Plot: Ten pastoral poems set in the idyllic countryside, full of singing goatherds; sometimes with the bitter undercurrent of rejected love, but also topical themes such as agricultural dispossession as farmers are driven off their farms, which are then given to demobbed soldiers from the battle at Phillipi.
I read the World’s Classics version The Eclogues, The Georgics, translated by Cecil Day-Lewis (ISBN 0192816438), then looked at some earlier translations from the 16th-19th centuries in the Penguin classic Virgil in English (ISBN 0140423869)
My thoughts: Virgil has been hailed as a bedrock poet of European literature, inspiring a plethora of translations and imitations from the likes of Chaucer, Spenser, Marlowe, Milton, Dryden, Shelley, Wordsworth, Tennyson and Auden. However the Day-Lewis version left me indifferent, with very little to pass on of interest. More interesting was sampling the various earlier translations, showing how the style of language and literature changes with the ages.
For instance, from Eclogue I, the dispossessed farmer Meliboeus laments his fate in three different versions.
“But the rest of us must go from here and be dispersed — To Scythia, bone-dry Africa, the chalky spate of the Oxus. Even to Britain – that place cut off at the very world’s end. Ah, when will I see my native land again? after long years, or never? — see the turf-dressed roof of my simple cottage, and wondering gaze at the ears of corn that were all my kingdom. To think of some godless soldier owning my well-farmed fallow ….” (C Day-Lewis, 1963)
“We poor soules must soone to the land cald Affrica packe hence, Some to the farre Scythia, and some must to the swift flood Oaxis, some to Britannia coastes quite parted farre from the whole world. Oh these pastures pure shall I nere more chance to behold yee? And out cottage poore with warme turves coverd about trim. Oh these trim tilde landes, shall a recklesse soldier have them?….” (William Webbe, 1586)
“But we must roam to parts remote, unknown, under the Torrid and the Frigid Zone. These frozen Scythia, and parcht Affrick those; Cretan Oaxis others must inclose. Some ‘mongst the utmost Britains are confin’d, doomed to an isle from all the world disjoyn’d.
Ah! Must I never more my Country see, but in strange lands an endless Exile be? In my eternal banishment decreed from my poor Cottage, rear’d with turf and reed? Must impious Soldiers all these grounds possess, my fields of standing corn, my fertile Leyes?” (John Caryll, 1684)
(PS I liked Caryll best)
Digressions/diversions: New word for the day. Stravagueing : to wander aimlessly
Personal rating: Day-Lewis version : 2.
Also in that year:
To recap …
60 BC Julius Caesar, Pompey and Crassus form an alliance to further their political ambitions.
58-54 BC Caesar defeats the Gaulish tribes, and briefly invades Britain (twice)
49 – 45 BC Caesar enters Italy with his armies of Gallic war veterans and eventually defeats Pompey’s forces, attaining supreme power of the Roman world
44 BC Caesar assassinated on the Ides of March by conspirators including Cassius and Brutus
43 BC A second ‘triumvirate’ formed between Marc Antony, Lepidus and Caesar’s adopted son Octavius
42 BC Antony and Octavius defeat Brutus and Cassius at Phillipi.
The reads in between:
The Seeds of Time by John Wyndham (1956). Wyndham’s other full-length novels always disappointed me after his excellent The Day of the Triffids, but this collection of science fiction short stories were a joy. The first few are gentle Wellesian tales (Chronoclasm, Time to Rest) but then Wyndham shows a more ruthless layer of steel and horror with stories like Survival, and Pillar to Post (the latter a cat and mouse game as two men fight for the one body using mind transference across the galaxy). Might be difficult to find a copy, but recommended.
Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwall (2017). Looked forward to this a great deal as Cornwall writes excellent and well researched historical novels, especially his Sharpe series. Following Richard Shakespeare, brother to William and a young thief/actor in the latter’s group of players. It started off a little slow without the adventurous setting of his other books, but by halfway I was hooked. To say too much would spoil the ride, but if you liked Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare in Love, or historical action stories …. Recommended.
Next : Satires by Horace.