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Eighteenth-Century Studies 36.4 (2003) 599-602
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Translation and the Survival of Classical Culture in the Eighteenth Century
Nancy A. Mace,
United States Naval Academy
D. K. Money. The English Horace: Anthony Alsop and the Tradition of British Latin Verse (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998). Pp. ii + 406. $65.00.
Richard Morton. John Dryden's Aeneas: A Hero in Enlightenment Mode. English Literary Studies Monograph Series, No. 82 (Victoria, British Columbia: University of Victoria English Literary Studies, 2000). Pp. 136. $15.50.
Over the last twenty years scholars have emphasized the modernity of eighteenth-century literature, often dismissing as irrelevant or underemphasizing the central place of Latin and Greek in eighteenth-century culture. With the exception of Margaret Anne Doody, for example, recent treatments of the origins of the English novel stress its ties to contemporary genres like the romance and the spiritual autobiography and ignore the influence of the classical epic on eighteenth-century theories of the form. However, both Richard Morton and David K. Money remind us of the important role played by Latin literature in the culture of the long eighteenth century in their books dealing with different ways in which classical culture was disseminated in this period.
In John Dryden's Aeneas: A Hero in the Enlightenment Mode, Richard Morton considers the changes Dryden made as he translated Virgil's epic into English, offering an alternative to political readings of the work so prevalent in Dryden criticism. He argues that Dryden transforms Aeneas into a hero more palatable to Restoration readers, making him reflect the values of Dryden's own society since the ancient world was so alien to seventeenth- and eighteenth-century sensibilities. Consequently, in his translation of the first half of the Aeneid, covering Aeneas's escape from Troy and his journey to Italy, Dryden recasts the narrative so that it reflects the social and moral perspective of his readers. He denigrates the lower classes and diminishes the role of the gods so that human will becomes significantly more important than divine agency. Like the main character of a heroic play, Dryden's Aeneas must deal with confusion and despair, but in the end he triumphs. Dryden even reinterprets the hero's encounter with Dido in Book Four, sentimentalizing the story and virtually ignoring the crucial role destiny plays in Virgil's version of their affair. In the last half of the Aeneid, which tells of Aeneas's arrival in Italy and his war with Turnus, Dryden alters the narrative to justify Aeneas's actions by increasing the hero's stature and undercutting that of his enemy Turnus. By the end of the epic, then, readers believe Aeneas is right to kill his rival, in part because of Turnus's cowardly behavior.
Morton's book has a number of strengths. He is the first scholar to make a systematic examination of Dryden's many alterations to Virgil's original. Therefore, the book is filled with individual close readings of various passages in Dryden's translation. He also demonstrates his command of the critical tradition surrounding Virgil's epic, including continental writers like René Le Bossu, whose Traité du poëme épique (1675) was widely read in England, and André and Madame Dacier, whose uncritical admiration for Homer and Virgil sparked controversy both in France and England. In his analysis of several passages, Morton contrasts Dryden's version with three well-known translations, by John Ogilby [End Page 599] (1654), Jean Regnault de Segrais (1668), and Richard Maitland, Earl of Lauderdale (1718)—all of which Dryden knew.
Morton not surprisingly establishes that Dryden substantially altered Virgil's original; however, as suggestive as his individual readings of key passages are, his conclusion that Dryden transforms Aeneas into an Enlightenment hero is unconvincing. Many of the complexities Morton discerns in Dryden's Aeneas were already inherent in the original and in earlier translations of the epic, a fact that Morton himself points out in a number of instances. For example, in his discussion of Aeneas's affair with Dido, Morton discusses earlier versions...