Saturday, December 9, 2017

Princeton Classics don funks Ferry

Were you there, in your in-box
yesterday afternoon, as the
weekend Book Review from The
Times dropped in for tea? It
was a convenience not to be at
a window when the hyper-link
opened upon a classic monkish
defenestration, of David Ferry's
radiant Aeneid. It brought to 
mind the Great Purges of the
1930s, or Lawrence Stone's be-
ing "smote, hip and thigh," in
the English Historical Review
by Trevor-Roper, heretofore a
benchmark of defrocking inde-
cency in the guise of punctilio.

That this thrilling "trumpet
blast," not to be more Puritan-
ical in its appreciation than 
it is in conception, should 
have emerged from the Classics 
department at one's own alma 
mater, is proof of the pres-
tige of the underlying text,
albeit an irresistible incite-
ment to expose a critic's am-
bition. Who can doubt, that
Princeton's Professor Fagles,
himself an auto-didact in
the language under discussion,
is rolling in his grave, over
the allegations steeping from 
a putrefaction of pettiness,
a self-contradictory brew of 
academic bile:

The book is justified only by
the curse of trendy topicality.
Zounds, it contains no glossary!
It contains no essay on the
literary tradition, no refer-
ence to its historical setting.
It is not a term paper! Worse
than that, it isn't a raw leap
of re-imagining, in the unlic-
ensed vein of Logue and Pound!
It's no romp of heroic couplets
from 17th Century English,
either! I even counted errors!
How dare his publisher fail
this innocent, when already he 
is tainted by enviable esteem
in my profession, and distin-
guished by more modesty, po-
etry, and empathy than I?

We recall this critic's seat
as a setting for learning to
play fair. His review of the
new Aeneid overlooks how en-
tire swaths of the text have
been ignored in the literary
tradition of its translation,
and quite routinely recomposed
in the best of it. His silence
on these realities mirrors a
shocking omission of "flaws"
in everything he praises in
this review. This behavior is
beneath the earnestness of un-
dergraduates, and stains the
place they learn to love it.

Denis Feeney
The New York Times
December 5, 2017

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