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Poets and Critics Read Vergil

Poets and Critics Read Vergil

Edited by Sarah Spence
Copyright Date: 2001
Published by: Yale University Press
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  • Book Info
    Poets and Critics Read Vergil
    Book Description:

    Vergil has exerted a stronger grasp on the poetic imagination and critical scholarship than almost any other poet. This absorbing book-a collection of essays and conversations by such leading poets and classicists as Joseph Brodsky, Christine Perkell, Michael C. J. Putnam, and Mark Strand-explores the ways in which Vergil's work has inspired readers of today. The book takes a broad look at questions of historicism: how we read a work written 2,000 years ago. There are not only close readings of the Aeneid, the Eclogues, and Georgics, but also essays dealing with such topics as Vergil's influence from the Renaissance to the present. The book concludes with two special sections: a lively conversation on translation between Robert Fagles and Sarah Spence and a "virtual" roundtable discussion in which Spence has woven together the responses of poets and critics to Vergil's poetry.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14396-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Note on Text and Translations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction: After Grief and Reason: Poets and Critics Read Vergil
    (pp. xiii-xx)
    Sarah Spence

    When Aeneas fails to embrace his father Anchises in the underworld at the center of the Aeneid, his inability to grasp more than empty air is emblematic of both the poem as a whole and our relation to it:

    ‘da iungere dextram,

    da, genitor, teque amplexu ne subtrahe nostro.’

    sic memorans largo fletu simul ora rigabat.

    ter conatus ibi collo dare bracchia circum;

    ter frustra comprensa manus effugit imago,

    par levibus ventis volucrique simillima somno.

    (Aen. VI.697–702)

    (“But let me have your hand, let me embrace you,

    Do not draw back.”

    At this his tears brimmed over

    And down...

  6. Part 1 The Frame

    • Chapter 1 Imaginary Romans: Vergil and the Illusion of National Identity
      (pp. 3-16)
      W. R. Johnson

      On a sunny day in July, riding on the train from Rome to Naples, looking out on the farmscape, it is hard to suppress an archaic notion that bubbled up from its dimnesses: “These lands are worth fighting for, always have been, always will be.” The violence and pleasure of that fragmented “thought” gradually gave way to, and hid under, the memories of three maps that an embarrassed mind fished up and collaged. I wanted (apparently) my (momentary) acquiescence in the bloody struggles, the endless killing and dying for Campania, to be blotted out, I wanted both the carnage and...

  7. Part 2 The Canvas:: Readings of Vergil

    • Chapter 2 On Grief and Reason: TWO SELECTIONS
      (pp. 19-25)

      [Robert Frost’s] “Home Burial” is not a narrative; it is an eclogue. Or, more exactly, it is a pastoral—except that it is a very dark one. Insofar as it tells a story, it is, of course, a narrative; the means of that story’s transportation, though, is dialogue, and it is the means of transportation that defines a genre. Invented by Theocritus in his idylls, refined by Virgil in the poems he called eclogues or bucolics, the pastoral is essentially an exchange between two or more characters in a rural setting, returning often to that perennial subject, love. Since the...

    • Chapter 3 Pastoral Value in Vergil: Some Instances
      (pp. 26-43)
      Christine Perkell

      In his essay entitled “On Grief and Reason” Joseph Brodsky proposed a close reading of Robert Frost’s “Home Burial” as pastoral, albeit dark and modern pastoral, on the grounds that “the pastoral is essentially an exchange between two or more characters in a rural setting, returning often to that perennial subject, love.”¹ This generous definition points to features of pastoral as genre and thus serves as a useful focus for a reading of Vergil’s pastoral poetry. I propose as a limited goal here to consider how Vergil constructs moral value in Eclogues I and X, his first and last pastoral...

    • Chapter 4 Aristaeus, Orpheus, and the Georgics: Once Again
      (pp. 44-63)
      Gian Biagio Conte

      Some years ago I proposed an interpretation of the story of Aristaeus and Orpheus, and I was quite satisfied with it. Quite—but I still felt a little like the rabbi in the Jewish joke Arnaldo Momigliano once told me. One rabbi goes to see another rabbi and finds him immersed in the reading of the Torah. “What are you doing?”—“I’m trying to interpret a passage that I’ve been studying for years and can’t explain completely to myself.” “Let me see, I’ll try to explain it to you myself.” “That won’t do any good. I can explain it to...

    • Chapter 5 Some Observations on Aeneid Book VI
      (pp. 64-75)
      Mark Strand

      There are four embraces in epic literature that are remarkably similar. In Book XI of the Odyssey, which takes place in the Underworld, Odysseus embraces the ghost of his mother, Anticlea. This is the way it is described in Robert Fitzgerald’s translation:

      I bit my lip,

      rising perplexed, with longing to embrace her,

      and tried three times, putting my arms around her,

      but she went sifting through my hands, impalpable

      as shadows are, and wavering like a dream.

