The Aeneid

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On Sale 2021-09-14

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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

Book 1

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.

- About the author -

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.

More from Vergil

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.

More from Virgil

The Aeneid

The Aeneid

— Published by Modern Library —