Bartsch’s New Aeneid.

In 2008 I posted about Sarah Ruden’s then-new translation of the Aeneid; now there’s a fresh contender, by Shadi Bartsch [I messed up the names in the first version of this post — sorry!]. Stuart Lyons’ brief review at Classics for All convinces me that if I actually buy another version, it will be Ruden’s:

B.’s new translation has been praised by an American professor as ‘probably the best version of the Aeneid in modern English’. Pacy and often colloquial, with occasional italics for emphasis, much of it reads like prose. A passage in 11.85-88 illustrates the differing treatments […] B., eschewing initial upper-case letters, translates:

‘Wretched Acoetes, weak with age, was led
along. He beat his chest with fists and clawed his face,
falling prostrate on the ground. Next came chariots
spattered with Rutulian blood [and Pallas’ warhorse … ]’

The enjambment of ‘led / along’ is jarring. It distorts Virgil’s architecture and leads to the unidiomatic two-syllable expression ‘with fists’. Nor does B.’s ‘falling prostrate on the ground’ do justice to sternitur et toto proiectus corpore terrae. B. reduces Virgil’s four lines to three and a half before her text merges mid-line into a new period.

Enjambment and compression pervade B’s translation. […] Such preferences give this result as Dido’s story reaches its climax (4.296-300):

at regina dolos (quis fallere possit amantem?)
praesensit, motusque excepit prima futuros
omnia tuta timens. eadem impia Fama furenti
detulit armari classem cursumque parari.

‘But Dido sensed the trick (who can deceive
a lover?) and the launch they planned. Now everything
seemed suspect, even if it wasn’t. That same impious
Rumor told the desperate queen the fleet prepared
to sail.’

Here, motusque excepit prima futuros surely means ‘she was the first to get wind of his future movements’; armari is omitted, as is the English ‘that’, which elegance demands be inserted after ‘queen’.

Generally, B.’s translation is accurate, but there are lapses, e.g. quattuor a stabulis praestanti corpore tauros (8.207) become ‘seven perfect bulls’.

Frankly, I was already recoiling at “much of it reads like prose,” but the details (more at the link, of course) put the nail in the coffin. Translating is hard, and newer is not always better.


  1. PatrickC says

    There seems to be a mixup here: Bartsch is the translator of the new Aeneid, not the reviewer, who is Stuart Lyons. Braund wrote the introduction to the new edition of Ruden’s translation.

  2. This is not presented terribly clearly on the Classics For All website, but: the translation that is reviewed is by Shadi Bartsch. The reviewer is Stuart Lyons. Susanna Braund is indeed mentioned, but B. (why just the initial?) refers to “Bartsch” rather than “Braund”. Braund has a preface to the revised Ruden translation, which looks already to be published in the US (by Yale UP).

  3. David Driscoll says

    Thanks for sharing — I would have never seen this nice review otherwise. But I believe the reviewer is in fact one Stuart Lyons, as signed at the end of the review, and the translator of the new translation is Shadi Bartsch.

  4. Thanks to all — sloppy of me, but yes, the website is confusing!

  5. I was surprised by the word pacy in the review. Although its meaning was fairly clear, I was not familiar with it.

  6. Bathrobe says

    You weren’t quite yourself when you posted this, Hat. The review had a comparison of three translations that perfectly illustrate the reviewer’s criticism. Normally, you wouldn’t pass up a chance to compare translations, but for some reason you did this time.

  7. David Marjanović says

    the English ‘that’, which elegance demands be inserted after ‘queen’.

    Is that so? What strikes me about that line is something else: prepared should be had prepared or was preparing (which wouldn’t fit in the line of course).

  8. PlasticPaddy says

    I read “prepared” as poetic/excited diction for “were preparing”. There are a lot of examples of this in Shakespeare and in heroic poetry, but I am not giving you any (exercise for reader)????

  9. You weren’t quite yourself when you posted this, Hat. The review had a comparison of three translations that perfectly illustrate the reviewer’s criticism. Normally, you wouldn’t pass up a chance to compare translations, but for some reason you did this time.

    If I were to do that, I would have had to repost the entire review. I generally prefer to give a sense of what’s to be found at the link and send people there for the rest. LH is not meant to be your one-stop shop for all good things, just a pointer to where good things are to be found.

  10. J.W. Brewer says

    I too was mildly puzzled by “pacy” and quite puzzled by “elegance demands.” Yet consensus reactions seem somehow boring by Hattic standards.

