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The Aeneid (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)
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44 of 48 people found the following review helpful
on February 2, 2007
I find the Fagles translations superb, and personally I appreciate their moderate modern colloquialism. I have read (but not listened to) his rendition of Homer's Odyssey, and I have heard (but not read) this audiobook of the Aeneid. The latter experience revealed clearly, in a way that silent reading did not, Fagles' extreme care with assonance and alliteration in his translations. This is both useful and beautiful. If you have only read Fagles' Aeneid, you may appreciate both Virgil and Fagles in new ways if you are lucky enough to hear this audio version.

Callow's performance is theatrical, yes, but I welcome that: When the storm thunders so does Callow, when a harpie screeches so does Callow. His enunciation is crystal clear and yet so agile that it carries the listener in a compelling flow. He races when the action does, and stops dead at profound moments. I felt myself in the hands of a master throughout.

Ancient poetry was meant to be performed, heard. Give yourself the gift of hearing this one -- though it's in English, those of us with no Latin could do no better than these CDs, and this is a noble and delicious English rendition.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon March 18, 2009
Allen Mandelbaum's translation of Virgil's Aeneid won the National Book Award in 1973. Of that translation Robert Fagles wrote: it "has a wonderful, detailed liveliness in every line."

That's true. I love the Mandelbaum Aeneid and have taught undergrads from it for nearly a quarter-century.

But into this year of stock depressions and women not being worthy of the Oval Office comes a ray of pure joy. (Yes, OK, Obama is a ray of hope, yes he is. But I don't teach him twice or three times a year.)

The Robert Fagles translation is beyond lively: it's lyrical. It's compelling, like the poem itself. I think it may move even the least-motivated undergrad to feel . . . . something.

Of the death of Dido:


For as she died
A death that was not merited or fated,
but miserable and before her time
and spurred by sudden frenzy, Proserpina
had not yet cut a gold lock from her crown,
not yet assigned her life to Stygian Orcus.

Since she was dying a death not merited or deserved,
no, tormented, before her day, in a blaze of passion -

While I miss the reiteration of "fate" (arguably Virgil's favorite noun) -- nam quia nec fato merita nec morte peribat,'sed misera ante diem subitoque accensa furore, -- I still find the Fagles lines more liquid and agonizing, more urgently pulling the reader along to an awful consequence.

There's a similar comparison even in the best of Mandelbaum, the speech Aeneas makes to Dido, when the reader realizes how much he hates his life and how he longs to have been allowed to stay in Troy.

And the text itself is a thousand time more helpful. Here is a longer glossary than in Mandelbaum's and maps and a genealogy and the best thing: digressive notes on the translation with sound-bites from other translations. Check out the info on the pictures on the temple doors in Book I. The best is the discussion - complete with quotes from Dryden writing about his own translation - on Mercury's line to Aeneas in 4.710-11. Anyone who doubts the inherent misogyny of Rome need read no further.

Mandelbaum probably didn't get any control over the textual apparatus in the Bantam edition, but for a teacher - and I would think, a reader - that's really beside the point. What the Fagles' translation offers is much more helpful. Much.

For this I may have to do that least-favorite thing: copy all my notes into a new edition. Sigh.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on January 9, 2007
Simon Callow is a wonderful narrator, and his booming, mellifluous voice is remarkably suited to this poem. Also, this is unabridged, which is wonderful, if rare. This recording inspired me to go out and buy the unabridged Odyssey and the (regrettably) abridged Iliad, read by Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi respectively. I wish recordings of the classics were available, unabridged, and read by any of these three masters.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on April 27, 2007
5 stars for the translation: The meaning and context is clearly understandable and easily readable. Mandelbaum's translation was very good. The Fitzgerald translation was passable. I always felt that Fitzgerald "rewrote" the Aeneid in a style HE thought should have been written. Fagles' translation does justice to Virgil in that Fagles has translated it in a style and manner more closely to what Virgil orginally wrote.

MINUS 2 stars: voicing and voice characterization
This is the most annoying aspect of this reading. Simon Callow is no George Guidall or Frank Muller as fans of recordedbooks will quickly notice.

Callow's voice characterization can only be described as high screechy/wailing and raspy for female reading parts. This includes all harpies, sibyls and most disappointing of all Dido. He just seems to use the same characterization for all of them and it gets rather tiresome quickly. And to top it off, sometimes he starts in this high screeching raspy voice and then reverts to his stentorian Shakespearean voice for the rest of the part.

Most disappointing considering that Simon Callow does have a very forceful dramatic voice when he reads in his own style. I just wish he had used it for the entire read.

MINUS 1 star: Voice dynamics
His voice dynamics is uneven...sometimes his voice is booming and at other times it is almost at an inaudible whisper. I listen to this in my car and I find that I have to rewind numerous times to hear what he said.

