Last week's excerpt from the Divine Comedy showed us Dante meeting Virgil, who will guide him through Hell and most of Purgatory. Dante's decision to make Virgil his guide exemplifies the special status many accord the great Latin poet (another indication of the great esteem in which he is held: two of the translations below, the Dryden and the Day-Lewis, are by Poets Laureate of England). Hector Berlioz was among those who loved Virgil, and he based his great, epic opera Les Troyens on episodes from The Aeneid. The composer himself never heard his work as he wanted it to be heard, and the opera had to wait a century for a revival to reveal its magnificence. We have had to wait almost half as long for a local performance, so it was exciting news around here when, after years of rumors, San Francisco Opera put it on its schedule at last. So in honor of Dante, Berlioz, and of course Virgil, here is an excerpt from The Aeneid, sort of a sequel to the story of the opera, which ends with Aeneas, under orders from the gods, sailing off to get the Roman Empire started while the frantic Dido kills herself. In this passage, Aeneas is traveling through the underworld (as ever, at the command of the gods) when he sees the wandering spirit of Dido. He attempts to speak to her.
The Sychaeus who appears at the end of this passage is Dido's first husband; he was dead by the time Aeneas (himself a widower) showed up in Carthage. No one thinks of them as widow and widower, though, which is the point of the odd little joke in The Tempest when the elderly counselor Gonzalo refers to her as "widow Dido" (Act II, scene 1, ll 79 - 85).
First the original text from the Loeb Classical Library:
inter quas Phoenissa recens a volnere Dido
errabat silva in magna. quam Troius heros
ut primum iuxta stetit adgnovitque per umbras
obscuram, qualem primo qui surgere mense
aut videt aut vidisse putat per nubila lunam,
demisit lacrimas dulcique adfatus amore est:
"infelix Dido, verus mihi nuntius ergo
venerat exstinctam, ferroque extrema secutam?
funeris heu! tibi causa fui? per sidera iuro,
per superos, et si qua fides tellure sub ima est,
invitus, regina, tuo di litore cessi.
sed me iussa deum, quae nunc has ire per umbras,
per loca senta situ cogunt noctemque profundam,
imperiis egere suis; nec credere quivi
hunc tantum tibi me discessu ferre dolorem.
siste gradum teque aspectu ne subtrahe nostro.
quem fugis? extremum fato, quod te adloquor, hoc est."
talibus Aeneas ardentem et torva tuentem
lenibat dictis animum lacrimasque ciebat.
illa solo fixos oculos aversa tenebat
nec magis incepto voltum sermone movetur,
quam si dura silex aut stet Marpesia cautes.
tandem corripuit sese atque inimica refugit
in nemus umbriferum, coniunx ubi pristinus illi
respondet curis aequatque Sychaeus amorem.
nec minus Aeneas, casu concussus iniquo,
prosequitur lacrimis longe et miseratur euntem.
Inde datum molitur iter. . . .
Next comes the Loeb translation, which is intended to give you a crib for the Latin. I think they have a more recent edition; you'll note the archaic language used in H R Fairclough's 1916 translation. It's always a dilemma for translators, particularly of Virgil, and particularly in a time like our own that does not have a recognized "grand style" in poetry: how do you both capture Virgil in the language of our time and give some sense of the grandeur and concision of the Latin original? Most of the translators below discuss their different approaches in the introductions to their work, so if you are inspired to read any of the full translations, as I hope you are, it's worthwhile reading the introductions as well.
Among them, with wound still fresh, Phoenician Dido was wandering in the great forest, and soon as the Trojan hero stood nigh and knew her, a dim form amid the shadows – even as, in the early month, one sees or fancies he has seen the moon rise amid the clouds – he shed tears, and spoke to her in tender love: "Unhappy Dido! then was the tale brought me true, that thou wert no more, and hadst sought thy doom with the sword? Was I, alas, the cause of death to thee? By the stars I swear, by the world above, and whatever is sacred in the grave below, unwillingly, O queen, I parted from thy shores. But the gods' decrees, which now constrain me to pass through these shades, through lands squalid and forsaken, and through abysmal night, drove me with their behests; nor could I deem my going thence would bring on thee distress so deep. Stay thy step and withdraw not from our view. Whom fleest thou? The last word Fate suffers me to say to thee is this!"
