster: I should clarify that I don't care at all if you can read Latin (and probably shouldn't have said "hey classicists"), because accuracy is not very important.

That Encyclopedia of Literary Translation looks great! Score one for good old dead-tree reference books.
posted by Chicken Boolean at 11:27 AM on June 26, 2011

A E Stallings is a poet. You might want a poet to translate a poet.
posted by kestrel251 at 12:47 PM on June 26, 2011

We read the Humphries version in high school, but it's not the most faithful translation. It's clear and easy to read, but I think if I were going to read it again, I'd pick the Esolen translation, which I am told does a nice job of preserving the original syntax.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 1:39 PM on June 26, 2011

I really like the Esolen version you list both for its literary qualities in English and how well it presents Epicurean notions.
posted by Rain Man at 2:53 PM on June 26, 2011

If you really want to understand the text, I'd go for the one with the best and fullest notes, rather than focusing on the ease of the translation. Lucretius is a really difficult text and you need a translation that will point out his sources and what he's doing with them. Have a look at what they say of his concluding passage, the one where he's translating Thucydides as a test. If they're not giving you a lot of guidance there, then it's likely they may not be much help with other difficult passages.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 5:19 PM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Classicist here. Check here to find out if Stallings' lumbering fourteeners are for you. If not, go for M.F. Smith's eloquent prose translation published by Hackett - simple, true, and in oral recitation weaves the Lucretian spell in a way that's suprisingly effective for prose.
posted by Zurishaddai at 10:31 AM on May 1, 2012

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