I recently sat down and read through The Shield of Achilles, a slim volume of poetry by W. H. Auden that won the 1956 National Book Award for Poetry, drawn in by the classical title (and a sense of vague inadequacy that I had not previously read any Auden). It’s a lovely little collection, organised into three sequences of poems, each poem with its own style and meter. The first group, titled Bucolics, clearly sees itself as the descendant of Virgil’s Georgics and the tradition of bucolic poetry; every poem praises a different part of the natural world – Winds, Woods, Mountains and so on. The third group plays with the sequence of liturgical hours and walks through the process of a Good Friday (perhaps, sometimes, maybe, the Good Friday). The middle group, In Sunshine and In Shade, does not have quite such an obvious uniting theme, but tends towards examining modern mankind through an ancient lens.
With that in mind, I want to look at the first poem of the In Sunshine and In Shade grouping, the eponymous Shield of Achilles poem – I’ll quote the text, and then make a very few comments on it, as in the main it speaks for itself.
I seem to be having a good run with abstracts at the moment – first I was accepted for the Animating Antiquity conference (for which, incidentally, booking is now open), and now I’ve heard that I’ve had my paper accepted for Feminism and Classics VI in May! This is brilliant news for two reasons. First, it means I get to go back to North America and check in with some of my friends and colleagues from my six years in the US – you know, reassure them I haven’t grown an extra head, that sort of thing. Second, it finally gives me a chance to road-test an idea I’ve been sitting on since 2007 and that I’ve wanted the opportunity to come back to.
Every year, the Rutgers classics department participates in something called Latinfest, or the Latin Day Colloquium if you want to be more formal about it, along with Columbia, NYU, Penn and Princeton. The idea is to take a relatively unfamiliar Latin text which hasn’t had a great deal of scholarship done on it, and to put it at the centre of a day’s conference/seminar/discussion. Each of the five schools takes a section of the text, and graduates from each school give a short presentation on various relevant topics before opening up to more general discussion on each segment. It’s a great way of presenting in a friendly atmosphere and exploring an unfamiliar text, and I’m actually quite keen to import it to the UK. (I think one of Penn’s graduates has already taken the idea successfully to Germany, so there is precedent.) (more…)