There’s an excellent review of Fagles’ translation of Virgil’s Aeneid over at Powell’s. I’m definitely picking this edition up when it eventually makes it’s way to the McNally Robinson bargain section. It seems like all the best books wind up there sooner or later.
The biggest obstacle to enjoying the classics, for most people, myself included, is the language. They can’t read it. And it’s really hard to get right in English. This is one of the reasons I know I will find this book in the bargain bin. How do you translate the strongest authorial voice, the poetic? It’s here, in this translation, that Fagles apparently succeeds:
Extraordinary sensitivity to Virgil’s multiple points of view allows Fagles to treat Aeneas, as well as Dido, with more sympathy than most translators can muster. It is a difficult task to bring to life the stiff, passive, sometimes cipher-like hero of the early books of the Aeneid. But Fagles picks up on details that evince Aeneas’s humanity, even at his most block-like. When Dido has sent her sister to make her last passionate appeal to her lover to stay — even if only for a little while, even if he must abandon her in the end — we are told that Aeneas made no reply at all, and was deaf to Dido’s pleas. Dryden makes Aeneas unable even to hear what she is feeling: “Fate, and the god, had stopped his ears to love.” Fitzgerald’s Virgil comments that “God’s will blocked the man’s once kindly ears.” But both these translations simplify the complex emotional situation that Virgil evokes. [Fagles’] translation manages to present Aeneas as a person who has both strength and genuine emotional depths. He is a hero, but more than that, he is a human being, who struggles to remain true to his conviction and his obligation. In reading Fagles, far more than most translators, I believed in Aeneas as a man whose sense of obligation is constantly threatened, and finally overwhelmed, by emotion.