Hear the battles, the journey into the underworld and the tragedy of lovers Dido and Aeneas - the Aeneid performed live in Latin at St John’s College, Cambridge

PUBLISHED: 13:29 06 November 2019 | UPDATED: 14:40 06 November 2019

Dame Emma Kirkby and Llewelyn Morgan in Arms and A Man

Dame Emma Kirkby and Llewelyn Morgan in Arms and A Man


Classical Latin ‘literature’ was in its day a treat for the ear. Even those who were rich enough to learn to read would hear the poems of Virgil and Ovid read aloud.

It's not often that you hear Latin spoken.

A rare performance of the Roman poet Virgil's 2,000 year old masterpiece, the Aeneid, will be at St John's College, Cambridge on Saturday November 23.

The four actors include celebrated soprano, Dame Emma Kirkby. The acclaimed production offers the chance to experience the kind of public performance popular in Ancient Rome. It is accompanied by Roman music played live.

Called The Song of Arms and a Man, the show brings to life passages from the original first-century BC epic - with English narration to explain the plot.

The adaptation, a 90-minute version of the 12 books of the Aeneid, includes the thrilling battles, the journey into the underworld, the tragedy of the lovers Dido and Aeneas and the interference of the ancient gods from Mount Olympus.

The title of the production is taken from the poem's opening line: "I sing of arms and the man, he who, exiled by fate first came from the coast of Troy to Italy."

The legendary hero, Trojan prince Aeneas, is torn between his duty as a leader of men (arms) and his personal desires, his love for Dido (man) in a struggle to fulfil his destiny to become the founder of Rome.

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Dame Emma Kirkby, English soprano and renowned early music specialist, began her singing career while studying classics at Oxford.

The role of Aeneas is read by Llewelyn Morgan, classicist and fellow of Brasenose College, Oxford who is the author of a well-received study on Roman poetic form, Musa Pedestris: Metre and Meaning in Roman Verse (Oxford, 2010).

They are joined by award-winning opera singer Matthew Hargreaves who has starred in productions for English Nationa Opera, the Royal Opera House and Welsh National Opera, and actress Elizabeth Donnelly who after graduating in classics from Oxford won a scholarship to train in classical acting at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. She is known as one of the main voices for children's audiobook company, Storynory.

The adaptation 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: "Classical Latin 'literature' was in its day a treat for the ear. Even those who were rich enough to learn to read would hear the 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 performance in The Song of Arms and a Man's UK tour, after sell-out performances in Gloucester, Bristol, Oxford and Surrey.

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

Tickets, £20, or £15 for students and Classical Association members, from: latinqvarter.co.uk

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