With such speech amid springing tears Aeneas would soothe the wrath of the fiery, fierce-eyed queen. She, turning away, kept her looks fixed on the ground and no more changes her countenance as he essays to speak than if she were set in hard flint or Marpesian rock. At length she flung herself away and, still his foe, fled back to the shady grove, where Sychaeus, her lord of former days, responds to her sorrows and gives her love for love. Yet none the less, dazed by her unjust doom, Aeneas attends her with tears afar and pities her as she goes.
Thence he toiled along the way that offered itself. . . .
Out of curiosity I ran the Latin through Google Translate, which gave me the following, which helps me appreciate further what human translators do:
Among them, with wound still fresh, Phoenician Dido
and wandered in the great forest. the Trojan hero
as soon as he stood near her and form amid the shadows
an obscure, such as, in the early in the month of
, one sees or thinks he has seen through the clouds the moon,
he let down his tears and with sweet love:
"Unhappy Dido, therefore, a true message
he had been extinguished, and wound extreme?
Alas! You have been the cause? I swear by the stars,
by the gods above, and if that 's true in depths below,
against my will, O queen, thy di shores.
But, by the orders of the gods, which now has to go through these shadows,
squalid and forsaken, and through abysmal night, in divers places,
their behests; neither able to believe
this so great grief to you by my departure.
Stay thy step and withdraw not from our view.
Whom do you fly? is our last chance to say to thee, that is. "
Aeneas, such as burning and grim event
soothe began to weep.
She kept her eyes fixed on
the matter of the attempt and the face, and moved no more,
than if hard flint or Marpesus.
At length she flung herself away and fled
the shady grove, where the former spouse
worries and equals her love.
nor the less, dazed by her unjust doom,
continues tears afar and pities she went.
Thence he toils along. . . .
Phoenician Dido wandered in that broad wood,
Her wound still fresh; and when the Trojan hero
Encountered her and recognized her dim form
Through shadows, as a person sees the new moon
Through clouds – or thinks he sees it – as it rises,
He wept and spoke to her in tender love:
"Poor Dido, then the messenger was right –
You stabbed yourself and brought about your own end?
And it was my fault? By the stars, the high gods,
And any truth below the earth: my queen,
It was against my will I left your country,
And by the orders of the gods, who now
Compel me to pass through this shadowed squalor,
These depths of night. No, I did not believe
That I would bring you so much pain by leaving.
Stay here – don't back away, but let me see you.
Who are you running from? Fate gives this last chance
To speak to you." She only glared in fury
While he was pleading, while he called up tears.
Here eyes stayed on the ground, her face averted,
As changeless in expression, while he spoke,
As granite or a jagged marble outcrop.
At last she darted bitterly away
To the dark forest, where her spouse Sychaeus
Felt for her sorrow and returned her love.
Aeneas too was shaken by her hard fate.
His long gaze and his pitying tears pursued her.
On the appointed path he struggled forward.
The Robert Fagles translation (2006):
And wandering there among them, wound still fresh,
Phoenician Dido drifted along the endless woods.
As the Trojan hero paused beside her, recognized her
through the shadows, a dim, misty figure – as one
when the month is young may see or seem to see
the new moon rising up through banks of clouds –
that moment Aeneas wept and approached the ghost
with tender words of love: "Tragic Dido,
so, was the story true that came my way?
I heard that you were dead . . .
you took the final measure with a sword.
Oh, dear god, was it I who caused your death?
I swear by the stars, by the Powers on high, whatever
faith one swears by here in the depths of the earth,
I left your shores, my Queen, against my will. Yes,
the will of the gods, that drives me through the shadows now,
these moldering places so forlorn, this deep unfathomed night –
their decrees have forced me on. Nor did I ever dream
my leaving could have brought you so much grief.
Stay a moment. Don't withdraw from my sight.
Running away – from whom? This is the last word
that Fate allows me to say to you. The last."
Aeneas, with such appeals, with welling tears,
tried to soothe her rage, her wild fiery glance.
But she, her eyes fixed on the ground, turned away,
her features no more moved by his pleas as he talked on
than if she were set in stony flint or Parian marble rock.
And at last she tears herself away, his enemy forever,
fleeing back to the shadowed forests where Sychaeus,
her husband long ago, answers all her anguish,
meets her love with love. But Aeneas, no less
struck by her unjust fate, escorts her from afar
with streaming tears and pities her as she passes.
From there they labor along the charted path. . . .
The Robert Fitzgerald translation (1983):
Among them, with her fatal wound still fresh,
Phoenician Dido wandered the deep wood.
