Friday, November 26, 2010

Addendum to the below (& perhaps a mortal blow for my potential use of Sarah Ruden's version of the Aeneid in next semester's class): These sentences that open her introduction:
I am in awe of scholars who can expertly debate Vergil's political purpose and attitude; I find him difficult just to read. In part, I blame the half-finished state of his epic: only twelve out of the projected twenty-four books exist, and many lines are two- or three-word fragments.
First off, it's bad to start out your intro with an "aw-shucks-Miz-Scarlett-ah'm-just-a-translator-&-don't-know-nothin'-'bout-scholarship"; it may establish your poetic bona fides, but it gives no comfort to those who hope to find in your translation a firm grasp not merely of the Latin language but of the poem as a whole, which has been thought about by scholars – sometimes very fruitfully indeed – for some two millennia now.

But where in the Sam Hill did she get that business about only 12 of 24 books being finished?? Of course, there are indeed around 60 partial lines in the poem. That's explained by Virgil's method of composition: he'd write a prose draft, then versify in blocks; when he got stuck, he'd leave a half-line, which he called tibicines (props), to support the overall structure until he could raise the final columnes (pillars). Virgil had worked on the epic for some 10 years when he died in 19BCE, & he was projecting another three years' work to "finish" it – polish it up, remove inconsistencies like those you find thruout Homer, and finish up those half-lines. But by no means could he have been intending another 12 books.

I'm no classicist, tho I did my stint of Virgil back in high school Latin (books I thru VI, if I remember rightly). But I've got a stack of classicists' books scattered around the house & the office, & nowhere can I find a projected 24-book length to the Aeneid. K. W. Grandsen, in his little Cambridge UP guide (where I also picked up the snazzy factoids about the tibicines & columnes), puts it most forcefully: "It should however be emphasized that the poem, though unrevised, is in no sense incomplete or unfinished (as Spenser's Faerie Queene is unfinished)."

Please, somebody who knows more about this than I do – who's plugged into the most recent Virgil scholarship – prove me wrong. Otherwise I'm going to to irrevocably lose faith in the whole academic publishing industry – or at least in the Yale UP copy editor who let that sentence get onto the first page of this highly-promoted translation.
The Thanksgiving celebration, by the way, was lovely. Not least for the fact that we were invited to some dear friends' house, where the food was delicious and the alcohol flowed freely, & I didn't have to cook anything more than a bowl of Gujerati string beans.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Isn't is the case that 12 books = 50% of either the Iliad or Odyssey = V's modest nod to Homer?