Robert Fitzgerald did not write the Aeneid. Virgil did. I will get that out of the way at the gate so no one things that I am that dense about the subject matter of this review. However, if ever there is a genre that does much to prove the notion that ‘one never reads a translated author, one only reads the translators’, that genre would be epic poems. I am bothered by the number of verse translations ones find of the epic poems when one goes hunting for them in a used book store. I feel like they are doing a disservice to the work, a particularly egregious disservice that seems to think the only value in the work is the narrative itself.
Homer gets a worsened version of the same treatment, where most people mistake the story of The Iliad as being the story of the Trojan War. That’s just the setting. I think it’s a telling fact, because the narrative of these stories, when described as plots, probably wouldn’t hold much sway over modern attention spans. What is The Aeneid about? Roughly, it is about the journey of a minor character from the Iliad all the way to Italy, where he ultimately ends up being the founder of what would later become the Roman empire. That’s why fidelity to the original verse of it is so important – it illustrates the immense feat of this work much more than the synopsis ever would.
I am bad at reading poetry. Unfortunately, I would go so far as saying that I am very bad at it. I have a pretty solid idea as to how this was meant to be read, and I tried to keep that in mind as I read it. That being said, the meter is hard to fathom, despite my actually having heard it at some point in some of the classic’s classes I took for my undergrad. But for what little expertise I have to go by, I do think the translation was excellent. I didn’t try to count the syllables (as that would be insane) but I do feel like there was a rhythm maintained throughout the work. Though I didn’t enjoy just how much name dropping there was in this book, particularly when they are names I neither knew nor could pronounce. I’m not kidding when I say that someone could splice into this text the ingredient list of some of the counter medication and I wouldn’t have notice the difference from all the Roman and Greek names in it.
Actually, those undergraduate classes saved my enjoyment of this work. The Aeneid is a work of propoganda – it served to tie Rome to the grandeur they saw in the Ancient Greeks, and showed that anything the Greeks had they could also have, and this time better. Odysseus went to the underworld? Yea, well so did Aeneas! That’s pretty much the gist of the book, that and setting it up so that Aeneas, who had a Goddess mother, could not only establish what would ultimately become the Roman empire, but be a direct ancestor to Augustus Cesar, who just so happened to pretty much finance this book. If you know the details, this book becomes a lot more interesting.