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5.0 out of 5 stars Lucid, readable prose translation of Virgil's epic, 29 Dec 2012
This review is from: The Aeneid (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
The great Latin epic, written in the first century BC, follows the adventures of Aeneas, a prince of Troy, and his family and companions as they venture around the Mediterranean, from the destruction of their city to the founding of a settlement in Italy that would eventually become Rome. All the while the hero and his companions are at the mercy of the competing deities of Graeco-Roman myth, as they engage in a heavenly tug-of-war over their eventual fate.

And David West's translation is a really good one.

It's tempting to be a bit sniffy about prose translations of narrative verse - he even admits this in his introduction (p. xlv). But as he there explains, previous attempts to render the Aeneid into English meter have often been weedy and uninteresting. On the other hand, West's prose is beautifully sonorous and rhythmic, at times almost like reading verse; while at the same time being clear and understandable. Take for example this fragment from Book 4 (pp.70-71):

"With these words Anna lit a fire of wild love in her sister's breast. Where there had been doubt she gave hope and Dido's conscience was overcome. First they approached the shrines and went round the altars asking the blessing of the gods. They picked out yearling sheep, as ritual prescribed, and sacrificed them to Ceres the Lawgiver, to Phoebus Apollo, to Bacchus the Releaser and above all to Juno, the guardian of the marriage bond. Dido in all her beauty would hold a sacred dish in her right hand and would pour wine from it between the horns of a white cow or she would walk in state to richly smoking altars before the faces of the gods, renewing her offerings all day long, and when the bellies of the victims were opened she would stare into their breathing entrails to read the signs."

The other great advantage of this translation, in my opinion, is its not having footnotes or endnotes to distract the reader's attention from the flow of the narrative. Two particularly complicated passages are instead elaborated in appendices at the back of the book; there are also a couple of useful maps and family trees of the principal characters. This does mean, however, that at a few points the text, names, etc., have been slightly amended to make it clearer to the modern reader - which means that this edition won't be suitable as a crib.

There is also an introduction (40 pages) explaining how the Aeneid came to be written; its significance as a work in praise of the Emperor Octavian; and a synopsis of each of its twelve books.

In short, a fine, very readable, lucid translation of this classic poem.
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