Copy and paste the below script into your own website or blog to embed this book.
A fresh and faithful translation of Vergil’s Aeneid restores the epic’s spare language and fast pace and sheds new light on one of the cornerstone narratives of Western culture.
“Vivid and haunting . . . a model of how to render Latin poetry in English.”—Tom Holland, New Statesman
For two thousand years, the epic tale of Aeneas’s dramatic flight from Troy, his doomed love affair with Dido, his descent into the underworld, and the bloody story behind the establishment of Rome has electrified audiences around the world. In Vergil’s telling, Aeneas’s heroic journey not only gave Romans and Italians a thrilling origin story, it established many of the fundamental themes of Western life and literature—the role of duty and self-sacrifice, the place of love and passion in human life, the relationship between art and violence, the tension between immigrant and indigenous people, and the way new foundations are so often built upon the wreckage of those who came before. Throughout the course of Western history, the Aeneid has affirmed our best and worst intentions and forced us to confront our deepest contradictions.
Shadi Bartsch, Guggenheim Laureate, award-winning translator, and chaired professor at the University of Chicago, confronts the contradictions inherent in the text itself, illuminating the epic’s subversive approach to storytelling. Even as Vergil writes the foundation myth for Rome, he seems to comment on this tendency to mythologize our heroes and societies, and to gesture to the stories that get lost in the mythmaking.
Bartsch’s groundbreaking translation, brilliantly maintaining the brisk pace of Vergil’s Latin even as it offers readers a metrical line-by-line translation, provides a literary and historical context to make the Aeneid resonant for a new generation of readers.
Under the Cover
An excerpt from The Aeneid
Landfall at Carthage
My song is of war and a man: a refugee by fate, the first from Troy to Italy’s Lavinian shores, battered much on land and sea by blows from gods obliging brutal Juno’s unforgetting rage; he suffered much in war as well, all to plant his town and gods in Latium. From here would rise the Latin race, the Alban lords, and Rome’s high walls.
Remember for me, Muse. Tell me the reasons. What pain, what insult to her power, moved the queen of gods to drive a man famous for piety through misery on misery? Can such anger grip gods’ minds?
An ancient city built by colonists from Tyre faced Italy and Tiber’s mouth across the sea: wealthy Carthage, fierce and fond of waging war. They say that Juno loved her best; even Samos came in second. Here the goddess kept her weapons and her chariot; this land would rule the world if fate allowed. This was her aim and hope. But she’d heard that men of Trojan blood would topple Carthage and her heights one day. They’d be a people proud in war, an empire fatal for her Libya. This was what the Fates had spun, this was Juno’s fear. She remembered how she’d fought at Troy to help her cherished Greeks.
Still other reasons for her rage and bile remained deep-rooted in her heart: Paris’ scornful verdict on her beauty, the honors paid by Jove to kidnapped Ganymede, her hatred for that race. Enflamed by this, she barred from Latium the sea-tossed Trojans, the few left by the Greeks and cruel Achilles. They roamed for many years, over many oceans, forced on by the Fates. To found the Roman race required such great effort.
Sicily had slipped from sight. The Trojans gladly sailed for open sea, their bronze prows churning foam. But Juno, nursing her eternal wound, thought to herself: “Am I to leave off from my plan and fail to turn the Trojan king from Italy? It seems that Fate forbids it. Then how could Pallas burn the Argive fleet and drown its crew, just to punish the mad crime of Ajax, son of Oïleus? On her own, she hurled Jove’s lightning from the clouds, wrecked the ships, and whipped up waves with wind; she grabbed up Ajax in a gust and spiked him on sharp reefs—the man puffed fire from his punctured chest! But me, the queen of all the gods, Jove’s wife and sister too, for years I’ve had to fight against a single race! Now who’ll worship me or put gifts on my altars as a supplicant?”
Her hot heart fixed on these thoughts, Queen Juno reached Aeolia, a land that teemed with storms and clouds. In his colossal cave, King Aeolus ruled the warring winds and howling gales and locked them up inside. They roared around the latches outraged. Over them, the mountain murmured mightily. Aeolus, sitting in his stronghold, scepter in his hand, soothed their angry spirits. Otherwise, they’d seize the oceans, lands, and deepest sky, and blast them all away. It was this fear that made the mighty Father hide them in a lightless cave and heap mountains on top. He chose a king who swore he’d curb the winds or free their reins as he was told. Now Juno came to wheedle him: “Aeolus, the father of the gods and king of men chose you to calm the waves or whip them up with wind. A race I hate travels the Tuscan sea: they bring the beaten gods of Troy to Italy. Rouse the winds to gale-force, sink the ships, or scatter them and fling the crew into the sea. In my retinue are fourteen gorgeous nymphs; Deiopea is the loveliest of all. She’s yours— just do me this favor. I’ll join you both in lasting marriage, so she’ll spend her years with you and make you father to fair children.”
Aeolus said: “Your task, O Queen, is to know your wish and will; mine, to make it happen. Thanks to you, I have this little kingdom and Jupiter’s goodwill, I dine with gods, I’m master of the storms and wild weather.”
Saying this, he struck the hollow mountain with the butt-end of his spear. A battle-line of winds rushed out the rift and swept over the lands. Notus, Eurus, and Africus, full of storms, settled on the sea as one and churned it from its bed; they rolled huge waves to shore. Next came the shouts of men, the shriek of ropes. At once, storm-clouds snatched the sky from sight.
