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…