Aeneid Book III (excerpt)

Translated from the Italian by David Ferry

lines 984-1035

“Fear made us open our sails as fast as we could,Striving to catch whatever wind we could,And in whatever direction there was that we could.I remember Helenus’ warning to keep awayFrom the narrow passage between Charybdis and Scylla,On either side of which there’s death. And soWe go back, avoiding the way where the North Wind blowsThrough that narrow Pelorian channel, and sailing pastThe living rocks at the mouth of the river Pantagias,The bay of Megaera and low-lying Thapsus. TheseWere the shores that luckless Ulysses’ soldier,Achaemenides, had come along before.There is, against the wave-washed headland ofPlemyrium, in Sicily, an islandCalled from ages long ago Ortygia.They say that Alpheus the river god,In love, had made his secret fluent wayBeneath the ground and under the sea from whereHe was in Peloponnesian IliaTo where your fountain, Arethusa, is,And mingled there himself with Sicilian waters.As we were told to do, we venerateThe deities of the place, and then sail on,Past Helorus with its rich marsh soil, and pastPachynus’s rocks and cliffs, and Camerina,Whom the Fates ordained should never be disturbed;And, stretching far, the Geloa plains, and Gela,Named for its tumultuous river; thenThe great high walls of Acragas, where onceThey bred those famous marvelous horses; and,With favored winds the gods had granted me,I leave Selinus’s palms behind, and passLybeis’s shoals and treacherous hidden rocks.And then I reach Drepanum’s mournful shore,And here it was that I, whom so many stormsHave beaten upon, alas, I lost my father,The solace of all my troubles and my cares.‘O best of fathers, you have left me here,Abandoned, weary, rescued from so manyPerils undergone, now all for nothing.Helenus the seer, who foretold,In prophecy, so many horrors to be,Did not foretell this sorrow, and dire CelaenoTold nothing of this grief that was to come.This was the final trial, since I began,And now the god has driven me to this place.’”                              *  *  *Thus father Aeneas, alone before them all,Who were intently listening, told the storyOf his long wanderings, what it wasThe Fates had ordained for him. And so the storyCame at last to a close, and he was quiet. 

Aeneid III (excerpt)

praecipitis metus acer agit quocumque rudentis
excutere et ventis intendere vela secundis.
contra iussa monent Heleni, Scyllamque Charybdinque
inter, utrimque viam leti discrimine parvo,                   685
ni teneam cursus: certum est dare lintea retro.
ecce autem Boreas angusta ab sede Pelori
missus adest: vivo praetervehor ostia saxo
Pantagiae Megarosque sinus Thapsumque iacentem.
talia monstrabat relegens errata retrorsus                     690
litora Achaemenides, comes infelicis Ulixi.

Sicanio praetenta sinu iacet insula contra
Plemyrium undosum; nomen dixere priores
Ortygiam. Alpheum fama est huc Elidis amnem
occultas egisse vias subter mare, qui nunc                    695
ore, Arethusa, tuo Siculis confunditur undis.
iussi numina magna loci veneramur, et inde
exsupero praepingue solum stagnantis Helori.
hinc altas cautes proiectaque saxa Pachyni
radimus, et fatis numquam concessa moveri              700
apparet Camerina procul campique Geloi,
immanisque Gela fluvii cognomine dicta.
arduus inde Acragas ostentat maxima longe
moenia, magnanimum quondam generator equorum;
teque datis linquo ventis, palmosa Selinus,                   705
et vada dura lego saxis Lilybeia caecis.
hinc Drepani me portus et inlaetabilis ora
accipit. hic pelagi tot tempestatibus actus
heu, genitorem, omnis curae casusque levamen,
amitto Anchisen. hic me, pater optime, fessum          710
deseris, heu, tantis nequiquam erepte periclis!
nec vates Helenus, cum multa horrenda moneret,
hos mihi praedixit luctus, non dira Celaeno.
hic labor extremus, longarum haec meta viarum,
hinc me digressum vestris deus appulit oris.                 715

Sic pater Aeneas intentis omnibus unus
fata renarrabat divum cursusque docebat.
conticuit tandem factoque hic fine quievit.

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Virgil (70 BC – 19 BC) wrote three of the most famous poems in Latin literature: the Eclogues, the Georgics, and the Aeneid.

David Ferry is the author of a number of books of poetry and has translated several works from classical languages. Among his many honors are the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize for lifetime achievement, the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award, the Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American Poets, the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, and the Ingram Merrill Award. He won the 2012 National Book Award for Poetry for Bewilderment.

“I sing of arms and the man . . . ”

So begins the Aeneid, greatest of Western epic poems. Virgil’s story of the journey of Aeneas has been a part of our cultural heritage for so many centuries that it’s all too easy to lose sight of the poem itself—of its brilliantly cinematic depiction of the sack of Troy; the monstrous hunger of the harpies; the intensity of Dido’s love for the hero, and the blackness of her despair; and the violence that Aeneas and his men must endure before they can settle in Italy and build the civilization whose roots we still claim as our own.

This new translation brings Virgil’s masterpiece newly to life for English-language readers. It’s the first in centuries crafted by a translator who is first and foremost a poet, and it is a glorious thing. David Ferry has long been known as perhaps our greatest contemporary translator of Latin poetry, his translations of Virgil’s Eclogues and Georgics having established themselves as much-admired standards. He brings to the Aeneid the same genius, rendering Virgil’s formal metrical lines into an English that is familiar and alive. Yet in doing so, he surrenders none of the feel of the ancient world that resonates throughout the poem, and gives it the power that has drawn readers to it for centuries.

“The shining merit of his version is a kind of transparency: somehow he has managed without losing tone, to efface himself, so that as slight a barrier as possible is put between the reader and a poem from another and distant world. . . . Ferry’s is now the best modern version of the Aeneid, both for its loyalty to the original and for its naturalness to itself. . . . This translation has a youthful suppleness and flexibility. David Ferry is now ninety-three.”
Times Literary Supplement

“A marvel throughout. . . . Ferry’s blank verse is as understatedly traditional, and unflashy, as his diction. The whole accumulates into a stately, inevitable force. . . . The advantages of Ferry’s version seem obvious to me: regularity of meter, clarity of image, simplicity of language, understatement of the horrific. Throughout, Ferry maintains a coolness even amid the most terrible drama. It is as if he were writing not in our still-Romantic (even if post-Romantic) personal vein, but altogether in another mode: a classical, fatalistic one, to be sure, but also one in which emotion and achievement matter communally.”
New York Review of Books

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