Three Translations of Virgil
By Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey
. . . O queen, it is thy will
I should renew a woe can not be told,
How that the Greeks did spoile and overthrow
The Phrygian wealth and wailful realm of Troy,
Those ruthfull things that I myself beheld,
And whereof no small part fell to my share.
Which to express who could refrain from teres?
What Myrmidon, or yet what Dolopes?
What stern Ulysses waged soldiar?
And loe, moist night now from the welkin falles,
And starres declining council us to rest.
By John Dryden
Great queen, what you command me to relate
Renews the sad remembrance of our fate:
An empire from its old foundations rent
And every woe the Trojans underwent;
A peopled city made a desert place;
All that I saw and part of which I was
Not e'en the hardest of our foes could hear,
Nor stern Ulysses tell, without a tear.
And now the latter watch of wasting night,
And setting stars to kindly rest invite.
By Robert Fagles
. . . Sorrow, unspeakable sorrow,
my queen, you ask me to bring to life once more,
how the Greeks uprooted Troy in all her power,
our kingdom mourned forever. What horrors I saw,
a tragedy where I played a leading role myself.
Who could tell such things -- not even a Myrmidon,
a Dolopian, or comrade of iron-hearted Ulysses --
and still refrain from tears? And now, too,
the dank night is sweeping down from the sky
and the setting stars incline our heads to sleep.
From Dick Davis' review of The Aeneid, a new translation by Fagles recently released by Viking, from Sunday's Washington Post Book World. "A new translation of the Roman epic collides with recent trends in English," reads the sub-header, which struck me as particularly interesting at the moment given that I spent the morning following the latest trend in gratuitous Harry Potter fic insults, which involve objecting that one simply cannot read a freely available, written-for-fun story that contains a word too "American" for her taste in proper British English. (I had no idea that British English had become such a consistent, uniform language...is that a result of BBC Radio and TV in everyone's home wiping out the more extreme regionalisms of the Pygmalion era and before, or has the UK finally created its own Academie to prevent the sort of spontaneous linguistic evolution that makes English so rich and complicated to study, both in the UK itself and in its numerous former colonies?)
Anyway, now that I know better than to try to read The Aeneid at all, since it's not in my native language and any translator might slip up and use a colloquial phrase so utterly inappropriate as to throw me out of the story, I figured I should pay more attention to this review, which finds that the "catch-all form [Fagles] has chosen simply does not lend itself to sustained heroic narrative." Davis calls Virgil the first and greatest of the court poets, Emperor Augustus's favorite (perhaps because The Aeneid makes him look so good), and which is unapologetically martial in its view of the necessity of conquest. "We are dealing not merely with warfare itself, but with war in the service of a conquering occupying power and an imperial family," writes Davis. "The Aeneid has left strong footprints in the soil of English poetry," nowhere more apparently than in the Earl of Surrey's mid-1500s translations. "In order to translate Virgil, Surrey invented blank verse and, at a stroke, invested the form with the associations of nobility, not to say sublimity, that it has retained for more than 500 years." As translations go, "for pathos and sheer beauty, Surrey wins hands down; his lines about the declining stars are Shakespearean in their charm. He also has a certain dry efficiency that can be very satisfying."
Dryden, on the other hand wrote in the late 17th century, with English imperialism rising to the height of its powers, "and virtually canonized the heroic couplet as the primary narrative form for the next hundred years...Dryden lets much of the pathos and complication go by with merely a nod (the declining stars don't count for much, and he paraphrases away those pesky Myrmidons and Dolopians), but he has a felicitously exact way of laying out the essentials." For better or worse, notes Davis, modern readers "probably now lack the Victorian sense that an empire (or at least our empire) is on balance a good thing," plus there is no longer a consensus that meter in poetry is a valuable, inherent part of the narrative. Since World War II in heroic poetry, "when the action is tense, you bunch the stressed syllables; when it's less tense, you have more sprinkles." So in these three versions of Aeneas' response to Dido's request that he describe his travels beginning with the fall of Troy, Fagles comes out "hit and miss" for Davis: "The repetition of 'sorrow' is certainly effective (never mind that it's not there in the Latin), and 'unspeakable' is terrific (for the Latin 'Infandum'). But the metrical sprawl produces moments of real bathos; 'a tragedy where I played a leading role myself' is far weaker than the equivalent lines in Surrey or Dryden, and the declining stars passage comes across as overwritten and too intent on provocative effect ('dank,' 'sweeping')...at its best, it can produce beautifully arresting moments among the bumbling and bathos."
