Melissa Beck at Open Letters Monthly:
The classicist Anne Carson, in her book Nox which contains an English translation of a poem composed by the Roman poet Catullus, describes her experience with Latin translation: “But over the years of working at it, I came to think of translation as a room, not exactly an unknown room, where one gropes for the light switch.” For centuries, scholars have been groping around in that dark room, searching for that evasive switch whereby they might shine a new light on Vergil’s epic. John Dryden, Richard Lattimore, Stanley Lombardo, Robert Fitzgerald and Robert Fagles are just a few of the brave classicists who have attempted to render The Aeneid into fluid English that captures the poetry and brilliance of the original Latin. David Ferry, whose translation of The Aeneid will be published by the University of Chicago Press in September of 2017, is the latest scholar to add his name to this illustrious list of translators.
The language of the Ancient Romans is succinct and tight, oftentimes lacking grammatical structures that add to the complexity of a Germanic language like English. Latin contains no articles, has only six verb tenses, and has a much smaller vocabulary than most modern languages . Whereas word order is of the utmost importance in comprehending a sentence in English, Latin is inflected so that nouns, pronouns and adjectives are assigned different endings to indicate their case and use (subject, direct object, etc.) in a sentence. So how does a translator deal with these linguistic differences while at the same time taking into account the meter and figures of speech that are also contained within the lines of Vergil’s Aeneid?