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Aeneid VI translated by Seamus Heaney

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Edited by Keith Currie, Tuesday, 1 Jun 2021, 22:50

The Gate of Horn

An illustration of a bough rendered in gold adorns the cover of this slim volume and just like the bough the content shines with a brilliance, as of gold.

I have read Aeneid Book VI dozens of times, both in Latin and in various English translations; I am familiar with the entire Latin text, aware of the difficulties at specific points in rendering Virgil’s language into felicitous English and in carrying across the Roman poet’s emotional intensity into another language – an impossible task – or so I might have said before encountering this, the best translation of the Book I have ever read. What a wonderful irony that Heaney’s last gift to the public is a book about the afterlife published after his death.

I recall some years ago remarking to Heaney about his apparent empathy with Virgil – his response simply a smile. The cause of empathy is obvious: both from farming stock, both from a Celtic background (Virgil’s homeland Cisalpine Gaul). A Heaney version of the Georgics? Now, there’s a thought. We may actually have it, lying as a foundation beneath so many of his own poems.

Some have commented on the brevity of this volume and its cost per page. I found I wanted to read it slowly, savouring how Heaney had worked this phrase, rendered that idea. Even the few misspellings, Parathous for Pirithous, Carthiginian for Carthaginian added to the charm; after all Virgil himself died with the Aeneid lacking its final polish, studded with incomplete lines and occasional inconsistency of narrative.

Heaney’s Aeneid VI is itself a masterpiece, as well as homage to a masterpiece.

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