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Classics professor to speak at Case Western about new insights in “Aeneid” translation

Published: April 26, 2013
Section: News

Patricia Johnston (CLAS) will present novel research findings she has discovered while publishing a new translation of Vergil’s “Aeneid” to students and faculty at Case Western Reserve University Friday. Case Western sponsors “Vergil Week” each year, and this year Johnston’s book was chosen as the highlight of the week, with a complete reading of the book taking place all day Thursday. Johnston will deliver the keynote address Friday and will discuss the difference between Juno as a Roman goddess and the Greek goddess Hera.

As she was translating the “Aeneid,” Johnston was struck by Vergil’s discussion of “the storm of Juno’s unforgiving anger.” While other scholars have compared the Roman Juno to the Greek Hera, Johnston thought that there was more to Juno’s character than a bitterness for Jupiter’s many affairs. She argues that Juno has significance as a Roman goddess, and her anger stems from a protective feeling toward the citizens of Carthage and Italy, rather than simply the jealousy of the Greek goddess Hera.

She hopes people will learn about what Vergil is writing about historically, because the scholarship can be misleading. “Most commentaries on the ‘Aeneid’ and also on classical mythology just lump them together mindlessly, but there’s a big difference. When goddesses and gods from one land are joined with those of another, local aspects creep in as well as the Greek aspects,” Johnston said. “Each place [the Greek myth] is used, it’s modified and adapted and reflects local traditions as well.”

Johnston’s new translation of the “Aeneid,” published in 2012, has received critical acclaim from scholars across the country. Although there are many translations of Vergil’s well-known work, few translators strive to put their translations into dactylic hexameter, the same poetic meter in which the epic was originally written.

The Department of Classics at Case Western invited Johnston to speak after the new translation was published. “The book just came out, and it’s getting a lot of attention now. They’re doing Vergil week and it’s really quite natural,” Johnston said.

This Thursday, from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., students and faculty read Johnston’s English translation in its entirety. She is pleased that they read the full 12-book poem, and expressed hope that people who do not already know the “Aeneid” will be inspired to learn more about Aeneas’ quest to found the Roman race.

Johnston has been interested in research on Vergil for quite a while, but she never intended to write a translation of a book that many others had already completed. Yet, after colleagues encouraged her to do so, she decided to assume the task given that she would be doing something different and worthwhile by writing in dactylic hexameter. Vergil wrote the Latin in dactylic hexameter, but translating the epic into English and following the same meter is a simple task.

“I’ve tried to keep as close as possible to the purity of Vergil’s language and not become overly poetic with my own poetry, as sometimes tends to happen in translations,” Johnston said.

She has devoted most of her career to Vergil’s works, and now Johnston has an exciting new theory she hopes to publish soon about the historical role of Juno in Roman culture.

Looking forward, this summer Johnston will be preparing a third edition of her introductory Latin textbook as well as directing the nineteenth annual symposium in Grumentum, Italy, on “The Role of Animals in Ancient Myth and Religion.” She will also be editing papers from previous symposia for publication: one will focus on Artemis and the other on Arcadia.