Essay Example on Things Death and Moving on in Seamus Heaney's Aeneid Book

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In the Middle of Things Death and Moving on in Seamus Heaney's Aeneid Book VI The problem with growing up reading Latin is that the only way to refresh one s use of the language is to read the classics again Latin is a dead language meaning we cannot speak it with friends we can only engage the dead authors who wrote millennia ago To engage Virgil one explores the myths that shaped the Roman empire in the time of Augustus but also when reading the translation of Aeneid Book VI one enters into conversation with the translator poet extraordinaire Seamus Heaney In his version of Virgil Heaney s English words and syntax are lush appeal on all levels prosaic and poetic I pulled out my Frederic M Wheelock a grammar book my Latin dictionary and the original Aeneid Book VI to compare the translation to the original First the story The Aeneid is an epic work comprised of twelve separate books There are the Odyssean books the first six which trace the hero Aeneas s escape from the ruins of Troy his love of Dido in Carthage and his eventual triumphant entrance to the shores of Italy the second Iliadic half of the epic narrates Aeneas s political and military machinations that result in Rome's founding The Aeneid s sixth book then stands at the middle of the sequence but also serves as an intermediate closure In Book VI Aeneas concludes his Mediterranean seafaring and will soon tackle his establishment of the Roman state

But before his new journey begins Aeneas must put some ghosts to rest Literally He descends into the underworld to visit his dead father Anchises If one wants to translate a Latin text into English one encounters a compression in the original form that requires a sometimes drastic retooling into English syntax Virgil s text and many modern translations are written in dactylic hexameter This line length lends itself to a narrative feel and Heaney maintains a story telling tension in his translation However by using all his poetic wiliness he translates the whole text into loose pentameters and hendecasyllables a sort of English blank verse The effect is a moveable more approachable diction It's worthy to note that this drastic translation though makes it impossible for a parallel print of the original text Yes Heaney retools the entire book but stays true to the mission Unconstrained by the strict syntactical Latin line Heaney dawdles where the language and scene need the attention as when Aeneas looks his last at the unresponsive shade of Dido and a single packed line of Latin here becomes two Of her fate gazes into the distance after her Gazes through tears and pities her as she goes 640 41 The expansion by repetition draws attention as well to Virgil s striking use of the verb prosequor follow after with the eyes 476 Heaney masters the ambiguous Latin in his own way Elsewhere a son s fall through failure of a father s art leads to a second failure of art and the falling of the artist's hands Twice Dedalus tried to model your fall in gold twice His hands the hands of a father failed him 50 52 Theses consecutive lines in the Virgil begin with bis twice a word effectively moved to the end of the lines in Heaney s English In the Latin Virgil s descriptions end mid line mirroring the unfinished artwork but the translation needs two full English lines and it resonates 



Heaney never relies on the clunky formulae one expects from schoolgirl Latin translations guilty as charged the kind of stiff ablative absolutes translated as with these things having been spoken or gerundives as the things needing to be done No Heaney molds the syntax of the original or opts for Anglo diction It is compelling When Aeneas meets the shade of the helmsman Palinurus for instance he learns of his former comrade s death His corpse in the sea above Palinurus reports is left unburied a condition that Virgil conveys in simple language nunc me fluctus habet versantque in litore venti 362 Building upon this rather straightforward Latin which one might literally translate as Now the wave holds me and the winds turn me on the seashore Heaney finds an opportunity to inject fresh English richness Now surf keeps me dandled The shore winds loll me and roll me 479 80 Wow that s poetry with its internal rhymes and consonance And Heaney s skillful use of Anglo sounds throughout this translation do not keep him from conveying some of the original beauty of Virgil s Latin At the narrative climax of Book VI Aeneas finally greets the spirit of his father Anchises who died during the journey from Troy to Italy Borrowing rhetorical structure from the original Latin in which two adjacent lines begin with ter three times Heaney tells of Aeneas s failed attempts to embrace his father capturing the craft of Virgil s poignant reflection and metaphor on the futility of trying to commune with the dead

Three times he tried to reach arms round that neck Three times the form reached for in vain escaped Like a breeze between his hands a dream on wings Heaney 942 45 The beauty of the repetend and rhythm of these lines carries the sadness of this middle book through the rest of the Aeneid In Seamus Heaney s preface we find out Heaney was translating the book in the days before his death So this book for Virgil's mythological Aeneas thousands of years ago and for the translator Heaney is all about coming to terms with loss overcoming pain laying to rest the dead so one can move forward and conquer Works Cited Vergil Aeneid Book VI Edited by Keith MacIennan Bristol Classical Press 2006 Virgil Aeneid Book VI Translated by Seamus Heaney Faber Faber 2016


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