Black night brooded on the sea. The heavens thundered, frequent ashes tore the dark. All signs warned the men that death had come.
At once Aeneas’ knees buckled with chill. He groaned and held up both hands to the stars: “Three and four times fortunate, all you who died by Troy’s high walls under your fathers’ gaze! O Diomedes, bravest of the Greeks! I wish I’d fallen on Troy’s fields, my blood spilled by your strong right hand, where fierce Hector perished on Achilles’ spear, and huge Sarpedon too; where Simoïs rolls in its stream so many shields and helmets, so many bodies of the brave.”
As he spoke, the howling north wind hit the sails head-on and pushed the sea up to the stars. The oars snapped and the ship swung broadside to the waves; a wall of water crashed on deck. Some sailors hung on crests, some saw seabed as each wave loomed up. The sea boiled with sand. Notus snatched three ships and hurled them onto reefs that lurked mid-sea, the ones Italians call Altars, huge spines near the surface. Eurus drove three boats into the shoals, a sorry sight, and smashed them on the rocks. Sand built up around them. Before Aeneas’ eyes, a giant wave broke on the ship of good Orontes and his Lycians. It threw the helmsman off the deck headfirst into wild waters. Eddies spun the ship around three times, then the raging undertow engulfed it. A few men surfaced in the vast abyss. Weapons, planks, and Trojan treasure floated in the waves. The storm seized Ilioneus’ sturdy ship, brave Achates’ ship, Abas’ ship, and old Aletes’ ship. They all let in fatal water through the hulls’ loose seams and gaping cracks.
Now Neptune sensed the sea’s chaos and clamor, the storm Aeolus sent. He felt the churning of the sluggish waters of the deep. Perplexed, he raised his peaceful face and scanned the sea. He saw Aeneas’ wave-tossed ships, the Trojans swamped by swells and the ruin of the sky. Juno’s angry treachery was clear to him. He called Eurus and Zephyrus, and said to them:
“Is it your noble birth that makes you bold? You winds now dare to mingle sky and earth and stir up waves without permission? Why, I should—But first I’ll soothe the wild sea. Then you’ll get what you deserve, and it won’t be in words! Get out of here, now, and tell your king: rule over the sea and savage trident’s mine by lot, not his. His kingdom is the cave where you live, Eurus. Let him strut in that court and rule there—once his winds are jailed.”
Faster than his words, Neptune soothed the swells, routed huddled clouds, brought back the sun. Cymothoe and Triton pried the ships off crags; Neptune helped them with his trident. He cleared pathways through long shoals and calmed the sea, skimming wave-crests lightly in his chariot. Just as riots often fester in great crowds when the common mob goes mad; rocks and firebrands fly, the weapons rage supplies; but if they see a man of weight in piety and service, they hush and wait to hear him; he guides their minds and soothes their hearts with words— just so, all the tumult of the sea died down once Neptune scanned the waters. He turned his team and let them run free under cloudless skies.
Aeneas’ tired crew fights to reach the nearest shore; they bend toward the Libyan coast. There, an island’s deep bay forms a harbor with its sides. Every wave from the high sea is broken here and fans out to the curving coves. On both sides sheer cliffs and matching crags menace the sky, but underneath, safe pools lie wide and still. Above, a rustling forest sets the scene, dark with trembling shade. A cave with rocky overhangs faces the front. It has freshwater pools and stones for seats, the home of nymphs. Here no cables tie the weary boats, no anchor bites the sand. Aeneas enters with his ships, seven left from all the fleet. With great love for land, the Trojans reach the shore they craved, disembark, and rest their sodden limbs on sand. Achates is the first to strike a spark from flint. He kindles fire with leaves and sets dry fodder on the flames, then feeds the blaze with twigs. Weary from their wandering, they fetch the pots and spoiled grain they rescued from the waves, then dry the food with fire and crush it under stone.
Publius Vergilius Maro (70-19 B.C.), known as Vergil, was born near Mantua at the end of the Roman Republic. He was the most famous poet of his age and his Aeneid gave the Romans a great national epic equal to the Greeks’, celebrating their city’s origins and the creation of their empire. Vergil is also credited with The Eclogues and The Georgics.
Virgil (70–19 BCE) is regarded as the greatest Roman poet, known for his epic, The Aeneid(written about 29 BCE, unfinished). Virgil was born on October 15, 70 BCE, in a small village near Mantua in Northern Italy. He attended school at Cremona and Milan, and then went to Rome, where he studied mathematics, medicine and rhetoric, and completed his studies in Naples. Between 42 and 37 BCE. Virgil composed pastoral poems known as Ecologues, and spent years on the Georgics.
At the urging of Augustus Caesar, Virgil began to write The Aeneid, a poem of the glory of Rome under Caesar's rule. Virgil devoted the remaining time of his life, from 30 to 19 BCE, to the composition of The Aeneid, the national epic of Rome and to glory of the Empire. The poet died in 19 BCE of a fever he contracted on his visit to Greece with the Emperor. It is said that the poet had instructed his executor Varius to destroy The Aeneid, but Augustus ordered Varius to ignore this request, and the poem was published.