Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Aeneid by Virgil: Part 1 (including Dryden's Dedication)

In his dedication, John Dryden makes the basic High, Middle, Low Brow argument in poetry.  There are poets for the belching groundling, poets from those who have had a taste of quality, and poets who reflect the highest aspirations of humankind.  That latter group, it should surprise no one, is the group in which he places the work he has just spent a great deal of time, money, and energy in translating.  So far in my reading I see no reason to contradict the poet. 

Dryden, in fact, struck me as being a bit charmingly giddy in his Dedication to the Most Honorable John, Lord Marquis of Normanby Earl of Mulgrave, &C and Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Garter (portraited above).  My one critique came from just having read Frank O. Copley's introduction to his own translation in which Copley transgresses far more egregiously in comparing great works of literature to other great works of literature.  This seems to be a strong temptation.  Dryden does it, Copley does it, even Harold Bloom did it in the Don Quixote introduction.  I am sure I've done it and, much like training one's self to stop cussing, while I may slip and do it again, I shall endeavor to be more mindful in the future.

That having been said, the influence of this work upon Shakespeare's Hamlet is undeniable.  Hamlet requests the speech of Aeneas' tale to Dido about Priam's murder.  The arrival of the ghost of his father is almost interchangeable in the two pieces.  I could go on, but a resolution broken is not to be reveled in.

Dryden does offer some fine insight into the work we're about to read.  He suggests that Aeneas might be a stand-in for Caesar Augustus.  He also points out a time of different, pre-Christian morality.  Although I found this was a point where my own reaction was different, I was pleased that he illuminated this point before reading the work.  My main difference came in the story of Dido and Aeneas.  Dryden says that Aeneas retaining the status of hero after shucking Dido reflects this primitive morality.  While my spiritual perspective would like to agree with him on that point, I felt that Virgil does not elevate Aeneas in that action.  It is entirely possible that my mind is far too poisoned by the modern to grasp this sort of heroism, but when Aeneas is out at sea looking back at the shore and saying "I say!  I wonder what that large bonfire is all about!  Oh well, let's go play sports for a chapter or so!"  I felt he came off perfectly beastly.

We will return to Dryden later.  Soon we will reach what seems to be a volume of influential English plays which includes All For Love

I am likely predictable in one of my favorite passages thus far: the story of the death of Laocoön and his sons.  Returning readers will remember my mini-obsession with the story as it appears in art.  Virgil's telling of the story was sublime.  Here, I shall read it to you:

I feel as if I have adequately masticated the scenery.

There is something about the story of the gods sending death to someone, and to innocents even, with no warning and nothing they can do to stop it that speaks to the human condition to me.  At some point in life, we are all Laocoön.

There is a point that I made to Laurie the other day sparked from this reading which I will just throw out there for general analysis:  In the times of the giants upon whose shoulders we stand, some of the people whose thought carried the most weight frequently turned their attention to the subjects of prophecy and the afterlife.  Granted, so have a gross legion of utter fools.  Today those are not generally topics covered by the sort of people you would like to take seriously.  I wonder if that speaks to a quality of our times or a quality of our people. 

I would also call attention to the manly character of Aeneas which includes a great deal of weeping.  Every time he weeps, I feel something I have felt for some time, which is to say the increasing absurdity of treating gender traits as concrete.  

I am currently midway through the journey of this book in which our hero pays a social call to the Land of the Dead (as if I'm not going to spend enough time in the Land of the Dead.  For some reason I feel like I have to spend a vast portion of this life thinking about it).  I expect to finish the piece fairly quickly (although I hesitate to predict in these matters).  I must say that while I expect to return and read the Dryden someday, I have not regretted for one instant choosing to read the actual text in the Fagles translation.

More soon.

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