This project began many years ago as practice and gradually grew into something more. In other words, reading Aeneid and rendering it into English became trying to shape those raw, word-for-word lines into something like verse. I was inspired by postmodernist translation projects, such as Thomas Meyer’s Beowulf, some of Anne Carson’s work, and most recently Peter O’Leary’s The Sampo. The key, liberating insight for me was that I did not need to worry about literal, linguistic accuracy. There are hundreds of translations of Aeneid, and in any event the most “accurate” translation in the world would still fail to capture the rich cultural nuance of a two-thousand-year-old poem. Instead, I seek to bring across energies, to reflect and respond to some of the fun and humor and movement of the poem, drawing on everything I know and have learned about poetry and this world, the world we inhabit. I’m grateful to Omar Al-Nakib for his amazing images, which also help reflect, I feel, some of these fragmented truths.
Virgil’s Aeneid, Book 9
[While Aeneas solidifies allies and gathers troops, Turnus attempts an attack on his encamped army.]
I. Nunc tempus equos, nunc poscere currus.
War winds through various regions.
Juno up in heaven aims Iris
straight at Turnus. He’s hanging out
in Pilumnus’ sacred grove.
She, rosy-cheeked goddess, says
“Turnus, your prayer’s answered.
What no god dared promise
the day brings at last.
Aeneas, his men and his fleet
leave the city to seek
the Palatine realm
and Evander’s palace.
That’s not all—
he’s headed to Corythus’s towns,
rounding Lydians up into armed gangs.
What are you waiting for?
is the time to call for
horse and chariot.
Stop lying around—take the field!”
So speaking she whirls about on wings and zips
straight at the sun,
tracing a long arc
through the clouds with her flight.
Recognizing her, the young guy
raises his hands to the sky
and watches her go, saying,
“Iris, heaven’s glory,
who sent you to me?
this sudden streak of light
in the sky?
Such an omen—
heaven’s seams splitting
and stars wobbling
whoever it is calls me to arms.”
So he stomps down to the river
draws water at high tide
and murmurs many prayers,
loading the sky with promises.
Now the whole army stirs
on the open plain,
wealthy in horse, rich in gold-threaded robes.
Messapus leads the charge,
the sons of Tyrrhus bring up
the rear. And Turnus
at the center
like the Ganges
surging quietly with
seven smooth-flowing streams
after the rich flood
drains from the field
swelling its banks.
the Teucrians glimpse
a dark cloud.
Swirling up from black dust
in the fields.
shouts Caicus from the front line.
climb the ramparts,
the enemy’s here—
With a huge cry the Teucrians
flood the gates and fill the battlements.
For so Aeneas had ordered upon leaving:
If in the meantime anything should come to pass,
don’t you dare take the field—stay safe
inside the walls.
Thus though shame and anger bid them fight
inside the gates as he’d told them.
Turnus hurries ahead with 20 handpicked horse
and surprisingly storms the walls,
bouncing atop white-spotted
red-plumed Thracian steed
with golden helm adorning his head.
“Men, is anyone with me?
First into battle?
and whistling a spear through the air
(war’s first missile)
steps onto the field.
His allies raise a shout
at the sight of him, followed by
a terrible murmur
as they marvel at the Teucrians’
cowardly hearts. Those bastards
who won’t show themselves
on the field, nor even
flash their weapons,
nor venture one foot
from their camp.
rides here and there, a wild man,
coming close on horseback,
sniffing for a way in
cower close by in their pens,
safe and bleating beneath mama.
He is a wolf, worked up
into a froth, rabid
to reach what’s just
beyond him, worn out
by the elusive feast
burning to taste it—
So Turnus scans the walls
for purchase, wondering
how he can get in and force
Teucrians to spill out
every which way.
He notices the fleet.
Demands fire and fills his happy hand
with a blazing brand.
And so they all
fall upon the smoldering altars,
rising with torches that glow,
smoke blowing up to the stars.
Tell me, which god
O muses, turned
such cruel flames
from the Trojan
Tell me: faith is ancient, but its flame eternal.
