Incredibly interesting item from the Independent:
The author CS Lewis loved reading his translation of Virgil’s epic poem the Aeneid to fellow Oxford-based writers, including JRR Tolkien, at the Inklings, the famous informal literary discussion group they both frequented.
The translation was believed to have been lost in a bonfire in 1964, a year after the author’s death. Now, nearly 50 years later, it has resurfaced. The work was apparently rescued by Lewis’s former secretary, Walter Hooper, 79. The complete translation is to be published in the book CS Lewis’s Lost Aeneid, which is out next month.
“Although it had been known that Lewis had worked on this translation, no one realised that portions still survived until Walter began sifting through his material,” said the book’s editor, Andy Reyes. “The bonfire, it was assumed, had consumed the most significant fragments of Lewisiana.”
Lewis first started work on the translation in 1935, when he was 37, and it is believed he returned to it several times throughout his life.
Another fragment of Lewis’s writing which was published after being thought lost was his abandoned novel The Dark Tower. In the book’s introduction, Hooper describes how Lewis’s brother, Major Warren Lewis, began clearing out The Kilns, Lewis’s former home, “preparatory to moving to a smaller house”.
“Major Lewis, after setting aside those papers which had special significance for him, began disposing of the others,” wrote Hooper. “Thus it was that a great many things which I was never able to identify found their way on to a bonfire which burned steadily for three days.”
According to Hooper, Lewis’s gardener, Fred Paxford, who was instructed to burn the author’s manuscripts, knew that Hooper had “the highest regard for anything in the master’s hand”. The gardener was instructed to burn a number of notebooks, but managed to convince Major Lewis to delay until Hooper could see them.
“By what seems more than coincidence, I appeared at The Kilns that very day and learned that unless I carried the papers away with me that afternoon they would indeed be destroyed,” Hooper wrote. “There were so many that it took all my strength and energy to carry them back to Keble College.” For the past 46 years, Hooper has spent his time sifting through the saved material before it is transported to Oxford’s Bodleian Library. Four years ago, he realised that fragments of the famous Aeneid translation, referred to by Tolkien in his own letters, had escaped his attention. Since then he has worked with Reyes to piece together the translation, which exists in fragments spread across several notebooks.
Reyes and Hooper began collaborating when Reyes was a visiting scholar at Oxford University’s Wolfson College. “He asked me to write out any notes that would help a general reader understand the text,” said Reyes. “These notes were a glossary explaining classical allusions which were too long to be incorporated into a new edition of Lewis’s collected poetry, and so Walter wondered if the Aeneid translation could stand on its own as a volume.”
Lewis absorbed himself in Greek mythology from an early age. He read Greek and Latin literature along with philosophy and ancient history at Oxford in the 1920s. He was a fellow at Magdalen College, Oxford, between 1925 and 1954, and later was the first Professor of Medieval and Renaissance English at the University of Cambridge.
As I commented on Facebook, the publication of this will surely launch a thousand theses. I’m sure the Classicists amongst our readers will marvel at the coincidence (not as tenuous as I thought) of the above description with Donatus’ account of the death of Virgil (David Wilson-Okamura’s translation at virgil.org):
35. In his fifty-second year, Virgil decided to retire to Greece and Asia [Minor], in order to put the finishing touches on the Aeneid. He meant to do nothing but revise for three straight years, so that the remainder of his life would be free for philosophy. But while he was making his way to Athens, he met up with Augustus, who was returning to Rome from the East. He decided not to retire, and to turn back immediately. While he was getting to know the nearby town of Megara, he took sick under the blazing sun. His journey was suspended, but to no avail, so that when he put ashore at Brindisi somewhat later, his condition was more serious. He passed away there, after a few days, on 21 September [19 BC], during the consulship of Gnaeus Sentius and Quintus Lucretius. 36. His bones were transported to Naples, and buried under a mound, which is on the road to Pozzuoli, less than two miles out from the city. Someone made a distich on it as follows:
Mantua gave birth to me, the Calabrians snatched me away, now it holds me fast–
The city where Parthenope is buried; I sang of pastures, fields, and princes.
Posthumous publication of the Aeneid
37. He bequeathed half of his estate to Valerius Proculus, his brother by an other father; a quarter to Augustus; a twelfth to Maecenas; and the rest to Lucius Varius and Plotius Tucca, who corrected the Aeneid after his death at Caesar’s behest. 38. Sulpicius of Carthage’s verses on the subject are extant thus:
Virgil had given instructions that it was to be destroyed,
The poem that sang of the Phrygian prince.
Tucca refused, and Varius; likewise you, greatest Caesar,
You do not refrain; you look out for the Latian narrative.
Luckless Pergamum nearly fell in a second fire,
Troy was almost consumed on another pyre.
39. Before leaving Italy, Virgil arranged with Varius to burn up the Aeneid if something should befall him; but [Varius] had insisted that he would not do so. Wherefore, when his health was failing, [Virgil] demanded his scroll-cases earnestly, intending to burn them up himself; but since no one stepped forward, it was to no purpose, even though he gave precise stipulations in this matter. 40. For the rest, he committed his writings to the aforementioned Varius and Tucca, on the condition that they publish nothing which he himself had not revised. 41. Nonetheless, Varius published them, acting under the authority of Augustus. But they were revised only in a cursory fashion, so that if there were any unfinished lines, he left them unfinished.1 Many soon endeavored to mend these lines in the same style, but they did not succeed; the task was too difficult, for nearly all of the half-lines were free-standing and complete with regard to sense, except this: “Whom Troy to you now…” [Aen. 3.340]. 42. Nisus the grammarian says that he heard from older men that Varius changed the order of two books, and that which then was second he moved into third place, and even smoothed out the beginning of the first book by subtracting these lines:
I am he that once played a song on the slender pipe;
Leaving the forests, I marked off the lands nearby,
That the fields might yield as much as possible to the eager husbandman–
A labor that pleased the farmers. But now Mars’ shuddering
Arms and a man I sing…
Donatus’ biography at virgil.org is definitely worth perusing … it includes a number of additional interlinear notes/interpolations …