“The Plains of Troy Within Us”
I chose Mandelbaum’s verse translation of Aeneid for two main reasons. First, because I plan to read his translation of Divine Comedy and the same translator might give me a better sense of the connection between the two classics. Second, Mandelbaum’s introduction and a phrase in his inscription, “the plains of Troy within us”, intrigued me. However, it was not until half way through the book did I get an inkling of his meaning, and started to appreciate the work as much more than an imitation of Homer’s Illiad and Odyssey.
In Homer’s epic poems and the Greek tragedies, Troy is a synonym of doom and total destruction, a fallen nation, a Paradise lost, but in Virgil’s Aeneid, Troy is a homeland hope for, a place of destiny, a hope against hope, the Promised Land. There is a striking similarity between the story of Aeneid and that of the children of Israel in the Bible. A calamitous fall from prosperity, survival and exile of a remnant, a divine promise, a journey filled with dangers, sacrifices, afflictions and temptations. Being a devout Jew, Mandelbaum must have recognized it. One could almost hear him sigh along with “pious Aeneas”.
Tracing the history of Rome back to the Trojan hero Aeneas, the son of Aphrodite and Anchises, and “foretelling”, by the spirit of Anchises, the universal rule of the Roman Empire in the person of Augustus, Virgil was perhaps glorifying the Roman Empire and its first Emperor, but more than that, he expressed a sense of purpose and destiny in the life and pilgrimage of an individual, in the history of a race and the the world at large.
St. Augustine wrote in his Confessions that in his youth he was moved by the love story of Aeneas and Dido, though he later turned away from pagan literature. He might have also seen in the story of Aeneas, the imperfect reflection, a distorted view from a distance, as it were, of the history of the people of God, i.e. City of God.
In his last illness he called for the cases containing his manuscripts, with the intention of burning the Aeneid. He had previously left directions in his will that his
literary executors, Varius and Tucca, should publish nothing of his which had not already been given to the world by himself. This pathetic desire that the work to which he had given so much care, and of which such great expectations were formed, should not survive him has been used as an argument to prove his own dissatisfaction with the poem. A passage from a letter of his to Augustus is also quoted, in which he speaks as if he felt that the undertaking of the work had been a mistake. This dissatisfaction with his work may be ascribed to his passion for perfection of workmanship, which death prevented him from attaining. The command of Augustus overrode the poet’s wish and rescued the poem. (Encyclopædia Britannica. 28 (11th ed.). p. 112.)
- Virgil. The Aeneid of Virgil: A Verse Translation. Trans. Allen Mandelbaum. Toronto: Bantam, 1981.
- “Aeneid” at Perseus
- “Aeneid” at ebooks@Adelaide