, Volume 97, Issue 3, pp 591-610

Virgil in Tudor Dress: In Search of a Noble Vernacular

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Abstract

Alongside the Bible, the Aeneid was the most important single text of the English (and British) Renaissance. A vast number of translators felt the need to grapple with Virgil’s epic, and the omnipresent Books II and IV appeared in a great many versions and were adapted for a variety of literary purposes. This centrality meant that all translators were aware of the difficulty of their task, as well as of the painstaking accuracy that informed readers would exercise on their efforts. The language each translator chose, in particular, would be scrutinized for its appropriateness—given the common opinion of Virgil’s Latin as noble and dignified in the highest degree. Therefore, studying the English history of the Aeneid is essential not only for translation theorists, but also for language historians: each consecutive version records its translator’s ideas on the appropriate diction for epic poetry, and the critical reactions to each version reflect widespread opinions on how to make English as noble and dignified as Virgil’s Latin. From Douglas’s racy Scots to Dryden’s aureate English, from the battle between Archaizers and Neologizers to the definitive triumph of Latinized poetic diction, all the linguistic developments and conflicts of early English modernity are contained in nuce in the English versions of Virgil.