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their ideal illustrations which might have been by Arthur Rackham. 1 have always liked the Metamorphoses, and these transla- tions are perfect for the 1990s, ‘You cannot have everything, of course. References to the Caesars and to amber created for Roman women inject a note of bathos, and the whole idea of a continuous history of transformations down to. the pothesis of Aeneas, and the catastasis of Julius Caesar as a comet, has to be swept ‘under the carpet. I was personally grieved by the loss of Cerambus, who was turned into a stag-beetle for offending the nymphs by refusing to observe the set times for moving flocks down from the mountains. Why a stag-beetle I cannot imagine, but difficulties of scale make many transfigura- tions all the more terrifying. Ascalaphus ‘turning into an ov is measured and terrify- ing, yet Narcissus is far more convincing as a flower than he was as a boy. I fear from this last case and that of Salmacis and the composition of the first Hermaphrodite, that Ted Hughes cannot summon up the homosexual lechery which is available to the best Ovidian poets Nor are his gods perfectly convincing, but then neither are Ovid's, and he is excel- Tent with Ceres as a witch, and the oak that dooms Erisychthon. Ovid did, after all, have a strain of vulgarity that one might call hoggish, and Ted Hughes does not like to follow that. He is not addicted to Ovid's, thetoric, which had become second nature to the ancient world, though the Laureate retains more appetite for paradoxes than ‘most poets of his age. His treatment of Pyramus and Thisbe, a story Shakespeare ‘mocks, and of Venus and Adonis, which Shakespeare treated with an astonishing freshness, is evenly brilliant and makes one ‘think again twice. ‘There is a certain grandiosity, a long- windedness about Ovid that can curl around every subject like an octopus and never tire between heaven and earth, which is beyond the range of any selection or adaptation. The verse has a laureate solidi- ty, and now and again pleasantly recalls the iambic pentameter, so that it would be hard to parody. Has anything much been lost by abandoning old-fashioned English metres and old-fashioned linguistic restraint and severity? Not as much as you right darkly expect. Ovid, as he is treated here, is fresh and shocking in the precision of his cruelty, the sensuous pushing of his lechery, which was remarkable even in his Roman heyday. One can see through the translation that he took a lot from Virgil, but only like a dog tugging pieces from a as a living animal is too ‘eat a poct for his comprehension, yet it ‘may be from just such lesser poets as Ovid, with his more obvious insights, that we should seek to learn, because we have become, in a way, barbarians. We need some notes, which we do not get, about the Corinthian Bacchiae and ‘Eymanthis, let along ‘Harmonia’, if we are ‘THE SPECTATOR 10 May 1997 not to have recourse to long, full commen- taries. The introduction is one of those admirably written short essays for which the Laureate is famous, but it could be lengthened with no harm done. Some of ‘the geography in the translation comes out ‘extremely queerly, let alone the names of persons, which are queer enough in Ovid: Pandion, King of Athens, for example, who was only the personification of the Pandia, the feast of Zeus. ‘King Pandion he is dead, and all his minions lapped in lead’ that ‘is all the oldfashioned reader of poetry ever called to mind about him. ‘There are many more exciting phrases in ‘Ted Hughes, but none more oddly memo- rable, Trusted by two, loyal to one Kevin Myers FIFTY DEAD MEN WALKING by Martin MeGartland ‘Blake, £16.99, pp. 248 "Toe tecoe nee 2 1 mildly, a literary device popular in Ireland. If ever an individual could alter that narra- tive tendency, it is Martin McGartland, ‘whose informing from within the IRA 10 the RUC saved as many as 50 lives in Belfast in the early 1990s, His ultimate sur- vival apparently owed less to the care and professionalism of his masters in the RUC Special Branch than to his own cool nerve, his ingeniousness and his sturdy Ballymur- phy frame, McGartland’s is frankly an incredible tale which has been largely confirmed by reliable investigators such as John Ware and Liam Clarke. Unfortunately, McGart- land's credibility has not been enhanced by his English ghost-writer who misspells sim- ple Trish place names like Shankill Road and Enniskillen, and who even, God help tus, has McGartland referring to the ‘loo’. 1 am unconvinced too as to motive few informers work solely for the virtuous principle which McGartland’s ghost-writer Insists drove him; but then what convin: ‘motive i there for the life ofthe informer, for whom torture and execution are daily — and nightly — apprehensions? Martin McGartland was the sort of reli able mechanic-type figure IRA. commat drs felt they could speak freely infront of. But he had been an informer even before joining the IRA, and his police handlers ‘must have listened in mounting wonder as information from this raw teenage recruit soon enabled them to disrupt major TRA ‘operations on an almost daily bass. (Po bly life with his mother — a foul-mouthed hhartidan of a kind not unfamiliar to anyone who has worked in Belfast — had given him a good apprenticeship in how to dis- semble before force majeure) He was a classic agent — teetotal, hard~ working, diligent, seemingly reliable to both sets of masters, but true only to one. His schizophrenic life required breath- taking courage, for the IRA internal securi- ty unit, which rejoices in the splendidly Stalinist name of Civil Administration Team, and which could give the Geheim Staatspolizei lessons in cruelty, was and remains satanically vigilant in its pursuit of informers. ‘A most striking feature of McGartland’s tale is the intellectual and moral trviality Of those he was informing on, IRA leaders for whom the murder of insignificant mem bers of the security forces was in reality no more than an index of their determination to get what they wanted. But it was not a means; nor could it be translated into one. ‘Tree-felling could have been just as effica- cious. The ereation of a united Ireland is totally unrelated to the activities of the IRA, Which were based on primitive notions Cf organisational and personal gratification through violence, as if a terrorist killing- contest could achieve a political victory, rather as goals win a football match. Finally, already under suspicion by the IRA, he’ tipped off the RUC about a planned massacre of off-duty soldiers, insisting that he too was now in danger. ‘The massacre was prevented and some ter- rorists arrested, but he was not withdrawn. He then warned the RUC that the CAT ‘was on to him, He was promised complete surveillance and protection. ‘This did not materialise when the arrest ‘occurred. He was taken to that certain pre- ude to execution, the IRA bath — a terri- ble end in which the victim's head is repeatedly dunked in a bath full of cold water over as long a period as necessary (days, even weeks) until he or she makes @ full confession of whatever the IRA wants to hear. He escaped, miraculously, by diving head first through the plate-glass ‘window of a third storey fat ‘Terribly injured in his fall, he nonethe- less survived, and now lives in England, repeatedly changing homes and identities, beyond the reach of IRA revenge. His brother Joseph is not; so the IRA fraternal- ly strung him up by his heels and heat him with iron bars and nail-studded clubs, shat- tering his arms, legs and ribcage and erip- pling him for life This we know to be true. Perhaps some of what Martin says in this account is imag- ined. Most of itis not. It is one of the most extraordinary stories to have emerged from Northern Ireland's troubles, which, God knows, have produced few enough known heroes. Martin McGartland is one of them.