Saturday 23 September 2023

Spiritualist Philology

In the biography of his brother, G. Wilson Knight records the classicist Theodore Haarhoff’s contact with the spirit of the Roman poet Vergil, and its possible influence on W.F. Jackson Knight’s translation of the Aeneid. G. Wilson Knight, Jackson Knight: A Biography (Oxford: The Alden Press, 1975), p. 467:

   On 2 February 1966 Haarhoff reports another contact. Jack [W. F. Jackson Knight] was said to be expressing appreciation of the work being done about his writings. Then:
As a test I asked V. what the first word of the Aeneid was as written by him originally. The medium was unresponsive to any language not Eng. or German but when I suggested ‘arma’—there was a decided and emphatic No. Then she said it sounded like ill-ill ... which would be the first of the ‘rejected’ lines
                    ille ego qui quodam ...
The medium is utterly and completely ignorant of Latin.
These ‘rejected’ lines had been used by Jack in his translation: ‘I am that poet who in times past made the light melody of pastoral poetry...’ Perhaps earlier directions from Haarhoff’s contacts had advised their inclusion.
The ‘rejected’ opening lines of Vergil’s Aeneid are:
Ille ego qui quondam gracili modulatus auena
carmen et egressus siluis uicina coegi
ut quamuis auido parerent arua colono,
gratum opus agricolis, at nunc horrentia Martis
arma virumque cano...    
I am he who tuned a song on a slender reed,
Departed from the woods, and bade the fields concede          
To obey the tiller—ever keen for the farm’s
Pleasant labour. But now I sing the bristling arms
Of Mars and man...

My translation.