In Which I Flippantly Consider Venus’s Purple Buskins; & What Are Your Favorite Agatha Christie Novels?

Sarah Ruden’s translation of the Aeneid is the first in English by a woman.

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.'”

Venus as huntress (in  crimson buskins) appears to Aeneas in Carthage

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
Endless Night
Peril at End House
The Mysterious Affair at Styles
The Murder at the Vicarage

14 thoughts on “In Which I Flippantly Consider Venus’s Purple Buskins; & What Are Your Favorite Agatha Christie Novels?

  1. I love this discussion of details of translation – fascinating. We “did” some of the Aeneid at school for Latin O-level, and I bet if, given the start of the Latin, I could reel off the translation! Lovely to read people still discussing it now. As for Agatha Christie, I have read all except one and I can’t remember which one – I went through them all in the school library in my mid-teens and haven’t really revisited them!


    • Really, I’m so impressed by these translations, and so many have been published in recent years that it means publishers are still committed to the classics. Hurrah! And I’m sure you’d remember great chunks of it if you got going!

      Well, if all the Christies are good, and the one you missed is probably good, I guess I can read any of them!

      On Thu, Nov 16, 2017 at 2:55 AM, mirabile dictu wrote:


      Liked by 1 person

  2. Really interesting differences in the translation, and I can’t imagine why the purple would be left out!! As for Christie – I’ve read the lot, and I can’t possibly pick a single favourite, but I am inordinately fond of all the Tommy and Tuppence stories. I like the Marple story “Nemesis” too – definitely *one* of my favourites! I was always fond of the ABC Murders, too, as it’s very clever and the A murder was set in Andover where I lived as a child.


  3. I have enjoyed several of the Christie books you list, but my favorite is not on your list. Come Tell Me How You Live is her entertaining memoir of pursuing archaeology with her second husband, Max Mallowan, in the middle east in the 1930s. Theirs was a happy marriage and happy digging too. Agatha was up for anything, from soringt potsherds to developing film to hiring a professional cat when they were over run by mice.


  4. I read the Marple and Poirot books as a teenager but haven’t been back to them since, although it has been hard to get away from some, to be fair, excellent television versions. Consequently, I’d be hard put to name a favourite, although I do favour the Miss Marple’s stories over the Poirot


  5. I am going to try to get to that Kenneth Branagh now — this coming week. There’s a film on Jane Goodall at the same place I go, but I am looking for ways to fill up the specific Thanksgiving days.

    I read the April Bernard review now — yes very bad.


  6. As a teenager, I devoured Agatha Christie’s books. I very occasionally pick up one now to reread, mostly out of nostalgia and for a quick, light distraction. And Then There Were None is still at the top of my list. I like Miss Marple better than Poirot, but Murder on the Orient Express was great fun. I’d like to see the new movie; the 1974 Sidney Lumet version was wonderful and holds up very well.


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