Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Aeneid- Conclusion: We Need To Talk About Virgil

Boy oh boy, that got violent!  The ancients up through modern times put Virgil at the pinnacle of great poets.  Dante considered him great enough to be the closest to redemption of the unredeemed.  Today if Virgil turned this work in to his high school creative writing class he would be suspended and sent to the school psychiatrist.  Thus falls the concept of an evolving civilization.

Let's employ an example that will also serve as a comparison between the Fagles translation and the Dryden.  First, here's a passage from Book Ten in the Fagles (I won't even try to reproduce the verse line breaks):
"Now up steps Clausus from Cures, flushed with his young strength and flings his burly spear from a distance, hitting Dryops under the chin full force to choke the Trojan's throat as he shouted, cutting off both his voice and life in the same breath, and his brow slams the ground as he vomits clots of blood."
And now the same passage in the Dryden:
"In the pride of youth the Sabine Clausus came, And from afar, at Dryops took his aim. The spear flew hissing thro' the middle space, And pierc'd his throat, directed at his face; It stopp'd at once the passage of his wind, And the free soul to slitting air resign'd: His forehead was the first that struck the ground; Lifeblood and life rush'd mingled thro' the wound."
This illustrates, for me at least, why I chose the Fagles.  The Greeks need that poetic majesty, but the Latins are so very Roman.  I may be exaggerating, but it seemed to me like the second half of the book was primarily like this passage, what with all of the gentlemen's brains dripping down the side of their faces and blood gushing from open cavities in their chests.  I really appreciated a text that drove forward so briskly.  More grey matter with less art.

All that having been said, it is clear that this is a great work of literature.  It is a rollicking good read, one that I imagine a 12 year old version of my self would have loved (and that is not meant as a backhanded compliment).  But what did I glean from the experience?

I suppose it reinforced the writing advice of "show, don't tell."  That is to say, when writing narrative, show the audience what you want them to see, don't point it out.  No long soliloquies here.  The fourth wall is firmly in place.  I kept thinking of Hemingway and, likewise, felt a little convicted over my own smarty-pants leanings towards the clever.  A well told story is simply a well told story.  There is little better in this world than a well told story.

There is also getting another cultural key in one's tool belt.  This is one of the most influential pieces of literature in human history.

Also, it is the perfect thing to be reading while you are recovering from a head cold.  It's hard to feel too bad about a stuffy nose when you're reading about self-immolation, decapitation, serpent constriction, and amateur thoracoscopy.

Fun read.

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