Merely Impossible: On Collaborating With Virgil

The relationship that I want to have with Virgil as I work on the Aeneid is best described by Chris Piuma in his essay-poem for postmedieval, ‘The Task of the Dystranslator.’ Piuma argues that the frequent approach to translation is a kind of monogamous relationship, wherein ‘faithfulness’ to the original is prized above all, with the translation being

Ever more

accurate, ever more humble, ever more
submissive to the original, more perfectly

replicating the original’s meaning, or effect,
or function, or beauty.

He proposes that translators—–or ‘dystranslators’—–might negotiate different kinds of intimacies with a source text, ones not based on faithfulness, intimacies that are playful and fluid and ‘make space’ rather than strive for closeness. The dystranslator in effect becomes a ‘marriage broker’ who makes a contract that offers ‘equality within the marriage,’ or even proposes not

​a marriage, but an affair, a
dalliance, a weekend in Paris, or

a visit to the baths—–all
of which…

allow us to learn more about

and to reconsider our relationships with
the texts involved in such intimacies.

In short, I want to approach Virgil as a real collaborator, not as a copyist, not as someone trying to recreate an edifice from Roman times. To approximate Latin hexameters, or even to render Virgil’s words in English as accurately as possible, seems to me as unnecessary (and indeed unwanted) as installing Roman plumbing in my house. What I am trying to bring across is all of the heat, force, anger, and beauty of the poem, into a ‘structure of feeling’ that’s entirely different—–digital, visual, textual, with all of the cultural implications that go into that. It’s merely impossible; therefore, finally, I just want it above all to reflect a playful, fun, and living intimacy with the source text, one that isn’t silent or submissive but not altogether ‘unfaithful,’ either.