Horace, Art of Poetry 1-9
An abrupt and striking opening. My translation attempts to keep the emphasis in the first line’s chiasmus- structure.
humano capiti cervicem pictor equinam
iungere si velit et varias inducere plumas
undique collatis membris, ut turpiter atrum
desinat in piscem mulier formosa superne,
spectatum admissi, risum teneatis, amici?
credite, Pisones, isti tabulae fore librum
persimilem, cuius, velut aegri somnia, vanae
fingentur species, ut nec pes nec caput uni
If to a human head a painter should wish to join an equine neck, and to put mottled feathers everywhere on limbs brought together from all over the place – so that a woman, shapely in her upper part, ended foully in a dark-coloured fish – would you, my friends, keep back laughter when he admitted you to a viewing? Believe me, you Pisos, a book would be very similar to that painting, if it were to be fashioned out of fancies that are false, like a sick man’s dreams, so that neither foot nor head could be related to one single form.