Back when Aeneas first formed his fleet in Phyrgian Ida and prepared to set sail, the mother of gods herself, it’s said, the Berecyntian Queen, spoke to great Jove: “Do what I ask, my son, Master of Olympus. There was a pine forest beloved by me over many years, a grove high on the mountainside where men brought offerings, dark with blackish firs and maples. These I happily gave to the Trojan youth when he lacked wood for ships. But now I’m afraid. Let the ships be free from danger and rough winds as they dock by our hills.”
The son who turns the starry world replied, “O mother, what is it you’re asking? Should ships made by human hands be free from mortal fate? Should Aeneas sail through enemy danger scot-free? Who can guarantee that? … But – when they’ve reached the end and hold the Ausonian shore, and whichever ships have evaded waves and carried the Trojan chief to Laurentine lands, I’ll snatch away their material form and order them to become goddesses of the seas, like Doto, child of Nereus, and Galatea, who cut the foam with their breasts.”
He gave a nod and all Olympus shook.
The promised day has come to pass.
Turnus’s crimes force the issue.
And now a weird, huge light flashes,
and a dawn cloud crosses
the sky—dance of Ida—
and an awful voice falls on the ears
of all soldiers:
Don’t worry Trojans—no need
to defend my ships or take up arms—
Turnus will sooner roast the seas
than my sacred pines. So
go in peace, your mother commands.
Each ship eases from its bonds.
Drifts out to current’s deep.
Then (mirabile monstrum)
they’re born again in water.
Virgil, Aeneid Book 9 (Latin)
Atque ea diversa penitus dum parte geruntur,
Irim de caelo misit Saturnia Iuno
audacem ad Turnum. luco tum forte parentis
Pilumni Turnus sacrata valle sedebat.
ad quem sic roseo Thaumantias ore locuta est: 5
‘Turne, quod optanti divum promittere nemo
auderet, volvenda dies en attulit ultro.
Aeneas urbe et sociis et classe relicta
sceptra Palatini sedemque petit Evandri.
nec satis: extremas Corythi penetravit ad urbes 10
Lydorumque manum, collectos armat agrestis.
quid dubitas? nunc tempus equos, nunc poscere currus.
rumpe moras omnis et turbata arripe castra.’
ingentemque fuga secuit sub nubibus arcum. 15
agnovit iuvenis duplicisque ad sidera palmas
sustulit ac tali fugientem est voce secutus:
‘Iri, decus caeli, quis te mihi nubibus actam
detulit in terras? unde haec tam clara repente
tempestas? medium video discedere caelum 20
palantisque polo stellas. sequor omina tanta,
quisquis in arma vocas.’ et sic effatus ad undam
processit summoque hausit de gurgite lymphas
multa deos orans, oneravitque aethera votis.
Iamque omnis campis exercitus ibat apertis 25
dives equum, dives pictai vestis et auri;
Messapus primas acies, postrema coercent
Tyrrhidae iuvenes, medio dux agmine Turnus:
ceu septem surgens sedatis amnibus altus 30
per tacitum Ganges aut pingui flumine Nilus
cum refluit campis et iam se condidit alveo.
hic subitam nigro glomerari pulvere nubem
prospiciunt Teucri ac tenebras insurgere campis.
primus ab adversa conclamat mole Caicus: 35
‘quis globus, o cives, caligine volvitur atra?
ferte citi ferrum, date tela, ascendite muros,
hostis adest, heia!’ ingenti clamore per omnis
condunt se Teucri portas et moenia complent.
namque ita discedens praeceperat optimus armis 40
Aeneas: si qua interea fortuna fuisset,
neu struere auderent aciem neu credere campo;
castra modo et tutos servarent aggere muros.
ergo etsi conferre manum pudor iraque monstrat,
obiciunt portas tamen et praecepta facessunt, 45
armatique cavis exspectant turribus hostem.