The Trojan captain paused nearby and knew
Her dim form in the dark, as one who sees,
Early in the month, or thinks to have seen, the moon
Rising through cloud, all dim. He wept and spoke
Tenderly to her:
"Dido, so forlorn,
The story then that came to me was true,
That you were out of life, had met your end
By your own hand. Was I, was I the cause?
I swear by heaven's stars, by the high gods,
By any certainty below the earth,
I left your land against my will, my queen.
The gods' commands drove me to do their will,
As now they drive me through this world of shades,
These mouldy waste lands and these depths of night.
And I could not believe that I would hurt you
So terribly by going. Wait a little.
Do not leave my sight.
Am I someone to flee from? The last word
Destiny lets me say to you is this."
Aeneas with such pleas tried to placate
The burning soul, savagely staring back,
And tears came to his eyes. But she had turned
With gaze fixed on the ground as he spoke on,
Her face no more affected than if she were
Immobile granite or Marpesian stone.
At length she flung away from him and fled,
His enemy still, into the shadowy grove
Where he whose bride she once had been, Sychaeus,
Joined in her sorrows and returned her love.
Aeneas still gazed after her in tears,
Shaken by her ill fate and pitying her.
With effort then he took the given way,
and they went on . . . .
The C Day Lewis translation (1952); he too attempts a line-for-line version; his translation was commissioned by the BBC and intended to be read aloud over the radio:
Amongst them, with her death-wound still bleeding, through the deep wood
Was straying Phoenician Dido. Now when the Trojan leader
Found himself near her and knew that the form he glimpsed through the shadows
Was hers – as early in the month one sees, or imagines he sees,
Through a wrack of cloud the new moon rising and glimmering –
He shed some tears, and addressed her in tender, loving tones: –
Poor, unhappy Dido, so the message was true that came to me
Saying you'd put an end to your life with the sword and were dead?
Oh god! Was it death I brought you, then? I swear by the stars,
By the powers above, by whatever is sacred in the Underworld,
It was not of my own will, Dido, I left your land.
Heaven's commands, which now force me to traverse the shades,
This sour and derelict region, this pit of darkness, drove me
Imperiously from your side. I did not, could not imagine
My going would ever bring such terrible agony on you.
Don't move away! Oh, let me see you a little longer!
To fly from me, when this is the last word fate allows us!
Thus did Aeneas speak, trying to soften the wild-eyed,
Passionate-hearted ghost, and brought the tears to his own eyes.
She would not turn to him; she kept her gaze on the ground,
And her countenance remained as stubborn to his appeal
As if it were carved from recalcitrant flint or a crag of marble.
At last she flung away, hating him still, and vanished
Into the shadowy wood where her first husband, Sychaeus,
Understand her unhappiness and gives her an equal love.
None the less did Aeneas, hard hit by her piteous fate,
Weep after her from afar, as she went, with tears of compassion.
Then he passed on the appointed way. . . .
The classic Dryden translation (1697):
Not far from these Phœnician Dido stood;
Fresh from her Wound, her Bosom bath'd in Blood.
Whom, when the Trojan Heroe hardly knew,
Obscure in Shades, and with a doubtful view,
(Doubtful as he who runs thro' dusky Night,
Or thinks he sees the Moon's uncertain Light:)
With Tears he first approach'd the sullen Shade,
And, as his Love inspir'd him, thus he said.
Unhappy Queen! then is the common breath
Of Rumour true, in your reported Death,
And I, alas, the Cause! by Heav'n, I vow,
And all the Pow'rs that rule the Realms below,
Unwilling I forsook your friendly State:
Commanded by the Gods, and forc'd by Fate.
Those Gods, that Fate, whose unresisted Might
Have sent me to these Regions, void of Light,
Thro' the vast Empire of eternal Night.
Nor dar'd I to presume, that, press'd with Grief,
My Flight should urge you to this dire Relief.
Stay, stay your Steps, and listen to my Vows:
'Tis the last Interview that Fate allows!
In vain he thus attempts her Mind to move,
With Tears and Pray'rs, and late repenting Love.
Disdainfully she look'd; then turning round,
But fix'd her Eyes unmov'd upon the Ground.
And, what he says, or swears, regards no more
Than the deaf Rocks, when the loud Billows roar.
But whirl'd away, to shun his hateful sight,
Hid in the Forest, and the Shades of Night.
Then sought Sicheus, thro' the shady Grove,
Who answer'd all her Cares, and equal'd all her Love.
Some pious Tears the pitying Heroe paid;
And follow'd with his Eyes the flitting Shade.
Then took the forward Way, by Fate ordain'd. . . .