Cicero on his happy labors, and the differences in translation

Reading away on On Moral Ends this week, which is a good deal more charming than I thought it would be, and I came upon this happy statement, in response to the anticipated question: should serious men be spending their time on philosophy?

Well, Cicero has an answer:

Sive enim ad sapientiam perveniri potest, non paranda nobis solum ea sed fruenda etiam est; sive hoc difficile est, tamen nec modus est ullus investigandi veri nisi inveneris, et quaerendi defetigatio turpis est cum id quod quaeritur sit pulcherrimum.

Here’s Rackham:

If Wisdom be attainable, let us not only win but enjoy it; or if attainment be difficult, still there is no end to the search for truth, other than its discovery. It were base to flag in the pursuit, when the object pursued is so supremely lovely.

By contrast, Raphael Woolf:

And if its attainment is hard, there is none the less no end to the search for truth except discovery. To tire of the search is disgraceful given that is object is so beautiful.

I have to admit, I do like the “supremely lovely” phrasing from Rackham. I am always one for adverbs despite all the prohibitions that good writers don’t use them. How else do you really translate that in a way that captures Cicero’s “pulcherrimum?”

Latin is a pithy language; English is often not. Translators have a tough time with Cicero simply because his Latin is, by consensus, excellent, but also laden with clauses that without all the guideposts that cases in Latin provide, become English gobbledygook. I very much appreciate Woolf’s willingness to simply come back with another sentence, even if it is a bit out of order, on the hope of not leaving a single clause out. Here, he allows the reader the point about Chremes about wanting not merely to save labor but menial labor (long story), and then Woolf loops back to capture an idea that is hard to get into prior sentences:

But those who take offense at a pursuit, such as mine, which gives me nothing but joy, are simply prying.

You tell ’em, Cicero.