Foeda est in coitu et brevis voluptas

Today, a comparison of translations and adaptations, plus a possible personal cryptomnesiac cribbing. I started The Complete Poems of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester (ed. David Vieth) earlier and ran across an adaptation of one of Petronius’s more memorable poems.

First, Petronius’ original (poem 28 in the Loeb text) with the Loeb rendering and – since the Loeb’s is more meh than normal – my own five minute effort afterwards. Neither effort does near justice to the playfully allusive legerdemain of the original but together they can give some idea (and, incidentally, I believe there’s a new Loeb edition of Petronius scheduled for later this year so maybe that one will improve the situation).

Foeda est in coitu et brevis voluptas
et taedet Veneris statim peractae.
Non ergo ut pecudes libidinosae
caeci protinus irruamus illuc
(nam languescit amor peritque flamma);
sed sic sic sine fine feriati
et tecum iaceamus osculantes.
Hic nullus labor est ruborque nullus:
hoc iuvit, iuvat et diu iuvabit;
hoc non deficit incipitque semper.

The pleasure of the act of love is gross and brief, and love once consummated brings loathing after it. Let us then not rush blindly thither straightway like lustful beasts, for love sickens and the flame dies down; but even so, even so, let us keep eternal holiday, and lie with thy lips to mine. No toil is here and no shame: in this, delight has been, and is, and long shall be; in this there is no diminution, but a beginning everlastingly.

Filthy and brief is the pleasure taken in sex
and passion carried to its end straightaway disgusts.
And so let us not like rutting beasts
blind and headlong rush to the end
(for desire withers and the flame dies);
But let us lie like this, just like this,
playing idly without end and kissing.
Here is no exertion and no reason to turn red:
This has pleased, does please, and long will please;
This does not cease and ever is just beginning.

Now Ben Jonson’s translation – which I remembered existed but haven’t read in years, similarity of final lines notwithstanding:

Doing, a filthy pleasure is, and short;
And done, we straight repent us of the sport:
Let us not then rush blindly on unto it,
Like lustful beasts, that only know to do it:
For lust will languish, and that heat decay.
But thus, thus, keeping endless holiday,
Let us together closely lie and kiss,
There is no labour, nor no shame in this;
This hath pleased, doth please, and long will please; never
Can this decay, but is beginning ever.

And finally, John Wilmot’s adaptation – which carries the improbable title ‘The Platonic Lady

I could love thee till I die,
Would’st thou love me modestly,
And ne’er press, whilst I live,
For more than willingly I would give:
Which should sufficient be to prove
I’d understand the art of love.

I hate the thing is called enjoyment:
Besides it is a dull employment,
It cuts off all that’s life and fire
From that which may be termed desire;
Just like the bee whose sting is gone
Converts the owner to a drone.

I love a youth will give me leave
His body in my arms to wreathe;
To press him gently, and to kiss;
To sigh, and look with eyes that wish
For what, if I could once obtain,
I would neglect with flat disdain.

I’d give him liberty to toy
And play with me, and count it joy.
Our freedom should be full complete,
And nothing wanting but the feat.
Let’s practice, then, and we shall prove
These are the only sweets of love.


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