The Aeneid in Translation


The History of Vergil's Aeneid and Its Cultural Impact

The Aeneid is a twelve book long epic poem composed by the Roman poet Vergil in the 1st century BCE. It was designed as a successor to the Iliad and the Odyssey written by the Greek poet Homer around 700 years earlier in the 8th century BCE. However, instead of following the Greek heroes of Odysseus, Achilles, Agamemnon, and company, Vergil adopts the Trojan Aeneas to portray the legendary journey of the forefathers of Rome to the Italian peninsula. Vergil’s masterpiece quickly joined the pinnacles of Latin literature, and it has remained a centerpiece of study for classicists, literary scholars, and historians.

The Aeneid has secured itself as a strong center of cultural significance. In 1944, T.S. Eliot described the Aeneid as 'the classic of all Europe' stemming from its rich political history and the persisting relevance of Vergil. In addition to the great tale it tells, the Aeneid also indicates the historical state of Rome for study right as it transitioned from republic to empire under Caesar Augustus. It provides insights into early political nationalism and means of classical propoganda. 1500 years later, artists of the Italian Renaissance viewed ancient Rome as the origin of Italian art and civilization, and the The Aeneid became the feature of Renaissance painting, carving, and sculpture, emulating Hellenistic works such as the famous Greek statue of "Laocoon and His Sons", which despicts an event of book two. Lastly, the Aeneid is of particular interest to linguists, as Vergil attempted to emulate the antiquated Homeric style through the transition from Greek to Latin. Thus, later reproductions and translations become somewhat of a second-stage reflection, attempting to write in archaic forms of their own language.

As a result of its popularity and cultural relevancy, the Aeneid has been translated into many common languages, some of which are far different from the original Latin. For this project, we examined primarily the Spanish, German, and English translations as well as the original Latin. We were partially limited to these by the language proficiencies of the researchers involved, but we were able to observe a wide variety of etymological trends throughout this group. For example, Spanish is a close descendant of Latin within the Romance languages, while German is less related yet still retains some influence. English balances the two, both being a sister language to German and drawing large quantities of its vocabulary from Latinate and Romance roots. This raises the question, how do translators address the varying artistic intricacies of each language.

The object of our research project is this: what linguistic changes are made across translations with regards to grammatical structures and figurative language? We wish to observe how different translations accommodate poetic and grammatical structures that may not exist in the original form or seek to replicate them in their own language. Some examples of what we looked for are verb forms and usage, the consistency of tenses, the emulation of sound devices and figurative speech, and overall word count.

With the epic consisting of twelve books, each containing several hundred lines, our research selected key passages of the work to focus on, acting as microcosms for the entire piece. Of this, we chose Aeneas’ speech to his men in book one, the passage of Laocoon and the snakes before the sacking of Troy in book two, and Queen Dido’s suicide and release by the goddess Iris in book four. These were selected because they provide examples from across a broad range of the epic's length and are commonly renowned in the academic setting as being particularly strong demonstrations of Virgil's artistry through their use of sound devices, poetic stylings, and beautiful depictions. Additionally, together they employ a diversity of grammatical functions, which allowed us to analyze the translations of different tenses and voices rather than to merely observe continuous sections maintaining the same grammatical style.

Laocoon and His Sons

The Statue "Laocoon and His Sons"

Who are we?

Marion Riley is an undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh double majoring in Linguistics and Religious Studies, hopefully with a minor in Classics, and definitely with a certificate in Medieval and Renaissance Studies. She studied Latin and Spanish in high school, and was always fascinated by the way her classes would intersect. In AP Latin, she fell in love with Vergil’s Aeneid and this passion has guided many of her studies and interests since. She proposed this project and has been delighted every step of the way to share her interests with Sarah and Kalan. She worked on English, Latin, and Spanish excerpts.

Sarah is an undergraduate studying Linguistics, Neuroscience, and German Studies. She was drawn to this project because of its linguistic nature, it let her dissect and practice her German, and because it was about ancient literature, which she doesn't get to study much but wishes she could. She worked on English and German excerpts.

Kalan Culver-McDonald is a History and Classics major at the University of Pittsburgh, focusing on Latin and Ancient Greek language. Considering that it might be nice to know one that people still speak, he is also pursuing a certificate in German Language as well as a minor in English Literature. What drew Kalan toward this project was that, as a tutor for high school AP Latin, he has already worked with Virgil's Aeneid extensively, and he found the thought of using this experience in conjunction with other languages to be fascinating. Additionally, Kalan is currently working on an undergraduate research project that deals similarly with the impact of ancient languages on modern fantasy literature, and he was eager to work with individuals passionate about resemblant facets of language. For him this project has been an interesting and wonderful experience. He worked on English, Latin, and German excerpts.