Translation Failure

C. H. Sisson’s translation of The Aeneid starts thus:

This poem is about battles and the man
Who, fugitive but in the hands of fate,
Came first from Troy to the Lavinian shores,
Tossed to and fro on land as on the sea
By violence from above, the unforgetting
Anger of Juno was the cause of that….

And so it drones, on and on ad nauseum. Consider that first line, ‘This poem is about battles and the man.’ Think on that for a moment. Arma virumque cano, ‘Arms and a man I sing,’ is what Virgil gives us. Note well, cano, ‘I sing’…he sings, dammit! But what does Sisson give us? ‘This poem is about…,’ as though Sisson were writing a high school book report and really praying for a C minus.

I want to like this, really I do. The verse is taut and actually has a bit of music in it, despite the sophomoric opening line. If it were Sasson’s poem I would give it a shot. But it is not Sisson’s poem, it is Virgil’s. Sisson is a servant of Virgil’s poem. So, given that opening, I don’t care about the rest. The book is banished forthwith from this Dukedom. Let no man praise it in my presence.

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