Summary: Until there is a better audio - read the poem instead and let your imagination take you to a time and place long gone but whose hero's travails are somehow relevant to this time and place. I guess that's why this poem is still being read today.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on December 28, 2008
Any translation of The Aeneid is an epic undertaking, so our response to it, given the tradeoffs inherent in converting Virgil's high Latin into another language, ought to be at least respectful, and moreover measured by appropriate sensitivity to the translator's purpose. And here, Robert Fagles has set out to convey the material to a modern, English-speaking audience, and he succeeds with a highly readable combination of fidelity and verve.

That's the good news. The bad news is that Fagles is writing to satisfy the proclivities--and no doubt demands--of the anti-formalists who rule academia, publishing and other outlets of our culture today, and this poem suffers for it. Where's the rhythm and musicality? On a more contested note, where's the rhyme? James Falen demonstrated the possibilities vis-à-vis his astounding translation of Eugene Onegin, but here I'm left wondering.

That's not to say the translation is artless. I loved the passages on the fall of Troy and Dido's heartbreak, where Virgil's artful narrative peeps through Fagles's deft, colloquial, and clear-eyed prose. But in other sections of this book, such as Book Five: Funeral Games for Anchises and Book Ten: Captains Fight and Die, the action is presented in a declarative, WYSIWYG style without much of the Roman poet's reputation for shading, reflectiveness and compassion. This works fine in Fagles's translation of The Iliad, which in its Greek form was a key source material for Virgil, but here Virgil's work feels debased, mass-marketed and even plagiarized.

Virgil is no carbon copy of the Greeks, as classic scholars repeatedly say, but in terms of narrative structure and character he was hardly original, either. What made Virgil special was the artisanship behind his work (which was political, but gracefully and passionately evoked the soul) and the way in which he shaped his borrowed material to his--and Augustus's and Rome's--purposes. Sadly, I couldn't find enough of Virgil's art in this edition, and my reading pleasure suffered for it.

Other translations have tried a different tack. A noteworthy example is E. Fairfax Taylor's effort The Aeneid of Virgil - Translated by E. Fairfax Taylor, first published in Spenserian English in 1907: it conveys far more of the hypnotic and cultured feel of Virgil's dactylic hexameter than does Fagles's 2006 offering, but as early 20th century date suggests, the Taylor edition does suffer from language that does, in too many places, take us away from Virgil's world. Another notable translation is Mandelbaum's The Aeneid of Virgil (Bantam Classics). Although this Bantam Classic version is presented in blank verse, the City University of New York professor displays an impressive felicity and artfulness with Virgil's text. I also recommend reading the opening essay by Moses Hadas in Bantam's The Aeneid 1961 edition.

But there's no reference edition of The Aeneid in the English language, at least as far as I can tell. I've sampled a number of them, too. Beside the aforementioned versions, I've checked out Penguin's The Aeneid (Penguin Classics) novelesque translation by David West, Stanley Lombardo's Aeneid excellent but overly conversational attempt, and Robert Fitzgerald's The Aeneid formal, archaic and somewhat inelegant example. All have their pros and cons, and in the end, the best I can say about Virgil is that, despite his enormous influence on our Western culture, he remains entombed in beautiful, mellifluous Latin, waiting, like a passage from his Fourth Eclogue, to realize his deserved actualization.

My Titles
Shadow Fields
Snooker Glen
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on June 12, 2007
This is a review of the CD audio book version of Robert Fagles' translation of Virgil's Aeneid.

Victorian Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli once quipped, "My wife is a lovely woman, but she can never remember which came first: the Greeks or the Romans." The Greeks "came first" in two senses. Their civilization produced great works of literature, philosophy and art when Rome was still a primitive village, and although the Romans later conquered the Greek world their cultural achievements never quite matched those of Greece, and they knew it.

The Aeneid is an epic poem that tells the story of Aeneas, a Trojan who flees his city as it is being sacked by the Greeks. (The story of the Trojan Horse is actually not in the Iliad, but there is a moving account of it in the Aeneid.) Aeneas wanders for many years and eventually comes to Italy and founds what becomes Roman civilization. Aeneas is thus conquered by the Greeks, but founds the civilization that will conquer them. And this poem about Aeneas is meant to rival the Iliad (with its accounts of battles) and the Odyssey (with its accounts of the wanderings of its hero on his way home).

The Aeneid is also a commentary on the politics of the era in which it was composed. Virgil lived in the time when the Roman Republic had come to an end and Octavian had succeeded Caesar as emperor. Aeneas is the supposed founder of the Roman royal line, so in honoring him Virgil is honoring his patron. And Octavian came to power only after a period of warfare (just like Aeneas). Further parallels are provided by the relationship between Aeneas and Dido, Queen of Carthage. Aeneas and Dido fall in love, and he is tempted to stay with her. But he remembers his sacred duty to found a new empire in Italy, so he leaves her behind. (I don't want to spoil the story for you, but what happens with Dido after Aeneas leaves her is one of the most famous parts of the Aeneid.) Carthage was a city that fought two wars with Rome. (Remember Hannibal leading the elephants over the alps? That was the Carthaginians.) So Aeneas's psychological victory over the temptations of Carthage foreshadows the later conflict between the empires. Furthermore, Octavian's rule was secure only after he defeated Mark Anthony. Mark Anthony allowed himself to be seduced by a foreign queen (Cleopatra in this case). So in showing Aeneas's resolve against the temptations of a foreign queen, Virgil is condemning Octavian's opponent.

