- Posted by Stephen Whiteley
- On 10/03/2011
- baldies, Latin, literature, Shakespeare, Translation
Writing which responds to curious typographical constraints has a long and eccentric history. Hucbald (c. 850 – 930), Frankish monk and godfather of music theory, is best remembered (by those who remember such things) as the author of Ecloga de calvis, or ‘In Praise of Bald Men‘, every single word of which starts with the letter ‘c’.
Here are the opening lines:
Carmina convitii cerritus, carpere calvos
Conatus, cecinit: celebrentur carmine calvi
Conspicuo clari; carmen cognoscite cuncti.
As Hucbald’s only translator Thomas Klein observes, the Ecloga poses special problems. A translation into English which follows the same pattern would of course be impossible, not least because the only word we have for ‘calvis’ begins with ‘b’. He rather cleverly sidesteps this problem by alternating ‘c’ and ‘b’ lines:
A brainless bloke has badly abused the bald,
Composing crude carols: so commend in chorus
The blameless bald, and bellow the ballad besides.
It will be observed that Klein has allowed himself a certain leeway with regard to ‘filler’ words. Not so David Crystal in his dazzling retelling of Hamlet, using only words which begin with the letter ‘h’:
Francisco: Ho! Henchman?
Francisco: Hey, hour heedfully heeded.
Barnado: Horological halfnight has happened. Hop home.
Francisco: Hokay. Horrendously heatless. Heartsick.
Barnado: Have had harmony here?
Francisco: Housemice have hushed.
(And so on, for another 15 pages…)