A Balancing Act: Rachel Hadas and Virgil

My discovery of Rachel Hadas’s Poems for Camilla, a collection of stunning poems inspired by the author’s rereading of Virgil’s Aeneid, was an example of bookish serendipity.  I adore Virgil,  yet what were the odds of my coming across Poems for Camilla?  I must have read a review, but where on earth? Hadas’s poetic meditations on lines from the Aeneid are revelatory, evocative, sometimes emotional, and more inspiring than scholarly articles.

Poems for Camilla is one of my favorite books of the year.  But I do want to address a problem with the text–not Hadas’s problem, but a proofreading problem.  Publishers are notoriously careless  when it comes to proofreading quotations from foreign languages. Latin errors proliferate in modern books, just as they often did when monkish scribes absent-mindedly erred in their copying of Virgil. And in this case, each of Hadas’s poems (except one) is headed by a Latin epigraph from the Aeneid, followed by Hadas’s own poetic meditations and reactions to the lines.  Translations of the Latin epigraphs are not included, so the majority will happily look up the translation in their favorite English edition.  It is an absorbing interactive experience!  But since I am a nerdy Latinist, I read the Latin myself.  So the proofreading errors are jarring.

I did find a few Latin errors and typos in the epigraphs.  Publishers need to hire specialists to proofread even short quotations . But wouldn’t it be simpler to scan  the Latin text from The Aeneid (can this be done?) or photocopy and paste the Latin lines?  (I don’t know if this can be done in the publishing world.)

Most of the Latin is correct here. But what is tani, I wondered when I read the  epigraph for Hadas’s  poem, “The Cause.”   Then I realized,  it was tanti (“of so much”).  I checked the Latin text in the Aeneid to make sure I was right.  Yes, I was.  So I began going directly to the Latin text of the Aeneid so I wouldn’t get stuck on modern typos. Sadly, the Latin epigraph to Hadas’ beautiful poem “No Way Out” was not just cryptic because of mistakes, but nonsensical.  I thought I must be going mad, until I compared it to the text in my Latin edition.  I underlined the three errors below so you can see them.

I won’t give a complicated explanation.

Quem (singular whom) should have been qui (plural who).  

vellant should have been vellent.  It’s a spelling mistake–the vowel a should be an e–but since everything looks true in print, I wondered at first if it was an archaic form of the subjunctive.  No, it was just a typo!

aligat (binds) should have been alligat or adligat.  A simple spelling error.

Now don’t be put off:  this is a great book. I am awed by Hadas’s  poetry.  And hardly anybody reads Latin anymore, so it will not spoil your experience.  It didn’t spoil mine.  But publishers, whether they be corporate or small presses, need to pay more attention to detail.

N.B.  WordPress no longer has a spellcheck feature .  Does that reflect a growing carelessness about detail in the larger culture?  We can all use a second pair of eyes, even if it’s only the fallible spellcheck. As it is, I’m looking through bifocals!

2 thoughts on “A Balancing Act: Rachel Hadas and Virgil”

  1. Does Rachel Hadas say why she leaves the extracts fron The Aeneid itself untranslated, even in an appendix, perhaps? Is it to encourage people to dig up long-forgotten Latin or is there another reason?

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    1. No, there’s no appendix or author’s note. I do highly recommend Hadas’s beautiful poetry, though.

      On Sat, Dec 28, 2019 at 5:24 AM Thornfield Hall: A Book Blog wrote:

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