Last week, I watched Lecture 3, Rome Is An Idea. The boys and I read Book 2 aloud. Everyone is hooked – “Mom, can we read the Aeneid today?” Yes. Of course.
Another quick rave: the embedded definitions and line numbers are really, really helpful!
First, a bit about translations: I found this page which reproduces excerpts from various translations. There are quite a few, but no famous Dryden (“Arms and the man I sing”) translation. You can find that here. For this challenge, we are reading the Fitzgerald translation, which Mr. C. uses for his classes as well.
My cousin Elizabeth, a.k.a. reading mentor to my thirteen year old self, just told me she is currently reading the Aeneid in three different translations side-by-side, so I’m inspired to at least LOOK at the Latin now and then as I read. Also, my cart at Amazon currently contains the Loeb Classical Library’s Volume I and Volume II — Vergil’s Latin on the left, Fairclough’s translation on the right. Should I hit that wondrous “Buy It Now” button? or should I put them on my wish list? Such a dilemma!
Now, on to the reading itself. Right from the very first line, the Aeneid has a quicker, more urgent pace than the Iliad and the Odyssey. At first, I felt a little rushed, and even a little put out, which I do not remember feeling when I read it the last time (probably about five or six years ago). Perhaps it was because I so deeply savored my time in Homer’s epics with my students last fall.
Mr. C.’s explanation of some of the differences between Homer and Vergil helped. Where the Greeks were very much in-the-moment kind of folks, the Romans were always looking to the future and its glories. So Greek Homer speaks slowly and sketches scenes in great detail, looking you in the eye as he gauges your response. Roman Vergil, with large gestures and contagious enthusiasm, stirs up edge-of-your-seat excitement for the glorious city to come.
Lewis’ thoughts on pagan myths and the longings they stirred up for the gospel in the “nations” reminded Louis Markos’ premise in From Achilles to Christ: Why Christians Should Read the Pagan Classics:
If it is true, as Paul teaches in Acts 17:26-28, that we are made in his image, and that he is not far from us, that in him we live and move and have our being, then it must be true that those timeless works of ancient Greece and Rome that record the musings of humanity’s greatest seekers and yearners will contain traces, remnants, and intimations of that wisdom which made us.
For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them. ~ Romans 2:14-15
If we are to accept these verses in a manner that is in any way literal, we must confess that unregenerate pagans have an inborn capacity for grasping light and truth that was not totally depraved by the Fall. Indeed, though the pagan poets and philosophers of Greece and Rome did not have all the answers (they couldn’t, as they lacked the special revelation found only in Jesus), they knew how to ask the right questions—questions that build within the readers of their works a desire to know the higher truths about themselves and their Creator.”
All of which, in turn, reminds me of Calvin’s thoughts on the light of truth and the fountain of truth.
The first few lines, from the Dryden translation which Mr. C mentioned:
Arms, and the man I sing, who, forc’d by fate,
And haughty Juno’s unrelenting hate,
Expell’d and exil’d, left the Trojan shore.
Long labors, both by sea and land, he bore,
And in the doubtful war, before he won
The Latian realm, and built the destin’d town;
His banish’d gods restor’d to rites divine,
And settled sure succession in his line,
From whence the race of Alban fathers come,
And the long glories of majestic Rome.
O Muse! the causes and the crimes relate;
What goddess was provok’d, and whence her hate;
For what offense the Queen of Heav’n began
To persecute so brave, so just a man;
Involv’d his anxious life in endless cares,
Expos’d to wants, and hurried into wars!
Can heav’nly minds such high resentment show,
Or exercise their spite in human woe?
And in Latin:
Arma virumque cano, Troiae qui primus ab oris
Italiam, fato profugus, Laviniaque venit
litora, multum ille et terris iactatus et alto
vi superum saevae memorem Iunonis ob iram;
multa quoque et bello passus, dum conderet urbem,
inferretque deos Latio, genus unde Latinum,
Albanique patres, atque altae moenia Romae.
Musa, mihi causas memora, quo numine laeso,
quidve dolens, regina deum tot volvere casus
insignem pietate virum, tot adire labores
impulerit. Tantaene animis caelestibus irae?