Thursday, May 17, 2012

Book Review: The Aeneid of Virgil

The Aeneid of Virgil
Patricia Johnston trans.
Oklahoma University Press
24.95 paperback

Particia Johnston’s translation of The Aeneid seeks to recapture the majesty and beauty of Virgil’s epic poem. She sought to replace the Shakespearean meter with that used by ancient poets. And she used plain language in her prose. In every case she succeeded.

No translation can properly convey all of the beauty from the original but this does a good job. In addition to the beauty of the prose, the author included a substantial introduction covering the other works of Virgil, his cultural milieu, and an explanation of dactylic hexameter. The text included footnotes for obscure terms and a glossary of names at the end.

The poem itself infused the founding of Rome with Greek mythology. The hero Aeneas, escapes the fall of Troy. He travelled with his band to Carthage and eventually Rome. Outside of the Roman attempt to borrow and build upon Greek culture, the Roman writer infused the work with their values. This includes service to the state. In many instances an individual’s passion made them commit foolish acts. In response they were supposed to do their duty. Aeneas left his love at Carthage to fulfill his destiny at Rome. In contrast, Dido abandoned her commitment to her people and passionately killed herself. In the chaos during the sacking of Troy, Aeneas wanted to satisfy his lust for vengeance. Yet the intervention of a god opened his eyes to the hiding place of his family and reminded him of his duty.

This also extended to a concept called “Heroic Fury”. This is the tendency of individual warriors to seek glory at the expense of their duty and larger picture. Priam, the ruler of Troy, witnessed his son’s death, and despite his advanced age, donned his army and attempted to fight his son’s killer. Priam then died an ingloriously. The Latin hero, Turnus, infiltrated the settlement of Aeneas. But instead of opening the gates for his comrades which would have ensured victory, he pursued individual glory.

The poem is not only a classic of Western literature, but has personal value. We all face our journey in life. As educated individuals with the ability to read we have the chance to drink deeply from the collected wisdom and ideas of past ages. This helps us rebuild after the fall of our Troy’s and helps us appreciate and understand the emotions which drive us and conflict with our duty. I can heartily recommend Patricia Johnston’s translation of the Aenied.

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