All golden he glittered....
This book has been one of my biggest surprises of 2012. When it comes to the Ancients, to be honest I am intimidated, and the little that I have read has been a very mixed experience. on one hand, I loved Euripides, on the other, Homer was an utter disaster. However, I press on ever so slowly and very gradually, with the help of Ted Hughes's Tales of Ovid (a much needed boost to my knowledge), I am a little more at ease when I first started. Virgil's The Aeneid was, on the whole, a success.
And I didn't actually want to read it. I wanted to have read it, does that make sense? So I put it on my 2012 Challenges and have dreaded it since January. But, last night, on my quest to make a massive dint in my chalenges, I began reading at midnight, aiming only to read the first book. But I couldn't put it down.
Getting the negatives out of the way: I did struggle to keep track of the characters and the action, and probably because by 3am I was rather tired, my mind wandered from time to time. Usually, when this happens, I either come clean and say I spoiled a book for myself, or, in the right circumstances, I attribute at least part of the blame to the author who allowed me to lose focus.
But not Virgil. Yes, I didn't find it easy, and yes, I am a little blurry. But Virgil brought me back on the few occassions my mind did wander. Somehow, despite the brutality of the Trojan War described in the second half, I wasn't forced to pay attention with the stomach-churning explicitness as in Homer, more that I felt Virgil was my guide and he kept me with him, shaking me sometimes with some of the most beautiful, colourful descriptions I've ever read. Virgil was Dante's guide through The Divine Comedy (until Paradiso at least), and reading The Aeneid, I appreciate now why this was so. Virgil has always been a name known to me, but having read this, he isn't just a name. He is a man, a poet, and a guide.
The text blazed. The colours; the purples, the golds and the silver threads, Isis's rainbow -
... saffron-winged, sparkling like dew and trailing a thousand colours as she caught the light of the sun, flew down across the sky.
The bronze of the armour, the rose of Aurora, the blues of the sea, the shining constellations: this epic glitters, it blazes - honestly? This is HD Lit! At times, the colours are muted -
There were no blazing constellations, no height of heaven bright with a starry glow, but only mists in a muffled sky and the moon wrapped in murk of deadest night.
But then, as Ted Hughes describes Crow, we're in full glitter once more. This text shines and dazzles like nothing I have ever read before. And yes, I said I struggled, but in a way it doesn't matter because it's so full of colour, like Isis, and so full of life, and the speed of it - I don't know if it was me or Virgil, but this was at a rapid pace, and I don't care because I will become more familiar with the Ancients and I will read it again, I can read this, W. F. Jackson Knight's translation, and I can and will read others as well.
And I think of Virgil, shy and ill, but he set a fire in the literary world. I wasn't perfect with it, but I want to get better and I will so I can read this again.
One other thing: W. F. Jackson Knight's introduction - it's so affectionate. I don't know why, but I don't tend to read introductions, and when I read Sayers's introduction to The Inferno, I found it patronising and élitist. It reinforced my worries that these classics aren't for me. I'm not educated enough, I don't read Latin and I barely know the Greek alphabet. Jackson Knight's love for The Aeneid was clear, and I didn't feel that he was hanging on to it for himself the way I did with Sayers. I loved that.
So yes, this was a success. It may be like trying to hold water in my hands, but it shone all the same. I want to read it again, and I want to write about it in more detail. For now, I'm still too dazzled.