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Seamus Heaney and the ClassicsBann Valley Muses$
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Stephen Harrison, Fiona Macintosh, and Helen Eastman

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780198805656

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198805656.001.0001

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Heaney and Virgil’s Underworld Journey

Heaney and Virgil’s Underworld Journey

Chapter:
(p.180) 12 Heaney and Virgil’s Underworld Journey
Source:
Seamus Heaney and the Classics
Author(s):

Rachel Falconer

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/oso/9780198805656.003.0012

Tracing echoes, allusions to, and transformations of three motifs—the golden bough, Charon’s boat, and Aeneas’ three attempts to embrace his father—this chapter aims to assess the developing significance of Virgil’s presence in Heaney’s writing. Initially filtered through his response to Dante’s Commedia, Heaney’s early reading of the Virgilian underworld journey seems best encapsulated in the image of gravitas—the image of a man (both Aeneas, and Virgil the poet) who has shouldered the weight of his people’s history, and who bears a sense of irreparable loss into the future. By the time we reach his last volume, Human Chain, however, this image of Virgil has been astonishingly and lovingly transformed so that the poet of melancholy gravitas becomes the harbinger of a sense of a light-winged or delicately unfurling new life. The transformation of Virgil in Heaney, from Seeing Things (1991) and District and Circle (2006), to Human Chain (2010), is on one level also a story about the process of translation itself: how the very sense of losing the body of the original text gives birth to a new shape, a possible new world. The chapter concludes with consideration of Heaney’s posthumous translation of Aeneid VI (2016).

Keywords:   Heaney, Virgil, Dante, burden, translation

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