Jan 6: Warned by Hector's ghost

Okay, well, I never finished Mazzini’s essay, which makes me a bad student of the Classics (Harvard), but does bring back good times of being a bad college student.

Today we have the Aeneid (because "H. Schliemann, discoverer of ancient Troy, born Jan. 6, 1822"), which is exciting, because I know that’s an actual classic. For mood I am reading it, on this rainy Califronia Sunday, in front of a fireplace. I’m also going to read it off the computer (at this site, here) because to give myself enough light will spoil everything. Why doesn't a computer also spoil everything? Shut up, that's why.

What it is: “Warned by Hector’s Ghost,” where, we are informed, Hector tells Aeneas to get the hell out of Troy. Off to Latium! -- that's what the HC says, anyway.

Leafing through the front of the book (to discover if the HC revealed who the translator was), I find, not only that it was Dryden, and has his dedicatory letter (to the Earl of Mulgrave), but an introductory note where we are promised that Dryden has versified it into “vigorous and nervous couplets.”

“Swoln were his feet” (line 7) – an lol precursor! In the dream he is still bleeding – nice touch.

The Greeks are compared to a flood in this nice triplet (and Dryden is willing to break up the couplets with a triplet, itself very nice):

Or deluges, descending on the plains,
Sweep o’er the yellow year, destroy the pains
Of lab’ring oxen and the peasant’s gains.
I like “yellow year” quite a bit. Later Aeneas notes that the Gods are willing to
behold the Greeks defile
Their temples, and abandon to the spoil
Their own abodes
Stupid gods – as an agent I knew once said, they’re “swimming in their own shit.” Dryden also uses “from whence,” which I was taught not to do. These days it’s probably a good idea not to use “whence,” either.

It would be a lot easier to follow this battle if you knew what side everyone was on. “Automedon,” for example – Greek, maybe?

But Priam had fifty nuptial beds – it’s good to be the king! Are we sure we’re living in more depraved times?

The death of Priam is fine, as they used to say – Achilles’s son kills one of his sons in front of him, which causes this:
‘The gods,’ said he, ‘requite thy brutal rage!
As sure they will, barbarian, sure they must,
If there be gods in heav’n, and gods be just—
Who tak’st in wrongs an insolent delight;
With a son’s death t’ infect a father’s sight.
Not he, whom thou and lying fame conspire
To call thee his—not he, thy vaunted sire,
Thus us’d my wretched age: the gods he fear’d,
The laws of nature and of nations heard.
He cheer’d my sorrows, and, for sums of gold,
The bloodless carcass of my Hector sold;
Pitied the woes a parent underwent,
And sent me back in safety from his tent.’

“This said, his feeble hand a javelin threw,
Which, flutt’ring, seem’d to loiter as it flew:
Just, and but barely, to the mark it held,
And faintly tinkled on the brazen shield.
Funny and sad all at once.

then Aeneas goes to kill Helen, but is stopped by his mother (who I had to make myself remember was Venus), who says that it’s pointless. Then, finding his father, son, and wife, he is about to go kill again, but then on his son (Iulus), there appears a band of fire – clearly the chosen one.

Then we get the famous picture (or famous to me, because I took Latin in high school), of Anchises on Aeneas’s back. The wife follows along behind (of course), and gets lost in the flight. She then appears as a ghost and also tells him to go, saying that he’ll marry again. He meets up with his household and begins the flight – miraculously unnoticed by the Greeks, but then Aeneas’s divine mother had as much as foretold that. What excellent plot devices the gods were – hence the term deus ex machina, I guess.

That was not fifteen minutes. More like 25. I mean, I know I’m taking notes, but by the same token I’m more used to reading 17th-century verse than the average working man. Maybe, being less distracted, they read faster back in the day. (And they were more used to verse, which used to appear in the public papers, after all.)

0 comments: