Monday, February 10, 2020


Susanna Morton Braund, Zara M. Torlone (ed.), Virgil and his Translators. Classical Presences. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2018. Pp. ix, 520. ISBN 9780198810810. $124.96.

Reviewed by Holly Ranger, Institute of Classical Studies (

Version at BMCR home site

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of this review.]

Virgil and His Translators collects twenty-eight papers from three international workshops and conferences held in Vancouver (2012), Paris (2014), and Cuma (2014), and represents the first major publication from Susanna Braund's long-term research project 'Virgil Translated'. The volume's comparative scope is ambitious and capacious, comprising essays on Virgil in Castilian, Chinese, English, Esperanto, French, German, Homeric Greek, Hiberno-English, Italian, Norwegian, Brazilian Portuguese, Russian, Slovenian, and Turkish, predominantly in verse translations dating from the fourteenth century to the twenty-first—some familiar, but many new to Anglophone scholarship. The focus of the essays falls on Virgil's Aeneid, which receives exclusive treatment in sixteen essays, with Georgics and Eclogues receiving two treatments each; the remaining essays survey translations of two or more of these works. The editors have structured the volume by dividing it into two culturally and theoretically overlapping thematic groups, 'Virgil Translation as Cultural and Ideological Capital', and 'Poets as Translators of Virgil: Cultural Competition, Appropriation, and Identification'. Most of the individual contributions provide in-depth case studies that reveal each translation's deep embeddedness within a particular culture and historical moment. These are framed by complementary bookends: the editors' introduction of the volume's theoretical frameworks (Braund and Torlone), and an afterword by a poet and translator who always writes powerfully on translation as a personal engagement with literature (Balmer).

Part 1 (chapters 1-15) examines the role of Virgilian translations in a range of national cultures. While some chapters offer diachronic perspectives on translations of Virgil within one culture (chapter 1 in France, chapters 4 and 5 in England, and chapter 7 in the US), others make cross-cultural connections, discussing the role of vernacular Italian and eighteenth-century Homeric Greek intertexts on Castilian and Russian translations of Virgil (chapters 2 and 10, respectively). The second half of Part 1 expands beyond Europe to consider translations of Virgil in Turkish and Chinese; these essays in particular challenge any disciplinary complacency about translation as a monolithic practice, offering a 'kaleidoscope' of possibilities and focalizing issues central to translation theory: 'claims to authority and legitimacy within and beyond Europe, the process of developing a literary vernacular by means of translations, and the significance of understanding the political, social, and linguistic discourses of the moment' (7). Highlights of Part 1 include Craig Kallendorf's impressive tabulation and discussion of Virgilian translations that predate 1850—from Bengali to Hungarian and Serbian (Chapter 1); Braund's discussion (Chapter 7) of the major popular American verse translations of the Aeneid 'after Vietnam' (Mandelbaum, Fitzgerald, Lombardo, Fagles, Ruden), which pays attention to the ways in which each translation was framed by the translator's relation to classical scholarship and gender in addition to their stance on the war in Vietnam and Virgil's attitude to empire; and Jinyu Liu's discussion of twentieth-century Chinese translations of the Eclogues and Georgics—Liu elucidates both how translators engaged with a text completely foreign to Chinese literary culture 'in all its aspects, from genre and metre to plot and aesthetics' (12), and how these Chinese translations nuance the 'pessimistic' reading of the Aeneid.

Part 2 (chapters 16-28) turns from nations to individual poets and translators who have looked to Virgil 'in search of inspiration or legitimization' of their own poetic voice or national literary canons (12). Most of these chapters, arranged chronologically from Du Bellay to Heaney, deal explicitly with translation theory (domestication versus foreignization) and the issues raised by translation as a practice, that is, the challenges encountered by poets in their efforts to 'convey the meaning of the source text to their audiences while retaining the formal features of the Virgilian original' (12). Exemplary here are the provocative chapters by Richard F. Thomas (Chapter 16) and by Ulrich Eigler on Pier Paolo Pasolini (Chapter 26). Thomas discusses notions of equivalence, untranslatability, and domestication using a forensic examination of aesthetic, linguistic, and metre-specific effects, and asks whether it is possible to translate language-specific idioms ('the aesthetic achievement' of Virgil, 256) into a target language without losing the 'poignancy' or 'aesthetic appeal' (244) of the source text. This reviewer felt that the chapter's argument was predicated on the use of Venuti's critique of domestication as a straw man. Thomas notes that '[i]n the case of translation of Roman poetry, [Venuti's] considerations and reservations seem to recede' (245); yet domestication is not simply concerned with the aesthetic relationship between source text and target text, but also (following Deleuze and Guattari) the relationships of power between major and minor languages, and cultural and linguistic hegemony—as revealed in, say, the neocolonial action of a domesticating ('majoritarian') translation of a Farsi text in an English that whitewashes the source text's cultural values. Latin, like ancient Greek, occupies a curious position as the only language in relation to which English may be said to hold the 'minoritarian' position; a careful analysis of these dynamics was missing here. In contrast, Eigler's chapter (his second in the volume) pays close attention to linguistic power dynamics, detailing how the elitism of the Virgilian source text can be reproduced in the target text's choice of Italian dialect. Eigler suggests that Pasolini's idiomatic translation only 'somewhat transformed' (392) the fascistic 'national political desires, and linguistic codes, which materialize in the language and poetry of neoclassicism' (390) and the renewed impulse in the 1920s and 1930s to translate Virgil's national epic.

Braund's and Torlone's brief appeal to translation theory in their introduction (4–5) met with a sniffy reception in Stuart Lyons' short review of Virgil and His Translators for Classics for All.1 While Lyons' scorn is based, in part, on careless googling (he mistakes critical theorist and comparative literature scholar Homi K. Bhaba for nuclear physicist Homi J. Bhaba), his review is symptomatic of the discipline's broader disdain for the insights of the cultural turns of translation studies over the last thirty years. One of the major strengths of Braund's and Torlone's volume is its attentiveness to translation debates beyond big-C classics, within which 'translation' remains heavily policed. Classical scholarship and pedagogy suffer from an obsession with extreme foreignization: one historical trope of the ancient Greek or Latin translator's preface, for example, is the apology for the mutilation in English of the ancient's incomparable ('untranslatable') tongue; and students continue to sit translation examinations which assess their ability to replicate rather than creatively recreate the rhetorical devices and characteristics of the ancient source texts. In contrast, Braund and Torlone are interested in the ways in which literary translation is conceived and discussed and how the process of translation is not hierarchical or reductive, but 'produces hybrids and oscillations between worlds' (5). The volume's sensitivity to issues of translation may stem from the practical experience of Braund herself, a prolific and competent translator of Silver Latin; but the editors' concerns are reflected more broadly throughout the volume, which emphasizes the political reception of Virgil's poetry. Virgil and His Translators occupies a significant space within the burgeoning and long-overdue disciplinary shift away from a belief in objective philology and towards an appreciation both of the critical and creative work of experimental translators, and of the conceptual frameworks within which they operate. This disciplinary shift has been significantly stimulated, since the volume's publication, by the popular success of Emily Wilson's The Odyssey; most recently came the announcement of a new journal for classical literary translation eXchanges which seeks to examine, among other things, the utility of literary translations in teaching and learning.2 This reviewer hopes that Braund is bolder in her forthcoming monograph and grapples with some of the theoretical issues gestured towards by the edited volume: how the metaphor of domestication/foreignization—applied normally to describe the Englishing of a minoritarian language text—is complicated by this 'Urtext of European colonialism' (5); and how the (ideological) 'cultural capital' (6) of Virgil is defined and constructed, and reinforced as much as it is resisted.

This substantial volume will appeal to all Virgilians and reception studies scholars, evidencing as it does the many and varied permutations of three ancient source texts, and setting a new standard for breadth and depth in comparative surveys. The volume is also of use to students or those unfamiliar with any of the many languages treated: all quotations are translated, and a comprehensive bibliography is appended to the essays. Virgil and His Translators has rightly been the recipient of paeans by Lee Fratantuono in the Classical Journal Online and David Hopkins in Translation and Literature, both of whom enumerate in further detail the many achievements of this volume and to which this reviewer directs the interested reader's attention.3

Authors and titles

Introduction. The Translation History of Virgil: The Elevator Version—Susanna Braund and Zara Martirosova Torlone
Part 1: Virgil Translation as Cultural and Ideological Capital
1: Successes and Failures in Virgilian Translation—Craig Kallendorf
2: Dante's Influence on Virgil: Italian volgarizzamenti and Enrique de Villena's Eneida of 1428—Richard Armstrong
3: Epic and the Lexicon of Violence: Gregorio Hernández de Velasco's Translation of Aeneid 2 and Cervantes's Numancia—Stephen Rupp
4: Love and War: Translations of Aeneid 7 into English (from Caxton until Today)—Alison Keith
5: The Passion of Dido: Aeneid 4 in English Translation to 1700—Gordon Braden
6: An Amazon in the Renaissance: Marie de Gournay's Translation of Aeneid 2—Fiona Cox
7: Virgil after Vietnam—Susanna Braund
8: Translations of Virgil into Esperanto—Geoffrey Greatrex
9: Translations of Virgil into Ancient Greek—Michael Paschalis
10: Sing it Like Homer: Eugenios Voulgaris's Translation of the Aeneid—Sophia Papaioannou
11: Farming for the Few: Jožef Šubic's Georgics and the Early Slovenian Reception of Virgil—Marko Marinčič
12: Reviving Virgil in Turkish—Ekin Öyken and Çiğdem Dürüşken
13: Finding a Pastoral Idiom: Norwegian Translations of Virgil's Eclogues and the Politics of Language—Mathilde Skoie
14: The Aeneid and 'Les Belles Lettres': Virgil's Epic in French between Fiction and Philology, from Veyne back to Perret—Séverine Clément-Tarantino
15: Virgil in Chinese—Jinyu Liu

Part 2: Poets as Translators of Virgil: Cultural Competition, Appropriation, and Identification
16: Domesticating Aesthetic Effects: Virgilian Case Studies—Richard F. Thomas
17: Du Bellay's L'Énéide: Rewriting as Poetic Reinvention? —Hélène Gautier
18: Aesthetic and Political Concerns in Dryden's Æneis—Stephen Scully
19: Translation Theory into Practice: Jacques Delille's Géorgiques de Virgile—Marco Romani Mistretta
20: 'Only a poet can translate true poetry': The Translation of Aeneid 2 by Giacomo Leopardi—Giampiero Scafoglio
21: Wordsworth's Translation of Aeneid 1–3 and the Earlier Tradition of English Translations of Virgil—Philip Hardie
22: Epic Failures: Vasilii Zhukovskii's 'Destruction of Troy' and Russian Translations of the Aeneid—Zara Martirosova Torlone
23: Virgílio Brasileiro: A Brazilian Virgil in the Nineteenth Century—Paulo Sérgio de Vasconcellos
24: Between Voß and Schröder: German Translations of Virgil's Aeneid—Ulrich Eigler
25: Reflections on Two Verse Translations of the Eclogues in the Twentieth Century: Paul Valéry and Marcel Pagnol—Jacqueline Fabre- Serris
26: Come tradurre?: Pier Paolo Pasolini and the Tradition of Italian Translations of Virgil's Aeneid—Ulrich Eigler
27: Irish Versions of Virgil's Eclogues and Georgics—Cillian O'Hogan
28: Limiting our Losses: A Translator's Journey through the Aeneid—Alessandro Fo
Afterword: Let Go Fear: Future Virgils—Josephine Balmer


1.   Classics for All
2.   Society for Classical Studies
3.   Fratantuono, L. Classical Journal Online 8 September 2019: CJ-Online 2019.09.08; Hopkins, D. Translation and Literature 28 (2-3) (2019), 330-335: Edingburgh University Press Journals.

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