Chris Walsh (chris_walsh) wrote,
Chris Walsh

Epics are HARD.

Homer was a tough act to follow. I didn't realize that in college, but I have realized it now. I spent a few months this year working my way through Virgil's The Aeneid, as I still have my college copy of Robert Fitzgerald's translation.

I didn't remember a word of it. I'd read it, back then: I have the notes in my handwriting to prove that. Some 11 years ago, I attempted a re-read between calls at the Vesta call center where I did customer service at the time; that read didn't take. Too heavy a book for in between phone calls. But I can always use a) more poetry and b) a reading challenge, so as I'd recently read The Iliad for the first time and The Odyssey for, I think, the third time, it seemed like Virgil time.

I'll need to try Virgil again, to get more out of it beyond "Trojans are forced to sail around for a bit, bad stuff keeps them from getting to Italy as they think they should, Trojans do get to Italy, bad stuff keeps happening, but hey, they'll get a new empire out of it, so that'll work out." I found myself smartassing through it. (Actual thought I posted elsewhere: "The Aeneid is the 'Manger Babies' of epic poems.") The ingredients of epics are there, and Virgil certainly tried his damnedest to make it all work (and was so committed to Getting It Right that since the poem wasn't completed to his satisfaction near his death, he asked for it to be destroyed once he'd died), but I wasn't swept up in it. I don't need to be swept up in it, as I'm not Latin and desiring of a national origin story the way Virgil's audience was; it could speak to them in a way it can't completely speak to me. But I definitely got more out of the Homeric poems than this, like the tragedy, exacerbated by politics, of getting Patroklos's body back from behind enemy lines. (Also, I am relieved to know I'm not the only one who finds The Aeneid's ending really f'ing abrupt.)

The most epic feeling I got from The Aeneid came in Book 10 of the 12 books -- Virgil did intend 12 books and not 24, right? -- as Jupiter watches the war on the Italian Peninsula and says, almost in so many words, "You human guys? I'm out. You all settle this." Obviously it was written more poetically than that (there I am, smartassing again), but it feels epic: it feels like a shift from an age when the gods were so close they could literally be walking next to you, to an age when, if you do believe in gods, they are...elsewhere, less obvious, and not necessarily with their hands in everything. (Or their sex organs, either, but I digress.) The societal attitude can change to "We can believe that our gods are influencing things, but we have our own influencing we can do." It was easier to imagine the influence of gods in a mythic past than it was in the world Virgil's audience recognized. Definitely easier than in the world I live in and recognize.

Anyway, the book's still there, and other copies of other translations are also available (thanks in advance, libraries!); I can revisit. Later. And see if I can think more like a centuries-in-the-past Italian.
Tags: books

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