I am still plugging away at The Aeneid. It’s like having a disease that goes into remission and comes back, over and over. It’s the herpes of literature.
I am around 60% of the way through it. I started the Mandelbaum translation over at the beginning because the Mackail translation I bought by mistake was so bad.
The boredom is crushing. Yesterday Virgil pulled one of the classics-author moves I hate the worst: he listed everyone who was going into a battle.
Do we really need this information? Do we really need to know that Warrior Queen Frisbee marched to war accompanied by columns of short-haired women who secretly dreamed of being police officers? Do we really need to know that King Phlebitis of Hydrangea wore the lionskin his grandfather Uvulus stole from the lair of Buttafuocus the Thracian Balrog? No, we do not. Not all details are essential, and that goes double when you’re making it all up.
Virgil is an astoundingly bad writer, and I don’t give him a pass. Sure, he lived a long time ago, but he didn’t invent writing. He had read works by other people. He had heard people tell stories orally. He knew what boredom and clumsy pacing were. He had Homer to learn from. He could have avoided Homer’s mistakes, but he decided to repeat them.
A week or so ago, I was inclined to forgive Virgil and look for the good in his work, but now I just want to smack him.
How do classics scholars stand their lives? I guess it’s not that bad once you’ve read everything in the catalog. It’s not like new classics are popping up every month.
I can understand why people became classics scholars decades ago. They were afraid of Vietnam and Korea. They had to stay in school in order to keep their draft deferments, and not everyone is smart enough or talented enough to get into something like engineering or music. If the alternative to reading Virgil were running around the jungle dodging bouncing Bettys and punji sticks, I guess Virgil would look pretty good. But how can people force themselves to study this stuff when the alternative is…a normal life doing something relatively interesting?
At the moment, Aeneas is about to go to war with the Italians. His ridiculous, childish gods are behind it. Zeus wants to help him, but Zeus doesn’t wear the pants on Olympus. His wife Juno is doing her best to get Aeneas killed. She has stirred the Italians up against him, hoping they’ll take him for a ride and fit him with a cement toga. She wants him whacked.
What is the point in worshiping these idiots if they’re just going to make you more miserable? It’s a complete ripoff. You can’t make them happy. If one of them likes you, the others hate you. They need family therapy, but they’re working their issues out on the Greeks instead.
Let’s give the real God his due; if he’s on your side, everyone in heaven is on your side. He doesn’t have a crazy wife who runs around behind his back, messing with the people he loves. Come to think of it, that sounds a lot like Satan. The devil is basically the Glenn Close character from Fatal Attraction, played by Liberace.
Shakespeare said hell had no fury like a woman scorned. He was wrong. That’s exactly the kind of fury it has. If Satan were a human woman, he’d be vandalizing our cars and calling us at work a hundred times a day. His apartment would be full of group photos with God’s face torn out of them.
No one is crazier or more tenacious than a jilted woman. They never show mercy, and they have no shame. It doesn’t bother them that their campaigns of vengeance make them socially radioactive and ridiculous.
I’m surprised a woman didn’t invent the suicide vest.
Aeneas doesn’t need Jupiter to help him conquer Rome. He needs Jupiter to slap his wife down. She’s a walking reality series. She should be tied to a rock with Prometheus, wearing an orange jumpsuit.
Okay. I feel a little better now.
I have Ovid on deck, and my copy of The Inferno is also ready when I need it. I don’t know what these books are like, but if they’re more entertaining than the phone book, they’ll be a big move up from Virgil.
No wonder I didn’t finish this stuff when I was in college. I forgive myself. I wonder if the serious students actually read this junk. Barack Obama and George Stephanopoulos were major grubs at Columbia; they were both in my class. I wonder if they read these books.
Maybe Obama read the books, and that’s the reason no one remembers him. He was in either the library or a padded room.
I think I may become the only person in history to complete the reading. I’ll bet the professors only read the Cliff’s Notes. Who would know the difference?
It’s too bad I didn’t realize the liberal arts weren’t for me. I thought high verbal test scores and some writing talent meant I had to take literature and writing courses. That was stupid.
I guess I did realize it, because I became a biology major the year before the deans and I agreed it was best I take a year off. But my family was driving me insane, and I had no study ethic to begin with, so that effort crashed and burned. Oh, well. It would have been nice to get into something I actually liked.
This experience is like the two years I spent learning salsa. I felt like a social failure because I hated to dance, so I took lessons, went to clubs, and even wrote extensive instructions. When it was over, I still didn’t care for dancing. I’m glad I’ll never have to do it again. I’m spending months reading the classics, and when I’m done, I will have conclusive proof that the classics are not my cup of nectar.
Maybe the brush I paint with is too broad; I don’t hate all old books. I like Voltaire, Rabelais, Shakespeare, Racine, Francois Villon, Marot, Moliere…it’s mainly the Greeks and Romans that make me want to carve an escape hatch into my skin from the inside.
I don’t like Dickens much. Windy. As I understand it, at least some of his works were published piecemeal in newspapers, so he had ample motivation to prolong them. Also, his work is depressing.
When I get done with Virgil, I may throw a party. Now that I think about it, it may take me so long that when I finish, Carnaval will be underway in Brazil. I could just hop on a plane. I wonder where I can get a giant papier-mache head around here.
Do not read Virgil. Okay, that was over the top. Read it once and then put it in your attic. It’s not entertaining. It’s not illuminating. You will not enjoy it. Get it done and move on.
I’m going to go take some Advil now.