Bruce Cobbold claims that he decided to translate Vergil's "Aeneid" "just for the fun of it."
The "Aeneid," the Roman epic poem that takes up where Homer's "Iliad" leaves off, isn't often considered a walk in the park. But Mr. Cobbold, who was raised and schooled in England and is the chair of the Classics Department at Tabor Academy in Marion, likes a good story and the Aeneid, he says, is a real "yarn."
"I wanted the translation to maintain a feeling that the 'Aeneid' is a story," says Mr. Cobbold, who has taught Latin and Greek at Tabor for some 30 years.
And that's why, he adds, he thought he would treat the epic about the founding of Rome "as though it were a novel."
What he knew from the start, however, is that if his translation were to read like a real page-turner, it would have to be written in prose, albeit a prose that uses poetic devices, like alliteration, whenever appropriate.
The result is a handsome paperback that includes an outline of the story, a timeline of significant events in Roman history, family trees, and lists of discussion questions and main characters. The book is also nicely illustrated throughout with contemporary drawings.
Although Mr. Cobbold has published a couple of books before -- on Greek and Roman history -- for Tabor freshmen, "Vergil's Aeneid" is his first crack at translation.
"Every generation needs its new translations," he said, explaining that translation is more than a matter of looking up words in a dictionary and then finding their equivalent, as he makes clears in the book's introductory Notes on the Translation.
For example, he explains in that essay that he "tried to use language that is up-to-date without being colloquial."
Most of all, however, translation takes time and, thanks to his returning to the classroom a few years ago after a stint as director of academics at Tabor, he was once again free to pursue his own projects in the summer.
The translation may have begun with his just "wanting to see what would happen" if he tried his hand at his own version, but it wound up taking two full summers and parts of the winter. Nonetheless, it was clearly a labor of love.
The "Aeneid" begins with the fall of Troy and recapitulates some of what happened in the "Iliad," but Vergil adds a good deal, Mr. Cobbold says, like the wonderful relationship between Aeneas, the leader of the Trojans, and Dido, the Carthaginian queen who commits suicide when the hero abandons her.
That tragic relationship alone, he notes, has spawned operas and plays that have made the the duo known to poetry lovers around the globe.
Vergil's tale follows Aeneas and the Trojans as they wander the Mediterranean in search of a new homeland in Italy, where they are destined to found the state that later will become Rome.
Mr. Cobbold enjoys all of the epic's digressions and its many sketches of individual characters, as well as Vergil's flashes of humor now and then -- "even though he's a Roman."
Mr. Cobbold, who also directs one play a year at Tabor, likes to introduce students to the pleasures of classical literature and drama. In the past, he's directed student productions of Aristophanes, an adaptation of "Medea" as a Japanese Noh drama, and a version of "Antigone" by Jean Anouilh, the 20th century French dramatist.
"I've always been interested in how you do Greek drama," Mr. Cobbold says, explaining his eclectic choices.
"The classics are more alive here than in England," he adds, pointing to the growing numbers of students taking courses in Greek and Latin at Tabor. "In England now you don't have to study Latin," he said, amazed at the changes in the curriculum.
Students at Tabor, he thinks, "enjoy the mechanics of the language because its so logical." And the numbers seem to support his contention that the classics are alive and well here on the SouthCoast. Ten of his former students have gone on to major in classics at the college level in the last 15 years.
One particularly outstanding example is the young lady who, after four years of Latin and one semester of Greek, did a double major in classics and biology at Colby College, and then went on to earn her Ph.D. in classics at Oxford University.
Now that "Vergil's Aeneid" is in the bookstores, Mr. Cobbold was asked by his publisher to work on a new edition of "Tales from the Greek Drama," a book of extended plot summaries of three tragedies by Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, and two comedies.