Getting Lost in the Aeneid

Remember my great project to read more classics ? Remember when I chose the Aeneid, to be read before I attend an opera representation of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas? Well, that didn’t completely get off my radar.

But still, I wasn’t very vocal about it because I’m not there yet. There’s still a long way to go.

First it took me a while to choose which version I’d read. Because let’s face it, I’m nowhere near reading this in original voice (although I took Latin classes aeons ago), I do need subtitles, and lively ones.

I remember reading the Iliad and being mesmerized by it, so I’m very aware that I need to feel comfortable with a text and not use a stifling, scholarly one, for it will be the key to the whole experience.

I first visited Gutenberg.org and couldn’t quite swallow the classic (and MIT-approved) Dryden version that starts like that:

Arms, and the man I sing, who, forc’d by fate, / And haughty Juno’s unrelenting hate, / Expell’d and exil’d, left the Trojan shore. / Long labors, both by sea and land, he bore, / And in the doubtful war, before he won / The Latian realm, and built the destin’d town; / His banish’d gods restor’d to rites divine, / And settled sure succession in his line, / From whence the race of Alban fathers come, / And the long glories of majestic Rome.

Ugh… This would only end in disaster. Then I stopped at a very useful (albeit school-oriented) page, that led me towards Theodore C. Williams:

Arms and the man I sing, who first made way, predestined exile, from the Trojan shore to Italy, the blest Lavinian strand. Smitten of storms he was on land and sea by violence of Heaven, to satisfy stern Juno’s sleepless wrath; and much in war he suffered, seeking at the last to found the city, and bring o’er his fathers’ gods to safe abode in Latium; whence arose the Latin race, old Alba’s reverend lords, and from her hills wide-walled, imperial Rome.

I started to breathe a bit better (but still the “whence” made me cringe), then I got to the modern one, from A.S. Kline:

I sing of arms and the man, he who, exiled by fate, first came from the coast of Troy to Italy, and to Lavinian shores – hurled about endlessly by land and sea, by the will of the gods, by cruel Juno’s remorseless anger, long suffering also in war, until he founded a city and brought his gods to Latium: from that the Latin people came, the lords of Alba Longa, the walls of noble Rome.

It makes a world of difference, isn’t it? It was funny to see how, for example, Juno’s unrelenting hate morphed into sleepless wrath, then into remorseless anger. It really doesn’t convey the same images, right? And of course, I don’t know which one, if any, is closer to the original.

Then I went to my neighborhood library and setting aside my previous considerations, I ended up choosing a French classic edition from the Association Guillaume Budé, a version that most French students like because the original Latin faces the French translation and there are plenty of notes (and a map! love maps!). I found it surprisingly lively and still different from the English translations.

I’m currently on Book 6 (slow and steady is my thing), I’ll be commenting some more in the next few days, probably using both French and whichever English version that would be closer to the French one.

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2 thoughts on “Getting Lost in the Aeneid

  1. This is wonderful – translation is so essential, isn’t it? What a great idea to read it in French, with the Latin, and taking a peek at the English from time to time. I haven’t read The Aeneid since my Greco-Roman Civ glass in high school, but I loved my Iliad reread a few years ago and should plan something similar for the Aeneid.

  2. Translation makes the world of difference. I don’t think I would get very far with that first translation. It does sadden me, though, that I’m basically limited to reading in English. Have tried — not too successfully — at reading some works in French, but there are always long stretches between reading sessions as it takes quite a bit of energy to do. Looking forward to reading your follow up posts on the Aeneid. Would love to here more of your thoughts as you progress through this with the translation differences between your French version and the English versions you use for your posts.

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