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Housman Lecture 2018: Bernard O’Donoghue

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Chosen Ancestors: Seamus Heaney and Virgil


The UCL Department of Greek and Latin regularly hosts a public lecture named in honour of its most celebrated professor (and poet) A. E. Housman and delivered by a scholar of international distinction. Our guest speaker this year is Bernard O’Donoghue.

Seamus Henry's translation of Aeneid VI had long been rumoured, so its posthumous appearance in 2016 was a major event. Heaney had said that he wanted to produce a 'poetic remaking' of Book VI, by contrast with his more dutiful translation of Beowulf which he said he did 'not know or love enough' to remake. I will look at Heaney's version of Book VI, side by side with the book's influence on his last volume of poems, Human Chain, to examine why he felt so much at home with it, arguing too that Heaney was a great but selective venerator of previous poets: for example Dante, Mandelshtam, Yeats and Hughes as well as Virgil. By 'chosen ancestors' I mean to invoke familial progenitors, as Anchises was for Aeneas, as well as poetic predecessors.

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