I am obsessed with Virgil. As I’ve written many times since I began this blog five years ago, rereading the Aeneid in Latin is one of my guilty pleasures. Virgil’s epic poem about the founding of Rome by Trojan refugees is partly a brilliant homage to Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, partly a celebration of empire to flatter Augustus, and partly an anti-war poem.
There are many critical interpretations of the Aeneid; hence comparing translations to the Latin can be illuminating. This fall I am reading the English for the first time since Robert Fagles’ superb translation was published in 2006. I am fascinated by two new (or newish) translations, the poet David Ferry’s and the classical philologist Sarah Ruden’s.
I love David Ferry’s spellbinding new translation, though occasionally he wanders from the Latin to perfect the beauty of his own lines. But why, I lament flippantly, did he leave out Venus’s purple (or crimson) buskins (open-toed boots with laces)? When she disguises herself as a huntress in Carthage to confront and advise her son Aeneas, she denies to him that she is a goddess and says she is just a normal Tyrian girl wearing the current fashion.
Before we look at Ferry’s, here is my literal translation of the Latin (and the Latin lines are below, at the end of the Virgil section of this post). “Then Venus said: ‘Indeed, I am not worthy of such an honor./ It is the fashion for Tyrian girls to wear a quiver/ and purple buskins tied high on the calves.'”
Ferry is a very great poet, but he chooses to add a bow to the quiver and subtracts the purple from the boots.
Ferry writes, “Then Venus: ‘I am not worthy of that honor./It is the custom of Tyrian maidens to wear/Such hunting boots and carry a quiver and bow.'”
Sarah Ruden, the first (and only?) woman to translate the Aeneid into English (Yale University Press, 2008), has a different, more literal approach. She lines up her English lines of blank verse almost exactly with Virgil’s Latin , and since Latin is much more concise than English this is quite an achievement. Her translation is less poetic than Ferry’s, but equally effective. And, yes, she mentions the purple boots. Here is Ruden’s translation of those three lines:
“She answered, ‘That would surely not be right./These quivers are what Tyrian girls all carry; /We all wear purple boots, laced on our calves.”
I love it! And that famous purple dye, which ranged from violet to crimson, is worth a mention: it was, later, one of the main Tyrian exports.
And here’s the Latin of those three lines:
Tum Venus: ‘Haud equidem tali me dignor honore; 335
virginibus Tyriis mos est gestare pharetram,
purpureoque alte suras vincire cothurno.
This weekend we saw and very much enjoyed Kenneth Branagh’s new movie adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express. It was so much fun!
It made me want to curl up with an Agatha Christie, so I found my copy of Murder on the Orient Express. And then, looking around for more, I found a charming article at the Barnes and Noble Reads blog about “10 Absolutely Essential Agatha Christie Classics.”
Here is the list, and do let me know your favorite Christies! I have enjoyed the Jane Marple mysteries, but have many Hercule Poirots yet to read.
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
The ABC Murders
Murder on the Orient Express
And Then There Were None
Death on the Nile
Peril at End House
The Mysterious Affair at Styles
The Murder at the Vicarage