2021 McKay Book Prize Winners

The President and Board of Trustees of the Vergilian Society and the McKay Prize Committee are pleased to present the 2021 Alexander G. McKay Prize for Vergilian Studies to Susanna Morton Braund and Zara M. Torlone, co-editors of Virgil and his Translators, published by Oxford University Press in 2018. 

In Virgil and His Translators, Braund and Torlone have produced a feat of international scholarship whose boundaries of time and space are refreshingly far-set. The volume contains twenty-eight papers from three international workshops and conferences held between 2012–14; these papers address the predominantly verse translation of Virgil’s works into some fourteen languages, including Mandarin and Turkish, over the past seven centuries. As such, the volume’s reach goes beyond studies of single translations or single traditions, surely rendering it the most ambitious extant approach to the vicissitudes of Virgil in the vernacular. The papers draw our attention to how translations could contribute to the emergence of these vernaculars. They also draw attention to perennial issues of nationalism and imperialism, the status of women, the anxiety of translation, and more, usually by a careful and granular reading of a given translation. In this regard, Braund and Torlone’s volume is refreshingly solid, focusing on the actual practice of particular poet-translators well situated in their particular milieux. The volume is a welcome, perhaps foundational, contribution to the growing field of reception and appropriation of these canonical texts, especially the Aeneid.  

The editors have structured the volume by dividing it into two thematic groups, ‘Virgil Translation as Cultural and Ideological Capital,’ and ‘Poets as Translators of Virgil: Cultural Competition, Appropriation, and Identification.’ Many of the chapters in the first section draw attention to Virgil’s role in the formation of literary culture across Europe and in China. The authors address the various ways translations are appropriations, rather than their aesthetic qualities; so, for example, Richard H. Armstrong’s essay ‘Dante’s Influence on Virgil,’ addresses a particular 14th century Castilian translation of the Aeneid whose value ‘is perhaps more like that of an index fossil, helping us to mark a transition between medieval and early modern translation practices’ (37), while Gordon Braden’s essay on ‘The Passion of Dido: Aeneid 4 in English Translation to 1700’ shows how ‘a late medieval soft-heartedness towards Dido [was] rolled back in many later translations,’ including Dryden’s rather harsh treatment of the Punic Queen, cleverly ‘divorced’ by Aeneas to please Virgil’s Roman readers.

Part 2 (chapters 16­–28) turns from nations to individual poets and translators, who offer rich case studies that the critics explore against the background of wider theoretical frameworks. Richard Thomas, for instance, tackles the abiding issue of foreignizing vs. domesticating impulses; he argues via a sampling of English translations of select passages that the latter approach turns out to be the more desirable as an aesthetic necessity. The Virgilian translations of several writers are shown to have had a deep impact on their own development as poets, Leopardi perhaps most striking of all (Scafoglio), but also in important ways for the French authors Du Bellay (Gautier) and Delille (Romani Mistretta), the Brazilian Mendes (Vasconcellos), and the contemporary Italian poet Alessandro Fo, who reflects upon his own engagement with Virgil. While throughout we learn in manifold ways how a translation is embedded in the translator’s culture, Cillian O’Hogan in ‘Irish Versions of Virgil’s Eclogues and Georgics’ demonstrates how Heaney and Fallon pointedly combine features of dialect with regional landscapes to render Virgil in terms of Irish identity, and as a resistance to England. The volume concludes with a forward-looking Afterword by the classicist poet Josephine Balmer, ‘Let Go Fear: Future Virgils,’ in which, on the basis of her own ongoing work, she sketches some possibilities for creative transformations, and transgressions, in the context of a ‘feminization of Virgilian reception.’

Braund and Torlone have assembled and shaped an original and wide-ranging collaborative volume that makes a major contribution to Virgilian studies.