Wednesday, June 13, 2007

C.S. Lewis, Time and the Aeneid

One of the most helpful things I've ever read on the Aeneid comes from a strange source- C.S. Lewis in his preface to Paradise Lost. Here's what he has to say about time in the Aeneid:

'...so true an artist as Virgil could not be content with the clumsiness and monotony of a mere chronicle. His solution to the problem- one of the most important revolutions in the history of poetry- was to take one single national legend and treat it in such a way that we feel the vaster theme to be somehow implicit in it. He has to tell a comparatively short story and give us the illusion of having lived through a great space of time. He has to deal with a limited number of personages and make us feel as if national, or almost cosmic, issues are involved. He must locate his action in a legendary past and yet make us feel the present, and the intervening centuries, already foreshadowed...

'The more obvious instances of this enlargement of Virgil's subject have, no doubt, often been noticed- the glimpses of the future in Jove's prophecy in Book I, or in the vision of Anchises, or in the shield, or again the connexion of the whole of the fourth Book with the Punic Wars. Perhaps the most moving of all these forward links is the visit of Aeneas to the future site of Rome in Book VIII.

'The backward links [in time] are of equal importance... If I am not mistaken it is almost the first poem which carries a real sense of the "abysm of time". Priscus, vetus and antiquus are key-words in Virgil. In Books VI to VIII- the true heart of the poem- we are never allowed to forget that Latium- Lurkwood, the hiding place of aged Saturn- has been waiting for the Trojans from the beginning of the world.'

[C.S. Lewis, A Preface to Paradise Lost pp. 33 ff.]

5 comments:

sarah s said...

To Mr Morrison,

I am really sick! That is why I didn't come to Latin today. Or to school at all. And I will prob be away tomorrow, which means I won't get to ask you if we can please wear mufti for our excursion, so I am asking now instead:

Please may we wear mufti to our excursion on Friday? PLZZZZZZZ? Because it is only going to be 15 degrees, and I have a medical condition and I get too cold in my school clothes, even with a jumper and a coat. If you let us, I will hand in my extension essay. Deal? Yes? Okay see you on Friday in mufti with my essay!!

jm said...

Sarah, i'm sorry to hear that you're sick, i hope you get better soon. you do need to wear school uniform tomorrow- both our school and the organisers of the excursion insist on it. you can wear your jersey if you like. you still need to hand in your essay.

Mike Salter said...

Interesting read JM, thanks for posting.

The idea of treating a national legend as a major cosmic event is not unique to Virgil, incidentally. I always try to remind my guys that for all his beautiful, majestic poetry (for such it is), Virgil was also a practitioner of the proverbial "black arts". It doesn't take much of a leap of imagination to recast Virgil as a Goebbels of an earlier age, horrible as that may sound. We've just been reading through the final passage dealing with Actium, and V.'s systematic denigration of Antony and "the East" is an absolute propaganda masterpiece.

sarah s said...

Today Mike Salter (hi mike salter! i liked your lecture!) was talking about "saxo vetusto", and I wrote on Julia's booklet "saxo crocodilo". Is that witty? Cause she didn't get it, but I don't know if that is because she is dum or if it is because I don't know any Latin and maybe it didn't make any sense to begin with. By the way I am going to hand in my essay on Monday.

Mike Salter said...

...hi mike salter! i liked your lecture!...

Glad to hear it Sarah - thanks! Hope it was helpful.

That was the first time I've ever spoken at one of the HSC Study Days, and I was particularly nervous coming on after my old Prof., doctissimus Dexter. But it seemed to go OK.