The Aeneid in Translation


Stylistic Choices of Translators

There were very clear syntactic differences present in the various translations we studied. Latin was by far the most concise version of the story, on average possessing a total word count approximately thirty percent lower than the next lowest language, which fluctuated. The other languages often needed to add extra words in order to communicate the same semantic meaning, likely due in part to their lack of cases - or lack of the ablative case - and necessary use of auxillary verbs and prepositions. English, in particular, stood out as verbose; for example, it was a full 169 words longer in the excerpt from the fourth book than the Latin, with Spanish following at 119 extra words, and then German with 104 more. However, the languages of newer translation — Spanish, English, and German — possessed largely similar word counts. The greatest difference within those languages was between the English in German excerpts in the fourth book with the English excerpt being fifteen percent longer. Nevertheless, the average difference amoung the translating languages was approximately a small nine percent. Additionally, we noticed a wealth of archaic language and grammar in all translations, which was a nice addition by the translators in order to be accurate to the original, as Vergil wrote The Aeneid in a formal and archaic style, even for his time in order to emulate the antiquated speech of Homer's Greek. There were evident differences in translation style at a glance as well; the Spanish and Latin versions tended to have very short lines, while the German translator seemed to favor longer lines. Therefore, we can conclude that, although each language possessed different linguistic conventions, all translations struggled to perfectly reflect the original Latin, using various means to compromise; sometimes extending poetic lines past their intended length to maintain meaning (as in the case of German) and often using extra lines and words in order to emulate poetic style (as in the case of English).

Sound Devices

Interestingly, our prediction of somewhat consistent sound devices across translations was proved incorrect. While the English translation seemed to incorporate a deliberate number of sound devices, with fifteen instances marked compared to the eighteen of the Latin, the Spanish translation used even fewer, nine instances (half of the original Latin), and the German translation, almost none, appearing only in two instances. However, even in the English translation, instances were concentrated within only two types of devices, while only the Latin made use of all four. The original Latin contained a large quantity of sound devices, which certainly were key in the original, especially in conjunction with its iambic pentameter meter, as the Aeneid could then be read and performed. Modern translations of the Aeneid rarely become oral performances, so this could account for the lack of attention to sound. Thus, we might conclude based on our data regarding sound devices that the poetics and original artistry of the Aeneid were not as highly prioritized by translators as was the value of the literature by the content. Contrary to this, though the data showed large differences in use of sound devices, the same data shows more similarity in the use of figurative language. In almost all language devices (excluding those less conducive to other languages such as asyndeton and synchysis), the instances of usage were directly mirrored by at least one other language, and occasionally two. This might suggest that translators did make an effort to reflect Virgil's poetic style, but it is also possible that this was still the result of a narrative-focused direct translation of words that maintained Virgil's figurative language with them. Thus, this does not necesarily disprove that poetic stylings were addressed equally by translators.

Shifts in Tense

In contrast, our expectation of changing tenses held true. Of course, tenses had to change, as each language uses different tenses. For example, while Latin and Spanish have a wide range of different tenses, English only uses three: past, present, and future. For example, the excerpt from the first book was mostly written in present tense in Latin. The use of present tense adds to the sense of drama in Aeneas’ speech, because the readers can be drawn into the scene as if it is happening around them, with actual stakes. While the Spanish and German translators kept the scene in present, the English translators changed the majority of the scene into past tense, thus affecting the actual scene itself by making it sound definite to readers, as if it has already occurred. This change in tense affects the role of the reader by creating a boundary of time between the reader and the story. The Spanish translation, interestingly, tended to stay true to the Latin more than the others, at least in terms of verbs—this can perhaps be attributed to the similar range of tenses in Spanish and Latin, while German and English were forced to simplify. However, especially in the case of the English, we can conclude from the data that style and poetic values, as would have been prevalent in performance, were not prioritized as highly as the narrative itself.


It is important to note that our analysis is based only on our own markup, which was divided between the three of us, and could possibly contain several inconsistencies in style. They were not cross-referenced or checked thoroughly, due to time. Thus, this analysis cannot be definitive, but regardless of the possibility of some errors, we feel like we have gained a strong sense of each of these translations and are able to discuss our observations from them.