Monday, April 18, 2011

C. S. Lewis's New Book

So, while there are new books about C. S. Lewis all the time, it's a rare event that there's a new book by C. S. Lewis -- that is, 'new' not as 'newly reprinted under a different title' (which are legion) but as in 'never published before' (which are rare and, given the nature of things, increasingly rarer).

Which is why I was surprised to learn of Lewis's translation of Vergil's THE AENEID, which I first heard about a month or so ago, courtesy of Jason Fisher:

For more information, see also his follow-up post:

It's too bad the work is fragmentary, but then like most Tolkien scholars I'm not put off by unfinished works -- and, if it comes to that, THE AENEID itself is unfinished: Vergil only got half-way through the story (twelve books out of a planned twenty-four, intending to match Homer*), and left instructions that what he had written was to be burned because he'd not had time to put the final polish on it. Lewis himself left behind relatively few unfinished works, the most significant of which are THE DARK TOWER and AFTER TEN YEARS.

It's good to be reminded that both Tolkien and Lewis were good classical scholars with a solid background in the Classics (Tolkien himself once refers to THE AENEID as a far greater work than BEOWULF, one of the texts he devoted his career to promoting). I'm not too keen on Vergil myself -- I prefer Homer, esp. the Homer of THE ODYSSEY** -- but I am looking forward to seeing what an author w. as lively a prose style as CSL can make of it. At any rate, it can hardly fail to be better than the C. Day Lewis translation foisted off on us in undergraduate days, which I never did succeed in getting all the way through.

More later, after I've had a chance to see, and read, the book itself.


*whereas centuries later Spenser too died half-way through THE FAERIE QUEENE, completing six books out of a planned twelve; only one wonderful fragment of the lost VIIth book survives as "The Cantos of Mutability"

**when my undergraduate professor learned that I preferred THE ODYSSEY to THE ILIAD, he paused for a moment and then said, "You would". He did not intend it as a complement.


Jason Fisher said...

Doesn't everyone prefer The Odyssey to The Iliad? :) Over many years and many re-readings, I've come to appreciate The Iliad more and more, even to like it quite a bit, but The Odyssey is just a far better story!

John D. Rateliff said...

And now the book itself has arrived -- in record time, my having only ordered it on Tuesday the 19th! Looks good; looking forward to a chance to read it when I clear out two refuse-to-let-me-finish-reading-them books already in-progress, Sayers' LETTERS TO A DIMINISHED CHURCH and Chesterton's WHAT'S WRONG WITH THE WORLD.

Jason: re. ODYSSEY, I'd say it has much more appeal to modern tastes -- esp. those of us who like fantasy. But this is a relatively recent shift: there's no doubt whatsoever that the ancient Greeks prized THE ILIAD above all others, with ODYSSEY in an honored but definitely secondary place. This was still the case as recently as the eighteenth century; sometime between Pope and Addison on the one hand and Tennyson on the other THE ODYSSEY overtook it. That's my take on things, anyway, not having looked into it in any detail aside from my work on the history of fantasy.


Carl Anderson said...

Heh, well, not being an Ancient Greek, fun though the Iliad is, I prefer the Odyssey, too. I remember a pleasant cruise through the Eastern Med a few years back, lounging in a deck chair with my drink and listening to the McKellen-read audio book of the Fagles translation. (Always have meant to learn Homeric Greek, but haven't yet got around to it ....)