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Serendipity: “Nothing Perishes”

C. K. Scott Moncrieff, Translator

C. K. Scott Moncrieff, Translator (Painting by Edward Stanley Mercer)

This is a translation of a passage by the Roman poet Ovid from The Metamorphoses. The remarkable thing is that is was made by a thirteen-year-old boy who later grew up to translate Marcel Proust’s multi-volume masterwork, In Search of Lost Time:

Everything is changed but nothing perishes. The spirit wanders, going hence, thither, coming thence, hither and takes possession of any limbs it pleases. With equal ease it goes from beasts into human bodies and from us into beasts, nor in any length of time does it fail. And as wax is easily moulded in new shapes, nor remains as it had been before, nor keeps the same form, but is yet itself the same; so do I teach that the soul is ever the same, but migrates into different shapes.

Although many think that Scott Moncrieff’s translations are growing a little long in the tooth, there is no doubt of their excellence. As Walter Kaiser wrote in The New York Review of Books (June 4, 2015):  “Not surprisingly, Scott Moncrieff’s translations from Latin and Greek in the examination that year [1903] were awarded higher scores than anyone else’s, for it turns out that the astutely ingenious, poetic use of language for which he is celebrated in his great translation of Proust was his from an early age.”