Thursday, September 6, 2012
On Getting To Read The Aeneid
Some of you may know that I used to operate an online used book business, in fact it was my primary source of income for several years back in the '00s when you could do things like that, back before the companies that hosted online used booksellers caught on that they could bleed their sellers dry with fees and long before eBooks were practical. When I closed up shop, we culled all of the titles that we thought we might like to own. The Aeneid was one such title, so I owned a copy that happens to be the one that I had for sale at one time. It's the copy on top of the stack in the photograph.
They have the entire Harvard Classics Library at my local lending library, but I prefer to own copies of the books I am reading, because I like to destroy them with underlining, margin notes, and dog-ears. So, on Saturday, I began to read the Frank O. Copley translation in the yellow book in the picture and found it... entirely unreadable. Have you ever had the experience where you are reading something and you realize "Oh, wait a minute. I did not comprehend a single thing that I just read. Better go back and try that again" and you go back and have the exact same thought just slightly after where you read the previous go? Okay, now have you ever had that in the first two pages of a book?!!? This is new to me. And I was really trying.
I would have despaired at this point were it not for the knowledge that Robert Fagles has a translation of the book in print. It was Saturday and I didn't have to work, so I walked downtown, a half an hour each way in the early September heat, to our two used bookstores, finding that:
1) neither used bookstore had a copy in stock and
2) my town has turned into something like The City of Destruction, but with the hospitality of Sodom.
So, I went to the lending library and found the Fagles immediately. In doing so, I passed the Harvard Classics and thought "Hey, let's see which translation they have in the actual assigned text."
It was the Dryden, which some part of my brain knew was the preferred academic text (at least in Dr. Eliot's time.) But, more to the point, it came to my attention that there was a Dedication to his patron by John Dryden upon the publication of the translation in 1697. The Dedication was almost as long as the poem itself and I realized that Dr. Eliot wanted me to read that Dedication.
There in the library, I sighed and made my decision. I would check out both of the volumes that were in my hands. I would read Mr. Dryden's Dedication like a good boy, then begin to read Mr. Dryden's translation. If I didn't like it, I would then switch over to the Fagles for the actual text, returning to the Harvard Classics for the afterword.
So, I am enjoying the Fagles tremendously.