CAPN Abstract 4: Anna Trostnikova on Piotrovsky’s Catullus

We are delighted that our Classics And Poetry Now workshop on 2 November will have two papers devoted to Soviet Russian poetical engagements with the classical. Soviet Classics is an exciting and growing field within Classical Reception Studies.

Anna Trostnikova is a PhD candidate at Royal Holloway, University of London. Her paper is entitled: “Attis in 1929: Piotrovsky’s  translation of Catullus 63 in the poetical and political context of early Soviet Russia.” This is how she summarises her presentation:

“In the preface to his translation Adrian Piotrovsky unequivocally states that the aim of his work was to make Catullus’ book a piece of contemporary poetry. In my paper, I analyse the ways in which Piotrovsky made this happen. I concentrate my research on a single poem, the poem which Piotrovsky judged one of the most important in Catullus œuvre — epyllion 63.

Surprisingly Piotrovsky’s interpretation of Catullus’ poem Attis, which is discussed at length in the preface to the book, offers little help in understanding the importance and contemporaneity of the poem in its new Soviet setting. He argued, for example, explicitly against its historical and political contextualisation, and instead presented Attis as a mysterious song about a city man trading in the urban life for one of seclusion in the wild Asian nature. Paradoxically, Piotrovsky’s method of translating this metamorphosis of Attis was, in his own words, an approximation of the poem to forms of old Russian sectarian songs, whose poetics, without doubt,  goes back to the ancient mystic poetry of the East.

By choosing this peculiar source of inspiration for his 1929 translation of Attis into Russian Piotrovsky not only consciously placed his work in the realm of contemporary formalist scholars’ debates on the origins of literary genres, but also, and more importantly, closely engaged with more immediate poetical and political reality.

Trostnikova has generously offered a translation of an extract of Piotrovsky’s Catullus 63 into English (63 lines 1-25):

Attis rushed through the seas on a flying, light bark,
He hurried, swiftly running, into the thicket of Phrygian woods,
Into the mazes of greenwood shaws, to the sacred places of the goddess.
Incited by the raging passion, drunk with impetuous fury,
He whitened with a sharp stone his young body.
And feeling himself light, sensing unmanly flesh,
Aspersing with warm blood the flinty scorched meadow,
He waved in a maidenly hand the sonorous resonant timbrel.
This is your timbrel, Cybebe, your sacred, o mother, timbrel.
In the bull’s hide sunk the fingers. Under the palm [of the hand] the tambourine began to sing.
Yelling, to the obedient friends, the frantic voice appealed:
“Into the mountains, Galli! Into the forest of Cybebe! Into the mazes of the groves, do hurry up in crowds
Into the mountains, Galli! Dyndymos lady’s obedient creatures!
Swarm of exiles, it’s me that you followed towards the alien lands
Rushing you followed my tracks, obeying my speech
The saline waves did not frighten us, unstable trough of the sea did not subvert us.
Disdaining the gift of Venus, you whitened your flesh.
Rejoice, rush swiftly, let the heart leap in the chest.
Oblige the goddess! Hasten, [follow] me, Galli!
Into the Phrygian forest! Into the home of Cybebe! To the sacred Phrygian places!
There rumble resonantly the tambourine, there the cymbals  sonorously sound.
There the round dances of Maenads trample down the grass.
There the Maenads cry, swirling in the frantic dance.
There ramps the goddess’ rave-inspired host
We ought to rush there! For there desire calls us!”

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