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This review is taken from PN Review 24, Volume 8 Number 4, March - April 1982.

MERWIN'S PERSIUS The Satires of Persius, translated by W.S.Merwin; introduction and notes by W.S.Anderson (Anvil Press) £3.95

Aulus Persius Flaccus, who died at 28 during the reign of Nero, left five satires-about 650 lines of dactyllic hexameters altogether. His contemporaries praised his poetry, which reasserted the classical values of Virgil against the affectations popular at Nero's court. His criticism of matters of style, like bombast, archaizing, and the insertion of Greek vocabulary into Latin lines, became criticism of those litterateurs at fault in these apparent trivialities. Persius castigated a false elegance which masked an inner decadence. His own poetry, rich in allusions to Horace, inspired not only the greatest of the Roman satirists, Juvenal, with whom Persius has traditionally been associated, but also an unbroken series of scholars and poets from the Dark Ages to the present. From 1616, when Barten Holyday first made a translation into English couplets, to Niall Rudd's Penguin Classics version (1973), Persius has been a challenge to translators and imitators, including Dryden (who treated his model with enough freedom to recreate him a Restoration wit). Persius's plain style, vigorous, compressed, colloquial, is in fact often obscure, even to those who understand the philosophical stoicism which underlies his work, and he hides Horatian quotations and allusions everywhere. One good solution is to precede the translations with a scholarly introduction, and to append to it explanatory notes (as do Holyday, Dryden and Rudd). W.S.Anderson is a noted Persius scholar, and his introduction is, even after twenty years, a good one; it is a pity, however, that recent work on Persius could not have ...


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