      (Od. XI.204–8)

      In Book II of the Aeneid, Aeneas embraces his wife Creusa’s ghost in the ruins of their abandoned home...

    • Chapter 6 Mortal Father, Divine Mother: Aeneid VI and VIII
      (pp. 76-85)
      Helen H. Bacon

      Aeneas is the son of Venus, a goddess, and Anchises, a mortal. The divine and mortal parts of this heritage coexist in him in an uneasy tension that is played out dramatically in the poem. The encounter with his mortal father in the world of the dead in Book VI and the encounter with his goddess mother in the world of the living in Book VIII are successive climaxes in the process of transformation Aeneas undergoes from reluctant mortal to willing future god in preparation for his role as founder and defender of the first Trojan settlement on Italian soil,...

    • Chapter 7 Vergil’s Aeneid: The Final Lines
      (pp. 86-104)
      Michael C. J. Putnam

      (As [Turnus] hesitates Aeneas brandishes his fateful spear. He sought out fortune with his eyes and from afar twists [his spear] with his body. Never do stones hurled from a siege engine roar so loudly nor do such crashings burst from the thunderbolt. The spear flies like a black whirlwind bringing dread destruction and lays open the fringes of the corselet and the outermost circles of the sevenfold shield. Whizzing [the spear] passes through the midst of his thigh. Stricken, mighty Turnus sinks to the ground, his knees doubled under. The Rutulians rise up with a groan and the whole...

    • Chapter 8 The End of the Aeneid
      (pp. 105-118)
      Rosanna Warren

      In the last lines of the Aeneid, a vast chord is swelling. Almost every word has some complex harmonic relation to the preceding twelve books. I want to look at one word in particular—immolat—as it appears in line 949: ‘Pallas te hoc vulnere, Pallas / immolat et poenam scelerato ex sanguine sumit’ (“Pallas sacrifices you with this wound, and Pallas demands payment with your criminal blood”). In turn, immolat—from the verb “to sacrifice”—draws into its magnetic field a sequence of earlier scenes and variations, and exerts its own pressure on the triumphant and civilizing goals of...

  8. Part 3 The Debate, or Stepping Out of the Frame

    • Chapter 9 The Aeneid Transformed: Illustration as Interpretation from the Renaissance to the Present
      (pp. 121-148)
      Craig Kallendorf

      In classical studies, as in so many other areas of academic life, things used to be so much simpler. Interpreting a text, for example, used to be a relatively straightforward affair. Traditional philology provided the model, originating with the humanists of the Italian Renaissance, refined by German scholars between 1750 and 1850, and applied in essentially the same way a hundred years later. According to this model, each text has one meaning, embedded within it at the moment of creation, and the role of the interpreter is to recover this original signification, to see the text as it actually was...

    • Chapter 10 NOT-BLANK-VERSE: Surrey’s Aeneid Translations and the Prehistory of a Form
      (pp. 149-171)
      Stephen Merriam Foley

      Blank verse. Carte blanche. Let’s begin to think about Surrey’s Aeneid, said to be the first blank verse in English, and the prehistory of blank verse by playing with the name of the form, which according to the OED first appears in Thomas Nash’s naughty disparagement (1585) of “the swelling bombast of bragging blank verse.” Nash’s ironic linking of empty rhetoric and the “blank” verse of early Elizabethan drama depends upon understanding the missing rhyme as a defective theatrical form. And yet if one construes the term neutrally, it says no more than the French vers sans rime or vers...

    • Chapter 11 Vergil Reading Homer
      (pp. 172-183)
      Robert Fagles and Sarah Spence

      Just at the moment when Robert Fagles was first turning his attention from Homer to Vergil and starting to think about translating the Aeneid, he and I sat down and discussed the Latin epic and some issues of its translation.

      Sarah Spence (S): Let me ask you about translation in general, and about your relationship with Homer in particular. How would you characterize your relationship to him? Are you an aggressive reader of the texts you translate or a reverential one?

      Robert Fagles (F): Oh, both at once, I think. I’m partly on my knees with reverence and partly keeping...

    • Chapter 12 Lacrimae rerum: The Influence of Vergil on Poets and Scholars
      (pp. 184-194)
      Karl Kirchwey, J. D. McClatchy, Kenneth Haynes, Paul Alpers, Paul A. Cantor, Glenn Most and Margaret Anne Doody

      I invited a series of poets and scholars (none trained primarily or exclusively as a classicist) to write briefly about Vergil’s significance or influence on them as a means of mapping the ancient poet’s legacy in the neoclassical, literary world today. I then pieced these meditations together into the “virtual roundtable” which follows.

      There is a stretch of Interstate 91 approaching the capital city of Connecticut which my grandmother always referred to as the “Hartford Spaghetti,” so bewildering, tortuous, and layered are the whorls of its entrance and exit ramps. During one academic year I commuted regularly by car between...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 195-212)
  10. Contributors
    (pp. 213-216)