I think I overestimated myself when I decided to take on six books for this project. After all, I know next to nothing about Classical literature (or its context, for that matter) and these are hardly equivalent to six, ‘normal’, swallowable books. Nevertheless, I still want to read all six, so I’m going to start today instead of waiting until exams are over. I didn’t have time to go to the bookstore, but yesterday I made a trip to the library, where I managed to dig up a dusty old copy – published in 1959, before my mother was born – of Virgil’s The Aeneid.
I was rather disappointed by my librarian’s reaction when she saw what I was loaning. “Poor thing, studying classical literature in class, huh?” were her exact words. Poor thing? Aren’t works such as The Aeneid regarded as a cornerstone of the Western literary canon? This is a book that has influenced European literature and art for the past two thousand years, and all my librarian can say is “poor thing”? What, if not that, exemplifies the degredation of literature in modern society. I was also annoyed at how she assumed without question that it was mandatory reading for school – well, actually that’s quite understandable, seeing as I’m a student. Am I just being ridiculous? Why do people continue to read Virgil today? For study? For entertainment? To honour the foundations of Western literature?
My reasons are more personal. Although I would love to think of myself as a intrepid explorer making my way fearlessly through the bogs and jungles of literature, I rarely stray beyond the 19th and 20th centuries. Last year, I made a conscious effort to read more ‘contemporary’ (i.e. 21st century) literature. However, I’ve hardly ever been the other way. So, to ease my way backwards, I signed up for the 1700s – 1800s Women Writers challenge, and for this. I see this challenge as an introduction to classical literature; I just want a taste of it, and I don’t think I’m anywhere near ready to appreciate it in dactylic hexameter. So – don’t scoff at this; it’s better to walk before you run – I borrowed the prose translation, by W F Jackson Knight.
EDIT: I just dropped by Rebecca’s blog and someone there recommended Stanley Lombardo David West, so I’ll look out for his translation, if ever I feel like reading The Aeneid in verse.