The Magazine

The Classicist

Robert Fagles (1933-2008) gave life to the language of Greece and Rome.

Apr 28, 2008, Vol. 13, No. 31 • By TRACY LEE SIMMONS
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John Dryden's translation of The Aeneid begins with the famous line, "Of Arms and the Man I Sing." Fagles sailed a little closer to the wind: "Wars and a man I sing--an exile driven on by fate," a touch not only more modern, but also more sad and sober. When asked once to identify a line that had driven him to the outer limits of his poetic imagination to translate, he thought hard and pulled from the air one line--Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit--and then laid out his idea of what the line means within its setting: "A joy it will be one day, perhaps, to remember even this."

"It's about loss," he said, "about overcoming the worst." But, he added, "the word 'perhaps' is important. It may not be a joy to remember. It may be a bloody misery." And with this we know that, while he sat in his study, Robert Fagles never left the larger world, the one where we live, feel joy, suffer greatly, and die.

Tracy Lee Simmons is the author of Climbing Parnassus: A New Apologia for Greek and Latin.