The Poem (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Aeneas, driven by a storm to the shores of Libya, is welcomed gladly by the people of Carthage. Because Carthage is the favorite city of Juno, divine enemy of Aeneas, Venus has Cupid take the form of Ascanius, son of Aeneas, so that the young god of love might warm the heart of proud Dido, queen of Carthage, and Aeneas will come to no harm in her land. At the close of a welcoming feast, Aeneas is prevailed upon to recount his adventures.
He describes the fall of his native Troy at the hands of the Greeks after a ten-year siege, telling how the armed Greeks entered the city in the belly of a great wooden horse, and how the Trojans fled from their burning city, among them Aeneas, with his father, Anchises, and young Ascanius. Not long afterward, Anchises advised setting sail for distant lands. Blown by varying winds, the Trojans at length reached Buthrotum, where it was foretold that they would have a long and arduous journey before Aeneas would reach Italy. Setting sail once more, they reached Sicily. There Anchises, who was his son’s sage counselor, died and was buried. Forced to leave Sicily, Aeneas was blown by stormy winds to the coast of Libya. Here he ends his tale, and Dido, influenced by Cupid disguised as Ascanius, feels pity and admiration for the Trojan hero.
The next day, Dido continues her entertainment for Aeneas. During a royal hunt, a great storm drives Dido and Aeneas to the same cave for refuge. There they succumb to the...
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Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*Troy. Site of the Trojan War, located in Turkey, in northwestern Asia Minor. Homer sets the Iliad (c. 800 b.c.e.; English translation, 1616), the Greek epic that directly influenced the Aeneid, in the last days before the city’s defeat at the hands of the Greek forces. Vergil chooses to have Aeneas describe Troy’s destruction through the ruse of the Trojan horse. This element establishes an ethnic connection between the Trojans, who fled the dying city to establish what Vergil calls a “New Troy” in Italy, and the Romans. Southern Italy was called Magna Graecia by the Romans because of its extensive Greek colonization, and Vergil establishes the Roman race as comprising other groups, including Greeks, Anatolians, Etruscans, and native Latin peoples. Connecting Augustus’s Rome to Troy thus establishes what the emperor most desired for his city: a noble antiquity that could account for Imperial Rome’s preeminence.
*Carthage. Ancient North African city in what is now Tunisia. The same storm that sends Homer’s Odysseus and his crew to Circe’s island also strikes Aeneas and the Trojans, who successfully escape from burning Troy. The storm, recorded in the Aeneid, brings the Trojans to Carthage, a city particularly noteworthy in Roman history. Located in Tunisia, Carthage was, in Vergil’s time, in the Roman province known as Numidia Proconsularis. Vergil...
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Rome was founded in 753 BC. For nearly 250 years it was a monarchy. The last king was a tyrant whose son Tarquin raped the wife of a Roman noble. (One of the most famous accounts of this is found in the long narrative poem "The Rape of Lucrece" by William Shakespeare.) Outraged by this crime, the Romans, lead by L. Junius Brutus (an ancestor of the Brutus who assassinated Julius Caesar), drove the Tarquin family out and set up a republic. For the next 450 years Rome was ruled by the senate and consuls. The senate, chosen from the highest class of citizens (patricians) decided on government policies and the use of public money. The equites (middle class) and plebians (working class) had their own assembly which could accept or reject the proposals of the senate. After 287 BC, senate proposals had the force of law. The executive posts in the government from the consuls down were elected by the vote of all male citizens. The consuls were elected in pairs for one year only to protect against the rise of another tyrant. Later they were joined by the tribune of the people, who looked after the interests of the equite and plebian classes. Even after Rome entered a period of imperial rule (ruled by emperors), some forms of republicanism were maintained.
Rome and War
Roman history during the Republic is full of wars. Some of these wars were fought simply for survival. Many, however, were wars of expansion. Military...
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The action of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey covers the ten years of the Trojan War and the ten years following the Greek defeat of Troy, during which time Odysseus tries to reach his home in Ithaca off the west coast of Greece. The customary date offered for the Trojan War is 1183 B.C., although many scholars believe that it occurred considerably earlier.
Vergil begins his story in the years following the final sack of Troy and uses as the hero of his epic the Trojan leader Aeneas, who is mentioned in the Iliad. Vergil chose Aeneas because his legendary ancestors came from Italy, and someone with a name similar to Aeneas was reported to have settled in Italy after the Trojan War.
