Seamus Heaney’s Aeneid

Heaney aeneidJ. Kates at Harvard Review:

Seamus Heaney introduced his translation of Beowulf with these words: "When I was an undergraduate at Queen's University, Belfast, I studied Beowulf and other Anglo-Saxon poems and developed not only a feel for the language but a fondness for the melancholy and fortitude that characterized the poetry." [1] His introduction to Book VI of Virgil's [2] Aeneidbegins in both a parallel and yet a very different fashion: "This translation of Aeneid VI is neither a 'version' nor a crib: it is more like classics homework, the result of a lifelong desire to honour the memory of my Latin teacher at St. Columb's College, Father Michael McGlinchey." [3]

I am certain the poet needed little encouragement. Heaney descended into the Underworld time and time again from the very beginning of his writing career. Many of his own poems confront the dead who passed through and out of his life, just as Aeneas eternally confronts those in his regnum inferni. In Station Island, Heaney came close to employing Dante as his own Virgil. The Aeneid was standard fare for a Latin student of Heaney's generation. In Father McGlinchey's class he was set, as I was set in Mr. Clegg's, passages to translate as part of the pedagogy. Now Heaney's translation of Book VI, the narrative of Aeneas's descent into the Underworld, has been published posthumously in its own slim volume.

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