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Virgil, The Aeneid
Translation: W. F. Jackson Knight


"The Aeneid of Virgil (70-19 B.C.) describes the legendary origin of the Roman nation

"It tells of the Trojan prince Aeneas, who escaped, with some followers, after Troy fell, and sailed to Italy. Here they settled and laid the foundations of Roman power. The Aeneid is a poet's picture of the world, where human affairs are controlled by human and superhuman influences. It is a great literary epic inspired by Virgil's love of his native Italy and his sense of Rome's destiny as a civilized ruler of nations.

"This translation by W.F.Jackson Knight preserves admirably the range, vitality, and music of the original."

(Taken from back of 'Penguin Classics' edition)

My Thoughts

The author: it has been suggested that much of today's literature owes at least a passing nod to Virgil, in that his work has inspired many modern authors. I pass no comment on this, except to say that I was not as impressed with Virgil as I was with Homer. The reason for this may simply be (as discussed below) my relatively lesser enthusiasm for Roman writings, or perhaps I read The Aeneid on a surface level, missing finer points. I don't know. I may re-read The Aeneid, or some other work by Virgil, later to see if my attitude changes.

The translator: I doubt that I will admire any translator as much as E.V.Rieu (The Iliad and The Odyssey), but W.F.Jackson Knight has done a marvellous job in creating a readable, enjoyable plain-English version of The Aeneid. As I have mentioned earlier, a translator's art lies in recreating the atmosphere and putting across the emotion of a tale, rather than in presenting literal translation - Mr. Jackson Knight certainly has that skill. His detailed introduction was an enormous help to me in understanding the culture at the time the book was written, especially the political background behind its creation; many scholars believe the story's main aim was a political one - to prove that the Emperor Augustus, a friend of Virgil's, was descended from the heroic Aeneas.

The tale: it took me a little while to get into The Aeneid - the main reason for this was, because I'd read so much Greek literature beforehand, the sudden switch to the Roman way of thinking took a little getting used to. The primary difference lay in the fact that, having become used to Zeus, Athene, Here, etc. I now had to deal with completely new names for almost every god! However, once I became accustomed to the names Jupiter, Minerva, Juno, etc. I became as engrossed in The Aeneid as I had been in The Iliad and The Odyssey.

It was good to fill in the gap between Homer's two epics - in The Aeneid, the Sacking of Troy is recounted by Aeneas, and the story then follows his fated journey to found a city (Rome) in a new land (Italy), describing his ill fortune and adventures along the way: his journeys to Crete and Carthage (where he gets entangled with the most unfortunate Dido), and the battle he must fight on reaching his new home - Juno's bitterness will not allow him to settle down too quietly!

And so we hear the story of how the Roman empire began (theoretically). From that point on, the Romans began acting very much like the Borg in Star Trek - absorbing other cultures, and integrating their knowledge, religion, etc. into their own.

I must confess that Roman literature is not of as much interest to me as Greek literature. I can't really define why, and it is thanks to this irrational preference that I didn't enjoy The Aeneid as much as Homer's masterpieces; however, that is not to say that it wasn't an enjoyable book - it was. I am gradually building a picture of ancient history through the eyes of many different writers and poets - the more variance in depictions, the more complete and colourful will be the picture. My quest continues...