This is one of the best letter exchanges I’ve seen. Here’s the intro:
“It is not easy to write a Life of Catullus”, Helen Morales observes in the TLS of April 22. Nor, apparently, is it a straightforward matter to translate him. Professor Morales was reviewing two books, Daisy Dunn’s Catullus’ Bedspread: The life of Rome’s most erotic poet and Dunn’s accompanying edition of Catullus’ poems. The second book gave our reviewer cause for concern. Morales wrote:
The translations themselves show little sensitivity to the Latin language. For example, in Poem 32 the poet addresses his lover, the “sweet Ipsitilla”, and urges her to invite him round. Dunn translates:
Let no one bolt the door
And don’t be tempted to go out,
But stay home and make ready for us
And nine consecutive fucks.
The Latin word fututiones, which Dunn translates as “fucks”, is no ordinary one. It is a word invented by Catullus and only appears in Latin literature in Catullus and Martial. It conveys an exaggerated amount, and needs translating in way that captures the originality of the term, the excess implied, and the humour in the poet’s urgency. In their translations Jane Wilson Joyce has “Fornifuckations”, Guy Lee “fuctions”, and Peter Green “fuckfests”. Dunn’s commonplace “fucks” misses the point. She is also inconsistent in handling metre. The elegiac poems are rendered with an economy similar to the Latin, whereas the hexameters of Poem 64, the exquisite mythological poem whose description of a wedding coverlet gives Dunn’s book its title, are translated into free verse . . .
I’ll let you read the reader responses for yourselves; I particularly like Peter Green’s letter and wishes-he’d-thought-of-it-at-the-time solution. (Via Wordorigins.org.)