The chief difference between Homer's hero and Vergil's is that Odysseus merely wishes to return home and restore the previous order of his life. Aeneas, on the other hand, must find a new home, which is to become the nation of Rome, and establish a new order. Both Odysseus and Aeneas attempt to fulfill their destinies roughly at the same time— and, by and large, in the same region of the Mediterranean Sea.
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Book 1 Questions and Answers
1. What three reasons does Virgil give for Juno’s anger?
2. Where have the Trojans just left?
3. What is ironic about the incipient romance between Dido and Aeneas?
4. Why can Aeneas walk about Carthage unseen?
5. On which two occasions do references to hunting appear in this book?
6. What omen does Venus say predicts the safe arrival of Aeneas’ fleet?
7. Who killed Dido’s husband?
8. What epithet is used most frequently to describe Aeneas?
9. Who does Jupiter list last as Aeneas’ descendant?
10. How does Cupid sneak into Dido’s arms?
1. Juno’s anger arises because of the judgment of Paris, the Trojans’ descent from an illegitimate son of Jupiter (“the breed she hated”--42), and the displacement of Hebe, Juno’s daughter, by Ganymede, a Trojan prince, as cup bearer of the gods.
2. The Trojans have just left Sicily.
3. Dido and Aeneas’ romance is ironic because of the bitter hatred that existed between Rome and Carthage for many years.
4. Aeneas is hidden by a fog of invisibility placed around him by Venus.
5. References to hunting appear in Aeneas’ killing of the seven deer and in Venus’ disguise as a huntress.
6. Venus says that the appearance of 12 swans predicts the arrival of Aeneas’ lost ships.
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Book 2 Questions and Answers
1. Who is the first to tell Aeneas of his future in Italy?
2. What two opinions exist concerning the nature of the Trojan horse?
3. What pastoral metaphor describes the Greeks’ murderous entry of Priam’s palace?
4. How does Sinon repay the kindness of the Trojans?
5. What do the Greek ships do while the Trojans debate over the nature of the horse?
6. What action of the murderous sea snakes convinces the Trojans that Minerva does not want them to harm the horse?
7. What double blasphemy does Pyrrhus commit?
8. Who is really to blame for Troy’s fall?
9. What other names are used for Troy?
10. Why is Aeneas, the brave warrior, so nervous as he leaves Troy?
1. It is Hector who first tells Aeneas that he is destined to establish a great city.
2. While some Trojans believe the horse is a sacred offering to Minerva, others believe it is a Greek trick.
3. Aeneas says that a flooding river, dragging “flocks and folds across the fields,” would be less furious than the slaughter of the Greek soldiers (668).
4. After being given refuge within Troy, Sinon opens up the Trojan horse, setting free the soldiers within it.
5. The Greek ships depart Troy’s harbor, making it appear that they have returned to Greece.
6. The snakes take refuge in...
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Book 3 Questions and Answers
1. What curse does Celaeno cast on the Trojans?
2. What sign does Helenus say will show Aeneas where to found his city?
3. To whom does Helenus advise Aeneas to make sacrifices?
4. Why do the Trojans found a colony on Crete?
5. What religious practices are discussed in this book?
6. How was Polyphemus blinded?
7. What happens when Aeneas attempts to pull branches off the Thracian myrtle?
8. How did Andromache come to be married to Helenus?
9. Aside from Scylla and Charybdis, what must the Trojans avoid on their way to Italy?
10. Where does Helenus advise Aeneas to take no count of time during his visit?
1. Celaeno curses the Trojans to eat their plates before they find their new home.
2. Helenus tells Aeneas to look for a snow-white sow with 30 piglets.
3. Helenus advises Aeneas to make sacrifices to Juno.
4. Anchises, believing that King Teucer is the Trojan ancestor to whom the oracles refer, chooses Crete as the appropriate destination.
5. There are many religious practices in Book Three. For example, at the funeral for Polydorus, offerings are made of bowls of milk and blood; Aeneas pours wine on the hearth after the vision of the household gods; and following the advice of Helenus, the Trojans take up the practice of wearing a purple mantle on the...