The Aeneid is considered one of the greatest works (perhaps THE greatest) of Latin literature. It was so highly esteemed that it was sometimes used as a book of divination: you opened it up to a random page and stuck your finger on a line, which was your "fortune." (I tried it: apparently I am going to be shot dead with an arrow by a goddess.)

As a story, I find the Aeneid good but uneven. Parts of it are quite gripping. In addition to some of the events I've mentioned, the account of Aeneid's visit to the underworld, and the poetically appropriate punishments that the vicious receive, is engaging. We can see why Dante was so inspired by it that, in the Divine Comedy, he makes Virgil be his guide through Hell. At his worst, though, Virgil can be a bit bombastic. This isn't helped by the actor who reads the text for this audio book. His delivery reminds one of a stodgy British professor delivering a commencement address.

The CD case includes a booklet with the introduction to Fagles' translation by classicist Bernard Knox. This is very helpful, situating Virgil in his time, summarizing the poem (I found this useful as a review after having listened to the whole thing), and offering some personal reflections on the meaning Virgil has for him.

In the final analysis, the Aeneid is very good, but not as great as the Iliad or the Odyssey. I guess the Greeks do still "come first."
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on January 20, 2008
I just started this book, and have really been looking forward to it. Now Im so disapointed because I cant understand it because of the readers dramatic reading. I am still listening but Im in the market for another copy read by someone else. rb
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14 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on May 16, 2008
I think that Robert Fagles is one of the best translator of Greek and Latin in the past 50 years. I thought that the Odyssey, read by Ian McKellen, was superb, although Homer's Epic was meant to be heard. Virgil's was meant to be read, but, with the enjoyment I had listening to the Odyssey, I thought that I would give the Aeneid a try. What a horrible, horrible mistake! Simon Callow makes the Aeneid virtually intolerable. He reads Virgil's Epic as if he is mocking over-acting. In fact, if this were offered as a parody of bad reading, then most would believe it was simply too hyperbolic even to be funny. No professional reader should ever over-act this badly nor should Penguin Audio Books allow such a travesty to actually be recorded! Honestly, a high school drama student could have rendered a finer job.
The book is wonderful. The audio book is worse than I can describe!
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13 of 18 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon March 20, 2008
Virgil, or more accurately/pedantically, Publius Vergilus Maro, was a Roman poet, harkening from the latter days of the Republic. Lauded during his lifetime and throughout the subsequent ages as a supreme practitioner of the art, his work has been ably translated many times. Why another translation? Perhaps the idiom of the times demands it or perhaps ego on the part of the translator suggests a better version is in the offing. In this case, translated by the currently reigning prince of ancient Greek and Latin, Prof. Robert Fagles and lucidly introduced by his former mentor and now colleague, Prof. Bernard Knox, a brilliant effort ushers this masterpiece into the 21st Century.

As with their previous efforts (Illiad, Odyssey), this is a lapidary translation, which reads and narrates smoothly and lucidly. The translator's end-notes and "pronouncing glossary" (in actuality, a "cast of characters") handsomely complements the book. Knox's introductory notes place the work in historical context. Not having knowledge of ancient classical languages, it would be presumptuous of me to comment on the accuracy of the translation. Suffice it to note that, assuming this truly reflects the original language, it is a stellar example of the translator's art.

A post-script: Knox, in his introductory notes, describes in all-too-brief paragraphs, his experiences as a combat infantry captain during WW-II and the strange coincidence of finding, amidst the ruins of an abandoned Italian building, a copy of Virgil's, "Georgic". Knox coincidentally opens (Virgillian Lottery) to a famed passage on "...a world in ruins....Impious war is raging", this in the midst of combat. Unfortunately, Knox (born in 1914 and still intellectually nimble) has not written full-length war memoirs, but a brief essay may be found on the Internet, entitled, "Premature Anti-Fascist": it is well worth reading.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon August 29, 2008
Am reading this in a seminar on the Aeneid. Fagles' language carries one along, makes for exciting and very enjoyable reading: the glossary and notes are helpful. His version is further from the Latin than other translators---not a defect if one is reading solely for pleasure, but perhaps gives less sense of the orginal--a bit too Shakespearean at times. Of course for those reading the Latin, the very prosaic but literal translation in the Loeb edition will suffice. For what it is, an excellent effort.
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