The Aeneid of Virgil Paperback
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This classic epic poem was commissioned by Augustus Caesar in 31BC, a task which was reluctantly accepted by Virgil. Ten years of writing followed, and unfortunately the poet died, by contracting a disease, whilst returning from a trip to Athens. The epic was not fully revised by then, yet the contents of all twelve books are complete except for a rather abrupt ending.
However, just before his death Virgil left strict instructions for The Aeneid to be burnt: lost to the world for all time. Yet this commanded was counteracted by Caesar. Why was this? Why didn't Virgil want the greatest poem in Latin to be discovered for its prominence?
These are questions which will truly interest any reader. When you hold this book in your hands you cannot help thinking that Virgil did not want you to read this - if it had not been for the Imperial arm of Caesar we would be forever lacking this great Latin work. Thus a guilty feeling pervades when reading The Aeneid, moreover, those of you already well versed in Greek mythology will know that Actaeon paid very highly for his antlers, a lesson hard to forget whilst perusing prohibited splendour.Read more ›
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On the other hand, it could be argued that Fagles's verse does not convey the stately or epic quality of the Latin in the way that, for instance, Fitzgerald's does. A short comparison may suffice:
"sed nullis ille mouetur / fletibus aut uoces ullas tractabilis audit; / fata obstant placidasque uiri deus obstruit auris." (Vergil)
"But no tears move Aeneas now. / He is deaf to all appeals. He won't relent. / The Fates bar the way / and heaven blocks his gentle, human ears." (Fagles)
"But no tears moved him, no one's voice would he / Attend to tractably. The fates opposed it; / God's will blocked the man's once kindly ears." (Fitzgerald)
Fitzgerald's version is closer to the Latin (other than not using the present tense), better reflects its formal nature, and achieves a Vergilian metrical effect with the three successive beats of "God's will blocked." But Fagles's free and fluid rendition is undoubtedly more engaging to the modern reader.
Occasionally Fagles does introduce a modern idiom that is trite or jarring. For instance, when the sea-nymph speeds Aeneas's ship on its way in Book 10, she does so skillfully ("haud ignara modi") because she "knows the ropes".
The book has a useful introduction, a few notes, and a pronouncing glossary. Fagles's postscript is, however, a tedious pastiche of quotations from previous critics and could have been omitted.
So, if you just want a taste, read books 1,2,4 and 6 and if you love it, by all means read the whole epic.
For many years there was no satisfactory Virgil in modern English, and this was the first. There are now several, and many interesting, but this one should remain paramount because acquaintence with this poem is absolutely essential. It is often overlooked in world lit survey courses which go no farther than the Greeks. There is a lingering prejudice that Roman literature is inferior. That may well be generally true, but Virgil towers above all his Roman peers -- no one approaches him. He is the necessary link and pivot between the ancient understanding of man and civilization and ours; he is our ground, as Dante well recognized by honoring him as guide in the the Divine Comedy.
Love the Greeks as one must, the added dimension of heterosexual passion brought into classical literature by Virgil is breath-taking. Hopefully, you will never be the same after reading the great Aeneas-Dido affair -- to date there is really nothing like it in world literature. Oh yes, the Greeks were interested in women, even intelligent ones, especially honorouble ones, frequently devilish and playful and meddling ones. But Woman was first conveyed in all wholeness, dimensionality and grandeur by this poet -- perhaps something your teacher or mum failed to mention -- but no excuse for missing it now. Makes that business about Helen and Troy seem like bad comix . . . .
This is a lucid, graceful delivery of the Aeneid. It's an enjoyable read that moves quickly and offers more of the original than any other translation. I've read several, and this mature, well-presented work is the most useful, satisfying, and accessible of all. I cannot recommend it highly enough.