- “Arms and the Man I Sing . . .”: A Preface to Dryden’s Aeneid by Arvid Løsnes
Building upon Mark Van Doren, J. McG. Bottkkol, Helene Maxwell Hooker, [End Page 249] Richard Proudfoot, Earl Miner, William Frost, Robin Sowerby, Taylor Corse, Tanya Caldwell, and others, Mr. Løsnes’s work on Dryden’s translation of Virgil’s Aeneid (1697) stands out for its scope, learning, originality, and detail. Mr. Løsnes looks freshly at the earlier Aeneid translations in English, starting with Gavin Douglas and ending with Denham and Lauderdale, showing Dryden’s affinities with each of his predecessors. In the best account of literary translation theory in the seventeenth century, he explains how Dryden constantly revises and refines his own ideas about translation. Mr. Løsnes also firmly establishes Dryden’s comprehensive and creative use of contemporary Virgilian scholarship (Segrais, Ruaeus, and the Delphin Virgil). Seeking to rehabilitate Dryden’s reputation as a re-creator of Virgil, Mr. Løsnes anticipates or confirms the insights of modern Virgil scholars such as Jackson Knight and Kenneth Quinn.
In the second part of his study, Mr. Løsnes argues convincingly that the prevailing Augustan framework of Dryden’s age provided the cultural conditions for Dryden’s re-creation of Virgil’s epic. Even more interestingly, Longinus’s treatise On the Sublime is vital to Dryden’s approach to Virgil. This is perhaps Mr. Løsnes’s most valuable insight, since it accounts for Dryden’s critical understanding of Virgil and his re-creating the Roman poet to an English audience. According to Mr. Løsnes, Longinus (whom Dryden discovered in 1677) helped Dryden unlock the sources of Virgil’s success as an epic writer. Passion, energy, empathy, imagination, figurative language, heightened diction—all these Longinian qualities Dryden writes about explicitly and extensively in his critical prefaces, including The Dedication of the Aeneis. These features emerge fully in selected passages that Mr. Løsnes analyzes in his final chapters. I especially admire his discussion of the famous night scene passage (4.757–772), one of many fine examples interpreting Dryden and Virgil.
Although Mr. Løsnes calls his book a “preface” and an “introductory study,” this magisterial work of scholarship and criticism is exhaustively researched, judiciously argued, and lucidly written. He makes good his claim that Dryden’s translation is essentially an original poem that manages to be a “composite matrix of Virgil’s world and the world of Dryden’s own day and age.” Delaware Press should also be thanked for a beautifully designed book.