Roma non basta una vita – Rome, a lifetime is not enough.

Tantalising thoughts: Poet Duncan McGibbon speaking at BRLSI.
“Too much for a life, yet irresistible” was the theme of tonight’s event in BRLSI’s Romans in Bath series, hosted by Nikki Bennett and the Uni-verse poetry programme, in which Rome and Bath stood compared in verse.
The speaker, Duncan McGibbon, introduced his account of eight Roman poets translated by fifteen poets from, or visitors to, Bath, by comparing the seven hills and the seven ages of both. Taking his theme from the conflict between the intense moment and the fixity of finished art, he then outlined five dimensions of human urges, political, sexual, self-perpetuating, discriminating and self-deceiving.
Each of these five dimensions was prefaced by one of the author’s poems, written in the Millennial Holy Year when he went on pilgrimage to Rome. In the political dimension, he introduced Dryden’s own verse and his Virgil with a poem about the landscape outside of Rome. He concluded with Hadrian’s farewell. In the group of poems about sexual conflict he introduced Martial and Sextus Propertius through his own eyes and those of Thomas Campion in the company of the Wife of Bath and an Elizabethan other.
In the dimension of self-perpetuation he looked at how Dryden, Pope, Aphra Behn (both as translator and in her own right) and Shelley handled the theme of the child in Virgil and Ovid. The theme of snobbery and discrimination was translated by Pope and Swift, with Mary Wortley-Montagu and Phillip Francis seen through the eyes of Catullus, Horace and Juvenal. Finally, he looked at Romantic and Gothic Rome with Beckford, Beddoes, De Quincey, Landor, Wordsworth, Byron, Wordsworth and Thomas Moore’s versions of Horace, Catullus and Ovid. He concluded that these human needs have been well-betrayed across the years and hills.
The Roman ghosts should be satisfied with their shades from Bath, as the BRLSI audience were satsified by this tour de force from a writer of great creativity and scholarship. One of the many tantalising thoughts he left us with (again re comparison and similarities) was ‘there are many similarities between spying and translating’. Maybe this will be the subject of his next talk!!
– Nikki Bennett and Duncan McGibbon.

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