While I'm on the subject of Virgil and empire, I might as well talk about Rome and Battlestar Galactica first and Epic Movie second. Am thinking maybe I should watch The Dresden Files with the kids at 9 and watch Rome on On Demand some other night, because I really don't like having them coming in the room when that airs...between the teen boy prostitutes, the bloody onscreen murders and the numerous other things they don't need to see even in passing, this is not a great 9 p.m. hour for us. Of course, it does have some moments so wonderful that I get distracted...Cicero to Antony, "You're Rome's Helen of Troy!" And the Jews teaching their kids to read Hebrew and Pullo not being able to leave Vorenus no matter how insane Vorenus gets. I am going to be very upset if Atia dies, not because she doesn't deserve it but because I want her around when Antony gets it on with Octavia! And that sleazy kid...ugh. I hope Vorenus ultimately gives him what he deserves.
BSG again had enough great moments to make up for the storylines I don't like (yeah, I know, I'm a horrible sexist Dirk Benedict lover but if I didn't like Starbuck first season or last season then no way am I going to like her this season!) Baltar, however, rocks. I mean, he's pathetic and despicable and I can't even really feel sorry for him, but the acting is so good that watching him is endlessly compelling. And Roslin and Adama! Were they about to go to bed together at the end of that episode?! Or do they often sit around with her lying on a bed and him sitting on it and her stroking his leg and I just never noticed before? I know, I swore I didn't care and I really don't want to care but ohhhyes, give me THAT romance and the heck with the "of course we have to stay with our spouses so we can continue to angst over each other and eventually cheat with each other some more and drag this idiocy out for more episodes!" quadrangle. ETA: Television Without Pity's recaplet notes that the scene where Roslin interrogates Caprica Six is cut so that Lee and Tyrol can bitch about their wives. Yeah, I really despise that entire storyline...
Again I watched Dresden Files with less attention than the previous two shows, nicely filmed and well acted but just not grabbing me at that gut level although I like the relationship between both Harry and Bob (kind of twisted Buffy and Giles with a bit of Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan thrown in) and Harry and Connie (though the dialogue at the end was so Clark/Lana that I wanted to cry). Will probably watch more carefully if this does become our 9 p.m. show -- even this is a bit violent for my taste in family entertainment -- plus I have the first episode free via iTunes so the kids can see that. And I love all the shots of Chicago...they make me nostalgic!
Epic Movie...okay, if you respect me for my strong feminist stance in my Star Trek reviews and stuff, could you please stop reading right now? Because this film is made for pre-pubescent boys, which means that there are boob jokes and pee jokes and booty jokes that make Night at the Museum seem sophisticated and mature. The movie is exactly what you'd expect...a conglomeration of jokes Mad Magazine has already made about The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Da Vinci Code, Pirates of the Caribbean, The X-Men, The Lord of the Rings, Nacho Libre, Borat, Snakes on a Plane, Harry Potter, Click, Superman, Star Wars, Cribs and various smaller targets like Brangelina, Mel Gibson, Michael Jackson and Paris Hilton. Oh, and lots of MTV babes with boobs bouncing in slow motion...did I mention the boobs? And I howled, absolutely howled, through most of the movie. It's very short, barely an hour and a half (stay through the credits!) so none of the sillier jokes have time to get bogged down, and the casting of faux famous people is spot-on. It helps immensely to watch in a theater completely packed mostly with teenagers who are laughing their heads off.
Several running jokes are superbly done: "Jack Swallows" *snerk* on the Hamster Wheel of Doom; Fred Willard's "Aslo" (half-man, half-lion, all total skank and definitely not Jesus metaphor because when his stunt double dies, he does not rise again); Crispin Glover's on-the-nose portrayal of murderous child molestor Willy Wonka a la Johnny Depp; Harry Potter accidentally killing Hagrid, McGonagall and Dumbledore while teaching Peter to duel; the "White Bitch" getting her name because during her two terms as leader of Gnarnia, she has banned gay marriage, started an unpopular war and dropped the ball on hurricane relief, plus she's mean to black people. For me the movie would have been worth seeing for the coronation scene, where the quadruplets -- one of whom is ostensibly British, one ostensibly Hispanic, one African-American and one the rehead who played Charlie on Heroes -- are announced to their subjects: "King Peter the Brave, Queen Susan the Just, King Edward the Loyal and Queen Lucy the Dumbshit." Okay, it was probably partly watching my kids falling out of their seats in hysterics that made this so funny, but it really made my day! "So lame the hair of Tom," Magneto having a problem with pots and pans sticking to him and The Love Boat appearing in the pirate montage...like I said, go in with your Stupid Goggles on and forget that you could have written all these jokes yourself.
"Trio" by Ann Ruppert.
"Look to the Sky" by Paul Pincus.
"Source Direction" by Tommy Smith.
There were several hanging mobiles and I'm not sure which one was by which artist, but they added interesting color to the greenery.
These fanatics who believe that global warming is both good and necessary for the Second Coming? Is it very, very wrong that I wish they would all die and leave the planet safe for my children and everyone else's? I don't care if they want to distrust Al Gore because he's Al Gore, but "even if there is global warming, it's wonderful" just makes me sick. Since they believe in this crap it's too bad someone can't unleash some Old Testament justice on them...