Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Aeneid (Book I, 88–101)

I'm taking a Latin poetry class, and one of our assignments was to translate this passage from the Aeneid. So I did:

In a moment, the torrent tore
away the beams of midday sun from
widening Trojan eyes, and
darkness loomed over the deep.
Suddenly the scene seared with
lightning pouring down from heaven—
thunder ripping through the ether.
Death’s pale visage
leered at the ships from every side, and
a hoary lapse of fear
gripped miserable Aeneas,
filling his joints with ice.
His hands raked the heavens, and
with weary words he wept:
“O, you happy men of Troy
who greeted final darkness
where first you saw the sun—
to die at the feet of your fathers
and the mighty Teucrian gate.
O, Tydides, fiercest of the Greeks,
was your sword so cruel, so hateful
that its point would not find my breast?
O, Ilium, was there no room for my corpse
in your blood-drenched clay?
Would that the soul sprang from my body
where now lies mighty Hector,
slain by Achilles’ hand.
Or I might have slipped into Death’s current
by the banks of familiar Simoeis,
where now the shields, swords, and limbs
of those many mighty men
have withered into rust and ruin."

Here's a translation of the same passage from Project Gutenberg:

And heav'n itself is ravish'd from their eyes.
Loud peals of thunder from the poles ensue;
Then flashing fires the transient light renew;
The face of things a frightful image bears,
And present death in various forms appears.
Struck with unusual fright, the Trojan chief,
With lifted hands and eyes, invokes relief;
And, "Thrice and four times happy those," he cried,
"That under Ilian walls before their parents died!
Tydides, bravest of the Grecian train!
Why could not I by that strong arm be slain,
And lie by noble Hector on the plain,
Or great Sarpedon, in those bloody fields
Where Simois rolls the bodies and the shields
Of heroes, whose dismember'd hands yet bear
The dart aloft, and clench the pointed spear!"

I like mine better for a few reasons. One, although this guy uses a lot of the same constructions as Vergil (admittedly more than I do), he doesn't use the same poetic devices. I'm much more free with my syntax and diction, but I play with aliteration and stress, which were two of Vergil's most frequently employed devices.

Two, the Aeneid does not rhyme. My translation doesn't rhyme. Instead, I use accentual verse, which is the form ancient English poetry took. Mine is more English than his. Also, I think it works better for modern audiences, since rhyming verse is currently out of fashion.

Three, my translation is more readable. It's still poetic, but when you're reading literally thousands of lines of verse, readability is only courteous.

That said, I'm quite a fan of his line, "Then flashing fires the transient light renew."

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