  11. OED s.v. pacy:

    Originally British colloquial. Having much pace or speed; fast-moving; progressing quickly. Frequently in extended use (esp. applied to drama, narrative, etc.).

    1906 J. J. Munro Let. 25 Aug. in O.E.D. Suppl. (1933) (at cited word) In the practice of the day before yesterday, Cantab was perceptibly the pacier boat.
    1927 Observer 29 May 28/4 These hitters, when once they get a real start, play havoc with pacey bowling.
    1967 Listener 25 May 688/2 The and vivid.
    1969 C. Booker Neophiliacs ii. 48 The whole world..had been reduced to the same grainy, pacy, ever more ‘realistic’ dream.
    1987 Toronto Star (Nexis) 1 Nov. H7 For 400 pages, Jig is a great thriller. It’s full of intrigue, pacy and plausible plotting, attractive characters on both sides of the law, a steady stream of corpses, [etc.].
    2002 Daily Tel. 15 Nov. 25/6 Chris Columbus has pushed the envelope farther, made a sequel that is pacier and more swashbuckling.

  12. Bathrobe says

    LH is not meant to be your one-stop shop for all good things, just a pointer to where good things are to be found.

    But LH is my one-stop shop for good things!

  13. J.W. Brewer says

    I rather suspected “pacy” of being a UK-ism. I am intrigued to learn that not only has Lyons (the reviewer here) translated Horace into English, he has also tried his hand at translating early-20th-century Chinese modernist poetry, as demonstrated here:

    I have no idea how good is grasp of Chinese is or whether he was proceeding in a more Poundian manner.

  14. Interesting:

    南天北天暗暗默默 south sky north sky hugger-mugger hush hush
    东天中天舒舒阖阖 east sky mid sky totally leisurely
    宇宙在寂静中构合 universe gathering in tranquillity
    太阳在头赫里告别 sun departing in supreme glory
    一阵临风 a gust of wind
    几声 “可可” some sounds bye-bye

    I find it enjoyable in small doses but probably would be wearied by trying to read a whole book of it.

  15. J.W. Brewer says

    Obviously the relevance of Joyce to the poem was as some sort of mindblowing-in-1922 stylistic influence, not as a direct source, but it strikes me that it would be interesting to have non-English translations of Joyce back-translated into English by translators denied access to Joyce’s actual text to see if the results were “Joycean” in an interesting way or just incoherent in an uninteresting way.

  16. I find it enjoyable in small doses but probably would be wearied by trying to read a whole book of it.
    This is how I relate to all poetry.

  17. David Eddyshaw says

    It reminds me not so much of Joyce as of Gertrude Stein: specifically Lucy Church Amiably, a perfectly enjoyable work if you’re in the right frame of mind.

    Lucy church pagoda!

  18. David Eddyshaw says

    Which invariably reminds me of:

    There’s a wonderful family called Stein.
    There’s Gert and there’s Ep and there’s Ein:
    Gert’s poems are bunk,
    Ep’s statues are junk,
    And nobody understands Ein!

  19. Lucy Church Amiably (in Miss Stein’s own words, “A Novel of Romantic beauty and nature and which Looks Like an Engraving.”). God bless Dalkey Archive.

  20. Jen in Edinburgh says

    ‘Pacy’ surprises me only because I thought it was restricted to describing thrillers.

  21. January First-of-May says

    I too was mildly puzzled by “pacy”

    Of course pacy is regular-ish (if apparently not frequent) in the meaning “having much pace”, though I would have spelled if pacey. I don’t think I actually recognized the word, but it was understandable enough in the context.
    (Wiktionary says that pacey is the main spelling, but apparently claims that the word is limited to sports.)

    This incidentally reminds me of my favorite answer to the “third word ending in -gry” question: ogry, as in “similar to, or resembling, that of an ogre”. (Wiktionary gives a slightly different definition and provides a quotation from Finnegans Wake.)

  22. prepared should be had prepared or was preparing (which wouldn’t fit in the line of course)

    The meaning is definitely “was preparing” (parari rather than paratum esse). But “prepared” seems normal to me in this sentence — actually more so than the underlying direct version with a simple present “Your Majesty, the fleet prepares to sail!”, which somehow feels more literary / old-fashioned.

