The Georgics of Virgil: Bilingual Edition

The Georgics of Virgil: Bilingual Edition - Virgil, David Ferry Time for some brutal honesty. Can you read Latin? Do you have a Master’s in English… or at the very least some layman’s understanding of linguistics? No? Me neither. And that means that The Georgics probably won’t really be appreciated by us.

I bought the bilingual edition because I wanted to see the original Latin. Seeing as the Latin pages are roughly half as long as the English translation on the opposite page, it’s not hard to see that something is lost in translation. Whether it be the rhythm, the tones or just the word choice, how can poetry be appreciated when it’s processed through translation? In an effort to hear the words, though I’ve never studied Latin, I tried reading it aloud. Given that Latin is the basis for modern Romance languages, I used the pronunciation learned during my otherwise unfruitful Spanish minor. Then I added a French accent. To give it some class. What resulted sounded like a spoken word staccato by a Mexican Pepe Le Pew.

I’m guessing Latin sounds a little different.

I know the Greeks and Romans often used hexameters which generally gets translated into iambic pentameters for English. The Iliad, The Odyssey and even Virgil’s own epic work The Aeneid are all translated in this manner. But those are stories. Even though we may lose much of the nuance, the tale remains the same. When dealing with a didactic pastoral poem such as The Georgics, the nuance matters. In English, this is a straightforward poem about farm work and other observations in nature. It’s not particularly moving nor beautiful. Though I did find the last few pages of the Second Georgic rather exceptional even through the translation. Virgil’s overly sentimental about the life of the farmer, but he has some rather poignant lines about the virtues of farming over those who seek glory in war

I’m sure most people can find something, some page or passage, that speaks to them. But if you want to see if you can truly appreciate Virgil in English, let this note from David Ferry, the translator, serve as your test.
In translating the Georgics I have used iambic pentameter, with frequent anapestic substitutions, as my metrical system. In English a six-foot line comparable to Virgil’s hexameters would, in my opinion, be impossible to manage without extreme artificiality.

In the case of many Latin words (proper names, names of places, and so forth), I have sometimes barbed the vowel sound to indicate the metrical stress, and sometimes to indicate that a final e is to be heard as pronounced, not silent. Introduction XIX.
Out of my own inability to appreciate the finer qualities of these poems, I give it 2 stars. If you can speak in iambic pentameter, count metrical feet as you read and don’t have to google “anapestic”, there’s probably enough here to warrant 4 or 5 stars.