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This review is taken from PN Review 72, Volume 16 Number 4, March - April 1990.

VIRGIL PLAIN Virgil, The Aeneid, translated by C.H. Sisson (Carcanet/ MidNAG) £16.95
Jean Racine, Britannicus, Phaedra, Athaliah, translated by C.H. Sisson (OUP: The World's Classics) £2.95 pb

I've hardly attempted The Aeneid in the original since I was 16 and preparing Book XI for 'O' level. Latin at my grammar school was compulsory but not taught with much conviction as to its importance. Noises off suggested that before too long the subject would disappear and most of us, bored with the sheer slog of it, would have been glad for it to do so then and there. Virgil, I recall, was the one writer who made a serious impact on my consciousness; but by the time I came to look into him again I was in my twenties and, my small Latin half-forgotten, resigned to reading him in translation. For my children's generation, the classics are a lost cause. Even in Italy, I understand, Latin is now an option. There has always been a need for good translations - there clearly was in the age of Dryden and Pope - but how much greater is the need today: so great that it is hardly even perceived.

C.H. Sisson translates, I am sure, in response to his own needs. Nevertheless his Aeneid, rawly immediate yet assuming a little knowledge of classical literature, might have been written for the likes of me. Unencumbered with Latinism or neo-classical decorum or excessive reverence, it projects all the narrative thrust and élan of the original. So that you read at speed, lingering from time to time over some line that grips the vitals -


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