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David Denby is film critic for The New Yorker. At age 48, he enrolled in two courses in Western Civilization at Columbia University in order to reassess the impact of the classics both for himself and to gauge their influence on culture. Some works he found fundamental and continue to hold sway over society, such as The Odyssey. Others, in his opinion, have fallen out of favor. The Aeneid, in Denby's opinion is among those canonized but not enjoyed.
The Aeneid is the epitome of what opponents of the canon hate: a self-empowering myth of origins, a celebration of empire .... No doubt about it--the poem asserts the centrality of Rome in such a way that renders [sic] other people besides the Greek-Trojan-Roman line marginal .... dull Aeneas, in my mind, came to embody the culture of the West itself, marching grimly but purpose fully into the future. He brought his father and son, but he left his women behind.
If you are one who adheres to Denby's opinion, just about any passage from The Aeneid will do. Here are the opening lines (the entire text, by the way, is available here at eNotes as an etext):
Arms, and the man I sing, who, forc'd by fate,
And haughty Juno's unrelenting hate,
Expell'd and exil'd, left the Trojan shore.
Long labors, both by sea and land, he bore,
And in the doubtful war, before he won
The Latian realm, and built the destin'd town;
His banish'd gods restor'd to rites divine,
And settled sure succession in his line,
From whence the race of Alban fathers come,
And the long glories of majestic Rome.
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