In Conversation with A.T. REYES


A. T. Reyes is the editor of the new translation, C.S. Lewis’s Lost Aeneid Arms and the Exile.  Reyes teaches Greek and Latin at the Groton School, Massachusetts.  He received his A.B.  from Harvard University and his M. Phil., D. Phil. from Oxford University.  Reyes is the type of well-rounded individual that exemplifies GG’s idea of a contemporary gentleman.  Below we ask him about the Lewis Aeneid, the importance of studying the classics, and his personal style.

GG:  How did you come to edit this translation of the Aeneid, what was
the process of saving it from the fire, as it were?

A. T. ReyesWhen Major W. H. Lewis, C. S. Lewis’s brother was leaving the Kilns, the family home, in 1964, in order to move into smaller accommodations, he decided to clear out C. S. Lewis’s papers and started a bonfire in the garden.  The story is told in Walter Hooper’s preface to the Dark Tower, published in 1977.  Alerted by  Fred Paxford, the gardener at the Kilns, Walter went to the house and saved as many of the papers as he could.

In 1984 or 1985, I first met Walter, at a dinner party in the Kilns.  We became friends, and in 2004, when I was Visiting Scholar at Wolfson College, Walter invited me to his house for dinner and showed me the notebooks with the translation of the Aeneid.  He asked me to write whatever notes a general reader would need to understand the text, intending, I think, to issue a new edition of C. S. Lewis’s complete poetry.  But there were too many notes to be incorporated successfully into such a volume, and so Walter suggested that perhaps the translation of the Aeneid could stand on its own as a book.  And so, I gathered together as many extant fragments as I could find and put these together with the material from the notebooks.

GG:  C.S. Lewis is most well know for his Narnia Series.  What did, in your opinion, his creative writing and storytelling bring to the translation?

A. T. ReyesLewis’s letters suggest that the translation was begun in 1933, and so his work on the Aeneid was more influential on his subsequent career as a novelist, especially of the Narnia tales, than the other way around.  Occasionally, one does hear an echo of the Aeneid in some of his storytelling, and I compare in the introduction to the book the paragraph describing Lucy on the Dawn Treader caught in a storm and the passage from the Aeneid in which Juno sends a storm to harry Aeneas’ fleet.


GG:  It is believed that much of Lewis’ work was lost in a bonfire in
1964, but the Aeneid survived.  How much of the Lewis legacy was lost in
the fire and might works, thought lost, still lay undiscovered?

A. T. ReyesWalter could not rescue everything from the bonfire, and much was certainly lost.  It is not impossible though that, somehow, other works will come to light, or even that further fragments of Lewis’s translation of the Aeneid may be found.

GG:  Do you believe new translations are an important part of keeping
ancient text, such as the Aeneid, alive for a contemporary reader?

A. T. Reyes:  Certainly C. S. Lewis believed that.  But he placed the caveat that new translations should be based as closely as possible on the best scholarship related to the text at hand.  He felt that most translators of the Aeneid simply translated Virgil’s Latin as yet another bit of Ciceronian prose, thereby deadening the tale.  He wanted to bring the Aeneid back within a medieval tradition of translation, which, he felt, gave greater liveliness to the Latin.

GG:  Publius Vergilius Maro writings, and maybe Roman writing in
general, seem to be less know than the Homeric Hymns, where would you
place the Aeneid in the pantheon of Greek and Roman texts?

A. T. Reyes:  As T. S. Eliot once said, the Aeneid is the Classic against which all other Classics (in whatever language) are to be measured. Lewis would have agreed with that.  He had read the Aeneid more than any other long poem and thought it one of the books that had most influenced him.

GG:  You teach in the Classics department at the Groton School.  The
study of classic language and culture has all but been deleted from
primary education. What do you think we, as a culture, lose by neglecting
the study of Greek and Latin texts?

A. T. Reyes:  By neglecting Greek and Latin texts, one misses the chance to be connected with what has gone before and much that will come afterward.  To speak generally:  most individual or social problems stem from a certain lack of moral anchoring that comes about because one simply lacks relevant self-knowledge or experience of life.  And so, as C. S. Lewis says, one should read to enlarge oneself and write to preserve oneself.  There is no
better way to enlarge oneself than to read the Classics.



GG:  On a personal note, many of our readers are concerned with
personal style.   In your recent photos for Vanity Fair you show sharp personal
style: tie, blazer, glasses, do clothing and style play a part in your
everyday life?

A. T. Reyes:  I’m afraid that I simply use much the same sort of school uniform every day (much to the dismay or amusement of the boys and girls who may care about such matters.)  I do prefer clothing not to be distracting — hence the sameness of it all.  But it does mean that boys and girls think more about what one is saying in class.

Read more and buy it at Yale Books

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Categories: Man to Man

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