I've read many translations of the Aeneid. I've even, from time to time, had a go at translating bits and pieces from the original myself (there's a small example buried in the middle of this post, for instance) so I know how hard that job is to do well. And Sarah Ruden, in her 2009 Yale edition, does it exceptionally well. This may be the best verse version of the poem I know, actually: a line-for-line rendering written in nimble, expressive blank verse that manages to compress Vergil's more capacious hexameters without losing force or specificity, and which over and over finds clever, eloquent solutions to the many translation problems this tricky text presents. (Since we're on the subject I might add: I also rate Robert Fitzgerald's verse, and David West's prose, translations.)
Today, though, I'm not blogging about her translation, but rather about a passing comment Ruden makes at the beginning of her introduction:
So far as I can tell, this notion that Vergil originally planned a 24-book Aeneid is entirely Ruden's invention. We know (from Donatus) that Vergil on his deathbed considered the poem unfinished: but that was a matter of ~60 incomplete hexameter lines and a general polishing and finishing-up, not a whole unwritten second half.
I do find myself, nonetheless, intrigued by her idea. What would a 24-book Aeneid even look like? All that's left to tell of Aeneas's life is: marrying Lavinia and founding his city Lavinium, fathering his son Silvius, succeeding Latinus as king of the Latins and finally being apotheosed into heaven by his mother Venus. There's not twelve books of epic verse in that little story: Maffeo Vegio fits the whole thing into six hundred hexameters in his Aeneid 13, and even that reads a little, shall we say, slackly. We could, maybe, spin it out into three books: one detailing the aftermath of the death of Turnus, one the founding of Lavinium and the birth of Silvius and one the passing of Aeneas.
That leaves us nine epic books to fill. Since one thing I would certainly never do is waste my, and everybody else's, time by actually writing a blank-verse second-half-of-the-Aeneid, I feel uninhibited from suggesting the following contents list:
Book 13: The burning of Ardea; Aeneas reconciled with LatinusThat would more or less work, I think; and though it would shift the centre of gravity of the epic away from Aeneas as such, there's no evidence that The Aeneid was even Vergil's preferred title. Maybe he was working on a Romiad all along.
Book 14: The founding of Lavinium
Book 15: Aeneas rules for three years and ascends to the heavens
Book 16: Ascanius founds Alba Longa
Book 17: Silvius
Book 18: Tiberinus and the river
Book 19: Romulus Silvius: pride and punishment
Book 20: Numitor and Amulius and the births of Romulus and Remus;
Book 21: Romulus and Remus come to manhood
Book 22: The Founding of Rome
Book 23: The killing of Remus
Book 24: Remus's appears as a ghost and prophesies future glories.