Hostname: page-component-77c89778f8-5wvtr Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-07-20T20:22:52.610Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

What Sort of Translation of Virgil do we need?1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 January 2009


Our first need is to define closely the sort of people for whom we intend the translation. Then we must be clear as to what we aim to achieve with them and it. Our audience, presumably, consists of young people many of whom have a primary allegiance to some other Arts discipline, chiefly English, Modern Languages, or History. Almost all will have some experience of studying literature in their own tongue, some will be familiar at first hand with foreign literatures, few will have more than a nodding acquaintance with Latin. By and large they will be used to taking a text and pressing it so as to establish a close understanding of it. Unhappily, if they attempt that with any translation known to me disaster will inevitably ensue. At this point, many readers will no doubt feel that all their doubts about the wisdom of attempting to teach Virgil through translation are being vindicated, while, in my experience, those who wish to defend the practice will tend to do so by granting the proposition that much will inevitably be lost in translation, conceding that students must learn not to press translations, and then making a number of ill-defined generalizations on what can be achieved. What I wish to argue is that none of the popular Virgilian translations was composed with our needs in mind, all make certain assumptions which were possibly quite proper for their audiences but which render their work unsuitable for ours. I shall argue further that we are far too lenient in the demands we make of our translators.

Research Article
Copyright © The Classical Association 1978

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)



2. G & R 21 (1974), 111–27.Google Scholar

3. Dickinson, P., The Aeneid (New York, 1961)Google Scholar; Knight, W. F. Jackson, The Aeneid (Harmondsworth, 1956)Google Scholar; Lewis, C. Day, The Eclogues, Georgics and Aeneid of Virgil (London, 1966).Google Scholar

4. Professor Richmond Lattimore is perhaps best known for his magnificent translations of the Iliad (Chicago, 1951)Google Scholar and of the Odyssey (New York, 1967).Google Scholar He and Professor David Grene are joint editors and most significant contributors to The Complete Greek Tragedies (Chicago, 1959)Google Scholar, a series familiar to all who have made any serious attempt to teach Greek tragedy in translation.