Aeneid Book VI
with Stephen Rea and Neil Martin
Seamus Heaney’s last great project was his translation of Virgil’s Aeneid Book VI
, which tells the haunting story of Aeneas’ descent into the Underworld to look for his father. We are delighted to welcome, for this special performance, two friends of the poet; Stephen Rea – who knew and worked with Seamus Heaney for more than 30 years – who will read the full work with the live soundscape created by another Heaney friend, composer and cellist Neil Martin, originally commissioned by Kilkenny Arts Festival in 2016. The journey described in Heaney’s translation, like its Virgilian original, has both a personal and a political dimension.
In the Aeneid the hero’s father, Anchises, whom Aeneas carried out of the burning city of Troy on his back, dies. With the aid of the Cumaean Sibyl, Aeneas undertakes the frightening journey to visit him among the dead. Heaney’s relationship with his own father seems to have had a similar intensity to that of Aeneas and Anchises. The first poem in Heaney’s debut book, Death of a Naturalist
(1966) speaks of his father: “By God, the old man could handle a spade./ Just like his old man,” while the son, as poet, has exchanged a spade for a pen, though with no sense that he can surpass his father in his parallel but different labour. In Elysium, Aeneas famously tries three times to embrace his father, but his arms encounter only empty air. The yearning of this moment would have been part of Heaney’s inspiration for undertaking the translation.
By kind permission of the Heaney Estate.