Classical Literature: the Journey Begins

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.


7 thoughts on “Classical Literature: the Journey Begins

  1. I cannot believe that librarian! How horrible. To discourage reading the classics like that!

    I am comparing four versions of the Iliad right now….I have to say the really old prose translation I have is the most unapproachable. If you find you can’t stand it, I’d say not to give up.

    Rob actually recommended Lombardo for Iliad and Odyssey–I don’t think Lombardo did Aeneid. The one Rob recommend for Aeneid was translated by David West.

    I’m writing a post about comparing the translations and it will post in the next few days.

  2. Rebecca – I know, right? I thought librarians were supposed to be encouraging! I think there is a Lombardo translation of Aeneid because I googled it and there was a whole webpage dedicated to it. I’ll probably just end up reading the latest Penguin editions, since they seem to offer the most accessible translations, but I look forward to your post.

  3. My parents reacted the same fashion as your librarian did when I announced that I decided to minor in classics. From their monetary perspective in life, they didn’t see the payoff for my putting all the effort into something so…old.

    I enjoyed Aeneid nonetheless. Nearly the entirety of the Aeneid is devoted to the philosophical concept of opposition. Although I’m not bound by any religious beliefs, I credit its significance in its moral: acceptance of the workings of the Gods as fate through the use of piety.

  4. Hahah, that’s great! (Not your parents’ reaction; I meant your decision to minor in classics)

    I’ll keep your comments in mind as I’m reading it. Still haven’t started, though – all I did yesterday was read the Introduction, which was quite interesting in itself.

  5. I think the David West is the Penguin classic translation!

    I’m enjoying the Iliad thus far and I intend to compare versions for Odyssey and Aeneid too when I get there!

  6. And I thought I’d add that some of the “classics” are very short: Euripides’ play I read the other week in about 2 hours. Aristotle’s Poetics is about 30 pages. Etc. etc. so put some short “easy” ones in too if you want!

  7. There are so many different translations under Penguin, because they always seem to be updating! I checked out the Penguin website and, there’s a Fagles translation for the Aeneid as well, but both Fagles and Lombardo seem decent, so I’m torn. But above all else, for this challenge, I’ve decided to go with the motto: “whatever’s available”, so it will probably be the Fagles. They always have a few of his sitting around in the bookstore.

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