World language students to host marathon reading of 'The Aeneid'

Mar 11, 2013

'Aeneas' Flight from Troy' by Federico Barrocci

What could be more epic than reading an epic poem in the way it would have been read more than two thousand years ago? How about reading it in English from beginning to end? The Western Michigan University World Languages department is doing a live marathon reading of Virgil’s The Aeneid on Friday.

WMU professor Rand Johnson organized the reading with his Latin 5570 class, The Teaching of Latin. Johnson describes the plot of The Aeneid.

“It’s about the blending of the two races," he says. "And it’s a poem about how Trojan refuges from Asia Minor traveled across the Mediterranean to Italy and joined with native Latin people to create what became the Roman race. So it’s pre-founding of Rome and yet, it’s all about the character of the Roman people.”

Just like in other ancient epics like The Iliad or The Odyssey, the main character Aeneas has many adventures on his journey to find a home after the war between Greece and Troy is over. 

WMU student Jenee Schneider reads a French translation of 'The Aeneid'
Credit Rebecca Thiele, WMUK

Johnson says marathon readings have happened at many different colleges across the country, but this is a first for WMU. Johnson estimates the reading will take about 12 hours, and that might not include the first few lines. The first 11 lines of The Aeneid will be read in 10 different languages. As you would expect, there will likely be readings in modern Spanish, German, and French. But there will also be readings in Swahili and the Ch’ti dialect.

“Which is a spoken dialect used in the north of France," says WMU French professor Molly Lynde-Recchia. "It’s actually a dialect that is mocked in films.”

The Ch’ti dialect is kind of like an American country accent. It’s sometimes parodied in movies like Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis—which roughly translates to “Welcome to the Sticks.”  

Johnson says by Friday’s event, there will probably be even more people signed up to read in unique languages and dialects from all over the world. WMU student Ian Hollenbaugh will read in a language that seems somewhat familiar.

WMU student Sean Rogers reading an English translation of 'The Aeneid'
Credit Rebecca Thiele, WMUK

“It’s been a little while since I’ve read Middle English aloud," says Hollenbaugh. "But it really is the only way if you really want to know what this would have sounded like back then.”

Students in Johnson’s Latin class, like Jenee Schneider, hope that through this reading, the public can understand the importance of language and classical literature.

“Classics is slowly being hidden away in universities, and this is a very open and outright way of displaying it to the public," Schneider says.  "And also—doing The Aeneid—we are not just reading it, but performing it in the way it was meant to be. Stories weren’t just written to be read. They were written to be read out loud. And so we’re doing that.”

WMU’s marathon reading of The Aeneid will start at 11 on Friday morning in Knauss Hall. Anyone can volunteer to help read. You can watch the reading at Knauss or through a live stream.