Skip to main content

Live retelling of Virgil’s epic poem comes to Cambridge

"However 'literary' Virgil, Ovid and others have become, the magic of their voices is the most thrilling dynamic to come out of their world."

A rare live performance of one of ancient literature’s masterpieces will be hosted at St John’s in November.

Adapted from Virgil’s first-century BC epic poem the Aeneid, The Song of Arms and a Man tells the story of legendary hero Aeneas’s struggle to fulfil his destiny as the founder of Rome. It charts his escape from the burning ruins of Troy and his doomed affair with the Carthagian queen Dido, through to his reluctant but ultimately victorious war over the inhabitants of what came to be known as Italy.

Selections from the original Latin text are interspersed with an English narration and accompanied by live ancient music, giving those new to Latin and classical scholars alike the opportunity to hear this literary classic in something close to its original, public-performance context.

The Meeting of Dido and Aeneas
The Meeting of Dido and Aeneas, by Sir Nathaniel Dance-Holland

The production is the work of George Sharpley, who founded the organisation The Latin Qvarter in 2003 to support the learning and enjoyment of Latin.

He said: “What is easily lost in Latin’s silent, centuries-old imprisonment in books and on stone memorials is the very thing which made it so special: its voice. Classical Latin ‘literature’ was in its day a treat for the ear. Even those who were rich enough to learn to read would hear poems of Virgil and Ovid read aloud.

“Long after poetry started to be written down it continued to be recited – and to some extent performed – before public audiences. However ‘literary’ Virgil, Ovid and others have become over the intervening centuries, the magic of their voices is the most thrilling dynamic to come out of their world.”

Cambridge will be the fifth port of call in The Song of Arms and a Man’s UK tour, with performances already having taken place in Gloucester, Bristol, Oxford and Surrey.

The Song of Arms and a Man will be performed in the Palmerston Room at St John’s College on Saturday 23 November at 7pm.

Tickets cost £20, or £15 for students and Classical Association members. People who book before 5th November will receive a free printed programme worth £5.