My Secret Obsession with Virgil’s Aeneid

New Virgil paperback reviewed in the TLS!

New Virgil paperback!

I don’t usually read the TLS (Times Literary Supplement).

I skim newspaper reviews to find out what’s being published.

I don’t need anything too intellectual.

I once canceled my subscription to The New York Review of Books because the long political essays bored me to death.  I preferred the shorter, more straightforward reviews in The New York Times Book Review and Washington Post.

I am not a scholar, but, yes, I admit I have a degree in classics and I read Latin poetry.

“Sickening,” a friend said  as we sat on a park bench on our lunch hour when I told her this was something I enjoyed.

I recently turned to the TLS because of its pro-classics bent.  It actually printed a review of a new edition of Virgil’s Aeneid Book XII.

I reread Virgil’s Aeneid (in Latin) every year. I recently taught excerpts, in Latin and in translation, to an adult ed Latin class.   After the director of adult ed decided I was teaching too much grammar (though Latin students prefer ablative absolutes to hearing me drone on about Roman culture), I amused myself by adding bits and pieces of Virgil to the curriculum.  Virgil made easy!  By dint of spending entire days making worksheets, I was able to teach my beginning students to translate some famous lines.

Aeneas and Turnus, by Luca Giordano (17th century)

Aeneas and Turnus, by Luca Giordano (17th century)

Anyway, it was  a matter of duty (very big in ancient Rome) to introduce them to the great epic.   I am shocked when I meet someone who has not read Virgil’s  Aeneid, which, as T. S. Eliot pointed out in his essay, “What Is a Classic?”, is probably the only classic in Western literature, the only perfect meeting of a language and literature at the height of civilization.

The TLS caught my eye this week because of Denis Feeney’s review of new Cambridge editions of Virgil’s Aeneid Book XII and Horace’s Satires Book I.

It is unprecedented for a mainstream publication to review scholarly editions of Roman poets.  Or at least it would be in the U.S.

The reception of new classical commentaries is usually lukewarm.  When Richard Tarrant’s new commentary on Virgil’s Book XII was published last fall,  Harvard’s classics dept. website was about as good as it gets:

Congratulations to Professor Richard Tarrant for the September release of his commentary on Book XII of Virgil’s Aeneid, the first ever single-volume commentary to be published on Book XII alone. It is available in paperback and hardcover through Cambridge University Press.

Inspired by the TLS–oh my God, another commentary!–I have secretly ordered Tarrant’s  edition of Book XII.  Horace’s satires are good, but frankly I need to replace ALL of my Horace, since my book is falling apart…

The Virgil is a secret gift to myself.  I already have, yeah, the scholarly Williams, the accessible Pharr, and far too many other editions.

But it is always fascinating to read new commentaries, which help with interpretation, philology, and history.

I am looking forward to what Tarrant has to say.

I was going to buy some pasta jars, but oh well…

10 thoughts on “My Secret Obsession with Virgil’s Aeneid

  1. I still have the purple Virgil you gave me, Ms. Mirabile! I still remember that amens means out of your mind!

    When are you coming back to adult ed?


  2. I read Virgil’s Georgics last year and am quite sure it wouldn’t have been a hit in adult ed. I now know every word for crop, corn stalk, ploughshare, oxen, etc..

    But I’m back to Aeneid Book XII for a while. There’s a Bolchazy edition with some of the later books, vocab. on the page.

    I miss Doug!


  3. I took two years of Latin in high school (from the same teacher that my mother had when she was in high school). I would love to take Latin again. It sounds like your class would have been such fun.

    I have not read Virgil in any language. I really wish I had a Classics education. I suppose it is never too late and perhaps Aeneid is a good place to begin. Any suggestions as to an edition to try?


  4. Belle, the Latin class was fun. Most of my students were older, and had had Latin in high school. They enjoyed getting back to it, and there was really something for people to do at every level of experience. Not one had ever read Virgil, which very much surprised me.

    I would happily send you a copy of The Aeneid if I hadn’t given them all away to my students. I recommend the translations by Robert Fagles and Robert Fitzgerald. Honestly, I’ve never read a bad translation of the Aeneid. It’s good to get one with an introduction and notes, even if you don’t refer to them much.

    And it is an easy read!


  5. Tom, I’m sure you would very much like the Aeneid. Roman literature is neglected in translation. But you can read the Aeneid at the beach, as one of my profs used to tell us.

    Aeneas is a reluctant hero, a modern hero, and once you understand that he is flawed, he may not strike you as exactly sympathetic–he’s confused–but we realize he is very much like us. He really doesn’t want to lead the Trojans out of Troy, but there’s no one else.

    The poem is much better in Latin, but obviously not everyone has that opportunity. I loved my classical education, but you and I were both probably both in school when it was dying out, and it was just an esoteric interest that got me going in it.

    Fascinating that the TLS is promoting scholarly editions of Latin.


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