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Performative Translations of Lucretius and Catullus

Rodrigo Tadeu Gonçalves

Federal University of Paraná, Brazil

Literary translations of the Classics constitute a very powerful cultural practice, which is

capable of repositioning the ancient texts in the current canon of poetical texts. Literary

translations are also open to different possibilities of performance, especially when the

materiality of the poetic results is focused and enhanced by experiments on the stage, be

it in theatrical, musical or experimental ways. Here I intend to discuss and analyze the

relationship between literary translation and performance through the examples of

some recent translations of Catullus 63 and Lucretius' De Rerum Natura put in


Here I focus on my Brazilian Portuguese translations of both authors and some

experiments in performing them, and compare the resulting translations and

experiments to other similar initiatives in the UK (by Henry Stead) and in France (by

Guillaume Boussard, Emmanuel Lascoux and Philippe Brunet’s group Démodocos).

The Brazilian translations were conceived for performance following the ideas of

Benjamin (1923[1972]), Campos (1981) and Meschonnic (1982) on literary translation.

In the case of Catullus 63, the Brazilian translation has been performed by a group of

translators-classicists I founded in 2015. The group composes melodies and

arrangements for ancient texts in the original language and in our translations. I will

compare it to and Henry Stead's visual poetry version of the same poem. Our

performance of Lucretius’s DRN, somehow more complex than Catullus’, is based on the

Latin text and five different translations into modern languages (mine, Guillaume

Boussard’s French version, Rodney Merrill’s English version, Augustín Garcia Calvo’s

Spanish version, and Hermann Diels’s German version, all of them in dactylic

hexameters). This experiment will be compared to Guillaume Boussard and Emmanuel

Lascoux's recitals of Lucretius in French and Latin.

The poems resulting from these specific kinds of translations, especially when put in

performance, call the attention of the audience to different and unusual aspects of the

target language’s prosody, vocabulary, word order, and, at last, performativity. In the

case of the Brazilian Portuguese translations analyzed here, some linguistic uses try to

evoke the language's historicity, through floating and bygone uses that can be recovered

just for being latent possibilities in the language. In a sense, we may call these

experiments “performative translations”, because they give prominence to the signifiers,

to the sounds of the voice, to the performable nature of their rhythm and sonic texture.

This kind of performative translation tries to enlarge the possibilities of the target

language, not only through the innovative metrical patterns, but also by giving it and its

users Lucretius and Catullus in a new voice, paying tribute to the models but trying to

surpass them by making them always a kind of mirror against which the translations

can be heard, or, in a similar fashion, in a kind of poetic palimpsest. Paradoxically, these

translations do not aim to efface the models, but to make them echo in themselves, as if

both should function at the same time, being the same and different. Although classical

texts are considered the basis of tradition and the canon, the way of translating them

has suffered different kinds of pressure from different times, and the translations try to

enter dialogue with the contemporary poetical practices.

Session/Panel Title

A Century of Translating Poetry

Session/Paper Number


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