The Aeneid (Vintage Classics)

The Aeneid - Virgil, Robert Fitzgerald Even from my first read, I thought the Aeneid was one of those classic works that read like an adventure novel. I teased my friend the Latin scholar that it’s Roman Imperialist propaganda, and it is. But as she replied, “Yeah, but by that era’s equivalent of Shakespeare.” And you know, after all, Macbeth is Jacobean propaganda, designed to flatter Shakespeare’s new patron, King James. But of course it’s more than just propaganda and the same can be said of the Aeneid. For one, and this really struck me on second read, it’s one of the best works of fanfic I’ve ever read. Seriously. Maybe it’s that it wasn’t that long ago that I had reread Homer’s Odyssey, but this read the similarities were really striking. By that I don’t mean the Aeneid is simply a sequel of sorts, telling the story of Troy’s survivors, but there are similarities in the phrasing and structure and obvious parallels in events: Aeneas tells the story of his voyages to Dido, just as Odysseus tells the story of his wanderings to his host. Aeneas, like Odysseus, has to pass between Scylla and Charybdis; they encounter the Cyclops and even take aboard one of Odysseus’ stranded shipmates. Athena is Odysseus’ patron goddess, Venus is that of Aeneas. (Well, she’s his mom.) Both travel to the underworld. Homer still wins though--if only because Odysseus is awesome, while Aeneas is a prig. I also noted this time around how much Book VI on the underworld reminded me of Dante’s Inferno. It’s clear why Vergil is Dante’s guide through two-third’s of the Divine Comedy--it’s not simply admiration, but obviously inspiration: The way downward [to Hell] is easy from Avernus. Black Dis’ door stands open night and day. But to retrace your steps to heaven’s air; there is the trouble, there is the toil. Did I mention much of the imagery, even in translation, is beautiful? Because it is. Mind you, my friend says she didn’t fall in love with the Aeneid until she read it in the original Latin. I don’t have that option. She suggested that if I must read it in English, to read the translation by G. B. Cobbold. I didn’t find that easily available however, so I chose Robert Fitzgerald’s translation for this second time around--his rendition of Homer is what first made me fall in love with that poet. Even my friend admitted that would be... acceptable. I did like it, but my paperback edition with his translation had no footnotes, so that, for instance, when Vergil presents Aeneas with a vision of Rome’s future, I didn’t get all the allusions. That I got as much as I did is due to reading I’ve done of Roman history and historical fiction, otherwise I’d have been clueless. So thank you Suetonius, Colleen McCullough and Robert Graves. But until my friend writes her own translation, or I learn Latin, Fitzgerald will have to do. I certainly found his translation natural and flowing. Dryden’s translation, which you can find for free online, including on Project Gutenberg? Uh. No. There is a decent translation by A. S. Kline you can download for free here: http://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/Latin/Virgilhome.htm