Thursday, 12 January 2012

C S Lewis, Thatcher and Virgil's Aeneid

Using an e-reader, I have been enabled to read in two days as afar as Book V of Virgil's 10,000 word Aeneid in a fluent rhyming English poetic translation.

I studied the story of passionate Dido and Aeneas (Book IV) when learning Latin at school. However, I had never read the whole Aeneid - and I am overwhelmed by its supreme quality. The fall and burning of Troy possesses all the excitement of a thrilling Hollywood epic. Aeneas's wanderings round Greek and Italian (Hesperian) islands is like taking a modern, luxury cruise.

Virgil's Aeneid strengthens the sinews of the heart and gives utterly heart-rending descriptions of nature and the ancient world. Of course the pagan gods figure robustly. But Virgil has long been seen as a kind of pre-Christian "Christian" poet because he half-invented the idea of vocation. It is also suggested that Virgil predicted (an accident, in my view, or one based on knowledge of Messianic prophecies) the coming of Christ, in Eclogue IV.

Virgil's works have been considered foundation stones of Western culture, for centuries. We should read him in our own native tongue, not in Latin, because otherwise with the demise of Classics, his poetry will be lost.

It is interesting that C S Lewis felt that Virgil was a "rock" in his life. His list of "key books in my life" includes:

George MacDonald's "Phantastes"
G. K. Chesterton's "The Ever­lasting Man"
George Her­bert's "The Temple"
Wordsworth's "The Prelude"
Boethius's "The Consolation of Philosophy"
Boswell's "Life of Johnson"
Charles Williams's "Descent into Hell"
Arthur Balfour's "Theism and Humanism"
Rudolf Otto's "The Idea of the Holy"

There is only one book that C S Lewis includes which is not Christian : Virgil's "Aeneid" - unfinished and left open-ended in 19BC when he died.

Aeneas is famous for carrying on with his calling, inspite of more alluring alternatives such as
-marrying Dido
-his own preference - rebuilding Troy
-his desire for a quiet life
-various easier options.

Aeneas is "pious" - a virtue in republican Roman times and his calling is to "found Rome". Virgil makes it clear that this duty is not chosen by Aeneas and that he is a somewhat unwilling participant in his destiny, overcoming real trials to finish the task.

After reading today how Lady Thatcher was treated by male colleagues in the 1960s and 1970s, she strikes me as a bit similar. Nothing deviated her from doing what she felt she had to achieve but progress was rather hazardous - like the wanderings of Aeneas. Did she persevere because she felt there was no one else to do what she felt had to be done - particularly no man?

I rather suspect she was brought up to "stick to her guns", to stick to what she believed and just keep going - even if half right or sometimes utterly wrong - as the majority of people believe that she was, in the case of the Poll Tax. I am not commending persevering with "wrong" of course - just persevering when one is "right".

We need more dedicated people, particularly robust and well-trained believers, with a strong sense of "unwilling vocation" today, who set their face against the softer options, and do what, when carefully evaluated, "needs to be done".

Setting Himself against Peter's protests about the Cross, is what Christ Himself did.

It is "pious" dedication, not just talent, that finally leads to lasting achievements.

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