"Vergil, like most self-respecting poets, never simply says that the sun came up. At this point he states that the sea reddened as Aurora the Dawn Goddess rose aloft in her saffron robes. In other words, the sun came up."while giving an affectionate, clear, and careful explanation of events in each of the twelve books of The Aeneid. Thus, The Labors of Aeneas is very useful, but no more so than it is charming.
If one were trying to translate the Aeneid for modern readers the obvious first choices would be prose or verse, but neither method assures that modern readers will know what's happening. Frequently Vergil leaves out what seem like crucial details and he fails to make clear transitions, so reading along, you may wonder if you missed an important point. By treating the work as a serious piece to be adapted with loving humor and in fast-paced prose, Rose Williams can point out all these difficulties. For example, when Aeneas is planning to go to the Underworld for a tete a tete with his ghostly father Anchises, he is warned that going down is easy compared with getting back out again; yet, as Williams says, "[Vergil] spends a sizeable part of the book getting Aeneas into Hades and then gets him out in three lines." Her treatment of the gods and especially Juno is most fitting for our era when it can't be assumed that readers even know the identity of the Roman gods and goddesses let alone understand their bizarre behavior:
"Anyone with merely mortal intelligence would have seen this long ago, but classical deities were unbelievably hard-headed."In case there isn't enough detail in the text (and there is), Williams also provides a glossary of the gods and goddesses Aeneas deals with on his adventures.
Rose Williams points out that prior to composing his masterpiece, Vergil had been writing horticultural treatises, which had a decided impact on his style. She also mentions that the poet's experience with warfare may have colored his depictions of the battles in Italy:
"If Vergil, who himself knew some of the horrors of war, wanted to discourage the Romans from ever undertaking it again, the appalling battle scenes he wrote should have been an excellent deterrent. Unfortunately, they did not have that effect."Full of wit and despite being written with her tongue firmly in her twenty-first century cheek, Rose Williams has produced an invaluable guide for modern readers -- whether reading in Latin or in translation -- to Vergil's story of Aeneas.Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.