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The Aeneid Hardcover – 2004
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After Augustus was estabished as emperor of Rome following the battle of Actium (31 B.C.), the wealthy literary patron Maecenas urged the leading poets of the city to write an epic celebrating Augustus's triumph. Horace and Propertius declined; Virgil took up the challenge. He spent the last ten years of his life working on the AENEID, the Trojan hero who fled the burning ruins of Troy with his father Anchises on his back, to Latium, in Italy where he became, ultimately, the founder of Rome. The poem is modeled on Homer's epics in both its verse form (dactylic hexameters) and organization. From its immortal opening words, "Arma virumque cano" ("I sing of arms and the man"), to famous scenes such as Aeneas's long visit to the underworld (where Augustus's reign is foretold), the AENEID has held a primary place in Western literature for two thousand years.
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Top Customer Reviews
I don't like to read translations because I know that so much is lost from the original language. As a poet and writer, I know how important the play of language is, its rhythms, a word's several meanings.
But when it comes to The Classics, I have to set that issue aside and try to find the "best" translation I can find. I also realize that people in antiquity read aloud, even when alone. This was such a common practice, in fact, that Augustine remarked in his Confessions (c. 398) how surprised he was when he found a friend in his room reading to himself, silently. So, when I learned of Robert Fagles translation of Virgil's The Aeneid, I got excited. The NYT wrote of it: "Fagles always aimed to produce translations for reading aloud, and for his translations to be fully savored you have to take them in by the ear."
I downloaded Fagles' The Aeneid as an audiobook and started listening. But I soon found myself getting "lost" while listening. Maybe it was me as a modern reader (not a listener), maybe it was the flow of words. The language seemed so rich that it felt like I was hitting a wall of sound and words. The story was there somewhere but I had a hard time following it. So, I bought a paperback copy of the book, too. Then I listened and followed the text as well. What a delightful experience! I could follow along the text and listen, and I have to say, it was incredible.
Now that I've finished this Fagles translation, I just might try his Homer. I've already read Pope's translation of both The Illiad and The Odyssey. But now I feel encouraged to try listening to both. I did not understand what was meant by "epic poetry" until I read those two works. Now, with Virgil's The Aeneid, my trifecta is complete.
If you've hesitated about The Classics, don't. Jump in here with Fagles' The Aeneid. And to feel the joy of the language that Virgil wanted his audience to experience, give it a listen, too. It just might open a whole new world for you, as the poet meant it to be.
12.940, Latin flectere, Mand. "move," Fagles "sway"; 12.941, Latin infelix, Mand. "luckless," Fagles "fateful"; 12.943, Latin Pallantis pueri, Mand. "of Pallas, of the boy," Fagles "young Pallas"; 12.944, Latin straverat, Mand. "stretched," Fagles I forget exactly, something like laid low, felled, killed, etc.
My judgment on these differences: Fagles' words are diffuse and lose some of Mandelbaum's admirable simplicity and directness. When he chooses to be less literal, it seems he's aiming for polish, which I don't want. No doubt he wants to avoid vulgar overliteralness--he knows that the Romans didn't feel the full specific and literal impact of every verbal stem--but instead of deepening the accuracy through attention to idiom, I feel that his choices intrude just a bit too much stuffiness between me and Virgil. Mandelbaum is passionate, his Virgil's pathos unmistakably aimed at the English reader's heart (much like his Dante). Fagles is refined, but without the crisp focus refinement needs. Mandelbaum writes a noble and sober American English that is literary in all of the good senses but none of the bad.
I'll be the first to admit that these are quick and irrational prejudices speaking. I enjoy reading Homer in Greek and Virgil in Latin, and I enjoy reading these epics in English. I will say that Fagles' Virgil is way better than his Homer, where he seizes on every stately epithet and falsely tries to wring dramatic significance out of it (I prefer Lattimore: let Homer speak for himself in his own language). But I beg you, even if you loved Fagles' Homer, check out Mandelbaum's Virgil, because you may not know what you're missing.
Bottom line: Anyone who thought Fitzgerald was better than Mandelbaum should give Fagles a good look, because these two versions do rival each other. But no one who appreciated what Mandelbaum achieved beyond Fitzgerald will find any reason to abandon Mandelbaum here.