Monday, September 16, 2013

The Aeneid: A Multipart Review - Introduction

The Journey of Aeneas

Much as I enjoy reading epic poetry, I don’t enjoy reading epic poetry.  What I mean is that I don’t like reading it in black and white, on paper and ink, out of an honest-to-oh-so-goodness book.  Frankly my mind starts wandering and my eyes start skimming the lines.

So when I read epic poetry—or really any long book that might tempt me into this half-hearted reading—I listen to it on audiobook.   Not only is this an authentic way of enjoying things like Homer’s The Odyssey, but it is also a way to get a lot of reading done when you’re doing other things like driving or folding laundry—hopefully not both of those activities at the same time, that’s taking multitasking TOO far!

Therefore this is how I read The Aeneid by Virgil.  I listened to the Blackstone Audio book read by Frederick Davidson and translated by W. F. Jackson Knight.  I specify the reader and translator because both of these roles are important factors in how the audience (me, in this case) understands and enjoys an audio presentation of a story that was written in a dead language. 

You’ll notice that this review is only Part One.  That is not only because this is an epic poem of epic proportions—thus taking more than one blog entry to cover the plot—but also because there are a lot of different topics I’d like to focus on from The Aeneid which I would rather not jumble up into one entry anyway.  Long story short, this book gave me a lot of feelings.

This was surprising to me.  Usually when I read a book I catch on to one or two central themes, a few characters whose complexity intrigues me, or I focus on the author’s voice or underlying motivations.  I wasn’t really expecting Virgil to be very complex—I’ve read several other translations from Ancient Rome, mostly nonfiction like histories or epistles, but the Roman voice speaks plain English (or plain Latin, I guess), straightforward and pithy.  I guess I was expecting The Aeneid to be like The Odyssey or The Epic of Gilgamesh.  It’s not…although it makes for a good comparison with those and many other texts….

But I’m getting ahead of myself there.

I’ll merely introduce this series of reviews on The Aeneid by telling of my first encounter with the story.  It was in my History of Music class in college, and we listened to the opera Dido and Aeneas by Henry Purcell, specifically the death scene of Dido where she sings “Remember my fate!” to her unhelpful servant girl (who should be calling an ambulance).  The way the woman sang it in the opera, however, she kept mispronouncing “fate” so that it sounded like “Remember my feet.” 

So this is the preconception I had as I embarked on reading The Aeneid. 


PARENTAL NOTES: Lots of gore.  LOTS. 
AVAILABILITY: As with almost every traditional epic poem, the translator plays and important role, and translation preferences differ from reader to reader.  I personally own the Robert Fitzgerald translation because I’ve preferred Fitzgerald’s other work.

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