Sunday, August 10, 2008
Per amica silentia lunae - how do you do these things, Virgil?
"The Medievals were right - he is a magician." So said Belloc (I can't remember where) upon reading a line from Book II of the Aeneid: a Tenedo tacitae per amica silentia lunae. Belloc was right. Virgil is a magician. I was casually poking around in the First Eclogue a few nights ago, and when I read the last lines I jumped out of my chair, trying to say something, trying almost not to cry. I felt like I had to tell someone how awesome Virgil is, and I duly cornered my sister the next day and subjected her to a enthusiastic rant (revenging myself for her rants about Chopin - just kidding, ma soeur!). Virgil can take an idea which amounts to, "When pigs fly..." and give you something spooky and beautiful like this:
Ante leves ergo pascentur in aethere cervi
(Before the light deer graze in the aether)
That's more like Garcia Lorca than like Milton. But it was the last two lines that really took the top of my head off. They hold the very essence of evening.
et iam summa procul villarum culmina fumant
maioresque cadunt altis de montibus umbrae.
(And now, far off, from the highest housetops the smoke rises
And greater fall from the high mountains evening's shadows.)
If you have once taken Latin and then let it get rusty, it is worth going back just for the sake of reading Virgil. Get Clyde Pharr's Aeneid, the one with the vocabulary at the bottom of every page. It makes things as easy as possible.