Virgil after Dryden: Eighteenth-century English translations of the Aeneid

Widmer, Matthias (2017) Virgil after Dryden: Eighteenth-century English translations of the Aeneid. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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John Dryden’s 1697 translation of Virgil’s Aeneid is often seen as the pinnacle of an English tradition that read the Roman poet in primarily political terms and sought to relate his epic to contemporary matters of state. The present thesis takes a different approach by examining Dryden’s influence on his eighteenth-century successors to determine, on the one hand, what they hoped to accomplish by retranslating the same original and, on the other hand, why none of them was able to match his success. Dryden’s impact as a stylistic (rather than an ideological) model was balanced not only against a newly emphasised ideal of literalism but also against a whole range of other creative forces that posed at least an implicit challenge to his cultural dominance. Chapter 1 demonstrates Dryden’s systematic refinement of the couplet form he inherited from his predecessors and draws on his theoretical writings to suggest how it can be seen as a key aspect of his particular approach to Virgil. Chapter 2 discusses Joseph Trapp’s blank verse Aeneid and its debt to Dryden’s couplet version; I will show that the translator’s borrowings from the precursor text run directly counter to his declared ambitions to remain faithful to Virgil. Chapter 3 focusses on Christopher Pitt, the Virgil translator who came closest to paralleling Dryden’s popular acclaim; encouraged by fellow men of letters, Pitt published his translation in gradually revised instalments that reflect Dryden’s growing influence over time. Alexander Strahan, the subject of Chapter 4, aligned himself with a parallel tradition of Miltonic renderings by absorbing numerous expressions from Paradise Lost into his blank verse translation of the Aeneid and frequently used them to foreground thematic connections between the two epics; however, his revisions, too, show him moving closer to Dryden as time went by. James Beresford, discussed in Chapter 5, stands out among the other Miltonic translators by virtue of giving his borrowings in quotation marks – a practice that will be illuminated in connection with the multidisciplinary work of the artist Henry Fuseli and the equally Mil-tonic Homer translation that William Cowper composed under the latter’s supervision. Chapter 6, finally, offers an analysis of William Wordsworth’s failed attempt at translating the Aeneid. Given that he was one of the key reformers of English poetry, Wordsworth’s return to the traditional couplet form at a later stage in his career is surprising, as is the fact that his style became more Drydenian the further he proceeded.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Latin-English Translation, Virgil, Aeneid, Eighteenth-Century Poetry, John Dryden, John Milton, Joseph Trapp, Christopher Pitt, Alexander Strahan, James Beresford, William Wordsworth, heroic couplet, blank verse.
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts & Humanities > School of Critical Studies > English Literature
Supervisor's Name: Gillespie, Dr. Stuart
Date of Award: 2017
Depositing User: Mr Matthias Widmer
Unique ID: glathesis:2017-8109
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 04 May 2017 10:59
Last Modified: 06 Oct 2017 09:49

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