    I suspect these prosy translations are largely intended for students. A lot of “ancient epic” classes move through Homer and Virgil at a fairly brisk pace (four books of the Aeneid a week in the Fagles translation, for my class this semester) and the more familiar the language, the more likely students are to keep up. If I ever teach the poem again I’ll actually consider using Bartsch for that reason, though it does seem like she might as well have got rid of the line breaks and published it as a prose version.

  23. David Eddyshaw says

    I find it hard to countenance translating Virgil into prose. The horrible idea puts me in mind of Yeats’ comments:

    The Irish poet made a series of radio broadcasts for the BBC in the 1930s. He seemed to know even then that his reading manner was going out of style. “I am going to read my poems with great emphasis upon their rhythm, and that may seem strange if you are not used to it,” warned Yeats when introducing the Lake Isle of Innisfree in a 1931 recording. “I remember the great English poet, William Morris, coming in a rage out of some lecture hall where somebody had recited a passage out of his Sigurd the Volsung. ‘It gave me a devil of a lot of trouble,’ said Morris, ‘to get that thing into verse.’ It gave me the devil of a lot of trouble to get into verse the poems that I am going to read, and that is why I will not read them as if they were prose.”

  24. third word ending in -gry

    Let us not speak of the recent cutesy-fashionable hangry.

  25. „Pacy“ is a very familiar word to anyone who follows English football. „They played with a lot of pace tonight“ is one of those fall back expressions British commentators will grab to describe an otherwise nondescript competition.

  26. J.W. Brewer says

    I will certainly confess to not following English soccer. I think one reason “pacy” strikes me as odd is that it seems to mean more or less “fast-paced” but I don’t quite think of “pace” as that sort of scalar quality. Something can be fast-paced or slow-paced, but the fast-paced alternative doesn’t (as I conceptualize it) have “more pace” any more than a fast piece of music has “more tempo” than a slow piece of music does. And indeed “pace yourself” typically means “slow down” (or at least “don’t speed up” — emulate the tortoise rather than the hare by finding the optimal pace for the context, which may well not be the fastest). For another parallel, I wouldn’t use “sizey” to mean “larger,” i.e. “having more size.”

    But things may be otherwise in varieties of English other than mine.

  27. Bathrobe says

    If something has a lot of “pace”, it would suggest to me something fast rather than something slow.

  28. Sizeable means, basically, ‘(relatively) large’.

  29. @J.W. Brewer – I understand pacey in a sporting context to mean „at a consistent fairly high speed without interruption“. The consistency of the speed is more important than the speed itself though. That’s why it cannot be used for American football or baseball.

    So pacey doesn’t have to be particularly fast or breathless, it would imply to me the writer has found a tempo and maintains it through the piece with control.

  30. J.W. Brewer says

    @Vanya, so you could substitute in “pacey” for “steadily paced” in a blurb like ‘“…as steadily paced as the first issue with a strong flow of plot and character development,” says Darryll Robson of Monkeys Fighting Robots about DISASTER INC. #2’?

  31. The first sport that comes to my mind when I think of ‘pacey’ is cricket, where it refers to a fast bowler — particularly, I think, one who delivers the ball faster than it might appear from their action. So it doesn’t refer in that example to sustained or steady pace.

    ‘Steadily paced’ as the description of a book’s plot sounds to me like a bit of a put-down — fast enough to keep the reader interested but not enough to make it a breathless page-turner, which would be truly pacey.

  32. Amanda Adams says

    We often criticize films for pace. We seem to mean a single, steady pace. We may move on to saying “plodding”. What we mean is that there is no variation is pace. No rushing on bits, contrasted with contemplative bits. Even in a thriller one wants to draw breath before the next crisis?

  33. It gave me the devil of a lot of trouble

    Which is very different from the devil a bit of trouble, as we recently discussed. Apparently there’s a negative devil and a positive or amplifying devil; does Christian theology know anything of this diabolical binity?

  34. J.W. Brewer says

    So the metaphorical application of “pacey” to a translated Latin poem may mean one thing if it’s an extension of soccer jargon but another if it’s an extension of cricket jargon? Leaving aside whether it’s to be considered a positive, negative, or neutral quality as the reviewer uses it here …

    Sticking to music rather than film or literature, some musical works pick a tempo, whether fast or slow, and stick to it throughout. Others have deliberate variations in tempo, with some parts faster and others slower, which can be both done well or done poorly, just as sticking to a steady tempo, whether fast or slow, can lead to good results in some cases and bad results in others.

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