Turnus, ut ante volans tardum praecesserat agmen
viginti lectis equitum comitatus et urbi
improvisus adest, maculis quem Thracius albis
portat equus cristaque tegit galea aurea rubra, 50
‘ecquis erit mecum, iuvenes, qui primus in hostem—?
en,’ ait et iaculum attorquens emittit in auras,
principium pugnae, et campo sese arduus infert.
clamorem excipiunt socii fremituque sequuntur
horrisono; Teucrum mirantur inertia corda, 55
non aequo dare se campo, non obvia ferre
arma viros, sed castra fovere. huc turbidus atque huc
lustrat equo muros aditumque per avia quaerit.
ac veluti pleno lupus insidiatus ovili
cum fremit ad caulas ventos perpessus et imbris 60
nocte super media; tuti sub matribus agni
balatum exercent, ille asper et improbus ira
saevit in absentis; collecta fatigat edendi
ex longo rabies et siccae sanguine fauces:
haud aliter Rutulo muros et castra tuenti 65
ignescunt irae, duris dolor ossibus ardet.
qua temptet ratione aditus, et quae via clausos
excutiat Teucros vallo atque effundat in aequum?
classem, quae lateri castrorum adiuncta latebat,
aggeribus saeptam circum et fluvialibus undis, 70
invadit sociosque incendia poscit ovantis
atque manum pinu flagranti fervidus implet.
tum vero incumbunt (urget praesentia Turni),
atque omnis facibus pubes accingitur atris.
diripuere focos: piceum fert fumida lumen 75
taeda et commixtam Volcanus ad astra favillam.
Quis deus, o Musae, tam saeva incendia Teucris
avertit? tantos ratibus quis depulit ignis?
dicite: prisca fides facto, sed fama perennis.
tempore quo primum Phrygia formabat in Ida 80
Aeneas classem et pelagi petere alta parabat,
ipsa deum fertur genetrix Berecyntia magnum
vocibus his adfata Iovem: ‘da, nate, petenti,
quod tua cara parens domito te poscit Olympo.
pinea silva mihi multos dilecta per annos, 85
lucus in arce fuit summa, quo sacra ferebant,
nigranti picea trabibusque obscurus acernis.
has ego Dardanio iuveni, cum classis egeret,
laeta dedi; nunc sollicitam timor anxius angit.
solve metus atque hoc precibus sine posse parentem, 90
ne cursu quassatae ullo neu turbine venti
vincantur: prosit nostris in montibus ortas.’
filius huic contra, torquet qui sidera mundi:
‘o genetrix, quo fata vocas? aut quid petis istis?
mortaline manu factae immortale carinae 95
fas habeant? certusque incerta pericula lustret
Aeneas? cui tanta deo permissa potestas?
immo, ubi defunctae finem portusque tenebunt
Ausonios olim, quaecumque evaserit undis
Dardaniumque ducem Laurentia vexerit arva, 100
mortalem eripiam formam magnique iubebo
aequoris esse deas, qualis Nereia Doto
et Galatea secant spumantem pectore pontum.’
dixerat idque ratum Stygii per flumina fratris,
per pice torrentis atraque voragine ripas 105
adnuit, et totum nutu tremefecit Olympum.
Ergo aderat promissa dies et tempora Parcae
debita complerant, cum Turni iniuria Matrem
admonuit ratibus sacris depellere taedas.
hic primum nova lux oculis offulsit et ingens 110
visus ab Aurora caelum transcurrere nimbus
Idaeique chori; tum vox horrenda per auras
excidit et Troum Rutulorumque agmina complet:
‘ne trepidate meas, Teucri, defendere navis
neve armate manus; maria ante exurere Turno 115
quam sacras dabitur pinus. vos ite solutae,
ite deae pelagi; genetrix iubet.’ et sua quaeque
continuo puppes abrumpunt vincula ripis
delphinumque modo demersis aequora rostris
ima petunt. hinc virgineae (mirabile monstrum) 120
reddunt se totidem facies pontoque feruntur.
Publius Vergilius Maro (70 B.C.E.-19 C.E.) is best remembered for his masterpiece, the Aeneid, in which he represented the Emperor Augustus as a descendant of the half- divine Aeneas, a refugee from the fall of Troy and legendary founder of Rome. Virgil’s other works include the Eclogues and the Georgics.
David Hadbawnik is a poet and translator who currently teaches at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. His translation of Aeneid books 1-6 was published by Shearsman in 2015, and selections have appeared in Denver Quarterly, Chicago Review, and seedings.
Omar Al-Nakib is a Kuwaiti visual artist and poet. He has exhibited locally, and his poetry has been published in Dispatches from the Poetry Wars and the AUKuwait Review.