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Book 4 Questions and Answers
1. To whom does Dido tell of her love for Aeneas?
2. What bad effects does Dido’s passion have on her city?
3. Why do Juno and Venus cooperate to bring Dido and Aeneas together?
4. What simile describes Aeneas as he leaves the city to go
5. How is Jupiter alerted to Aeneas’ dalliance?
6. How does Mercury insult Aeneas’ efforts to build Carthage?
7. What does Dido say would confront her in the face of Aeneas’ departure?
8. What differing views do Aeneas and Dido hold of their affair?
9. What curse does Dido wish upon Aeneas?
10. What service does Iris perform for Dido?
1. Dido tells her sister Anna about her feelings for Aeneas.
2. Dido’s passion causes construction of Carthage to come to a halt.
3. Juno wants to make Carthage the great kingdom of the Mediterranean, while Venus wants to see her son succeed.
4. He is compared to graceful Apollo returning to Delos.
5. The prayers of King Jarbas alert Jupiter.
6. Mercury asks if Aeneas is a woman’s servant.
7. Dido says she would be comforted if she were to have a child by him.
8. Dido sees it as a marriage, which Aeneas denies.
9. Dido wishes Aeneas to drown crying her name. She later curses him to watch as his people are...
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Book 5 Questions and Answers
1. Why does Aeneas believe the sacrifice to his father’s shade has been well-received?
2. What is symbolic about the prize Cloanthus receives?
3. To what is Sergestus’ boat compared?
4. Why do the gloves of Eryx enable Entellus to kill an ox?
5. How does Pyrgo know that the disguised Iris is a goddess?
6. Who is it that actually hits the dove in the shooting match?
7. What are the Trojan women complaining about when Iris arrives?
8. What final, non-competitive event ends the day’s festivities?
9. What “sacrifice” does Neptune want for providing the Trojans safe passage to Italy?
10. How does Palinarus fall into the ocean?
1. A snake slides from Anchises’ funeral shrine and tastes all of the offerings.
2. The scene embroidered on the cloak is of Ganymede being snatched away by Jupiter’s eagle. The replacement of Hebe by Ganymede as cupbearers of the gods is one of the reasons Juno cites for being angry with the Trojans.
3. His boat is compared to a wounded snake that still appears fierce despite having a broken back.
4. They have lead and iron sewn inside them.
5. Pyrgo has just spoken to the woman disguised as Iris.
6. Eurytion hits the dove.
7. The Trojan women are tired of sailing from place to place and want a...
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Book 6 Questions and Answers
1. How does Misenus die?
2. What birds are sacred to Venus?
3. To whom does Dido turn for comfort?
4. Why does Aeneas not attack the monsters within the cave of hell?
5. What sort of activities do the dead enjoy in Elysium?
6. What similes does Virgil use to describe the gathering of the souls on the banks of the Lethe?
7. Who inhabit the Fields of Mourning?
8. What is symbolic about the father of Romulus?
9. What indicates that Numa is a priest?
10. What simile describes Dido’s response to Aeneas’ pleas?
1. He challenged Triton to a trumpeting duel and was dashed against the shoals for his insolence.
2. Doves are her sacred bird, and it is only fitting that they should show Aeneas the golden tree.
3. In death, Dido is comforted by the shade of her dead husband, Sychaeus.
4. The Sibyl warns Aeneas it would be useless, as the creatures do not have any substance.
5. In the Elysian fields the dead wrestle, they dance, they sing, and they care for their war horses.
6. He says they are like bees buzzing over a field of flowers.
7. The fields of mourning are inhabited by those who died for love.
8. The symbolism of having Mars as the father of Romulus (which was indeed the tradition) is that Rome was founded on war and...
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Book 7 Questions and Answers
1. What simile is used to describe Amata when the snake’s venom has made her mad?
2. How did Galaesus die?
3. Whom does Amata pretend has possessed her?
4. Why does Turnus enter the war?
5. Why does King Latinus offer his daughter in marriage to Aeneas?
6. Where do bees appear in this book?
7. What power does the priest Umbro have?
8. What does Latinus do when his people ask him to declare war?
9. What relatively trivial incident triggers the war?
10. Where has the image on Turnus’ helmet previously appeared in the Aeneid?
1. She is like a top, whipped about the city.
2. He threw himself between the Trojans and Italians to try to prevent the war.
3. Amata pretends to have been possessed by Bacchus.
4. Turnus’ mind is poisoned by a torch thrown at him by Allecto.
5. He has had an oracle that his daughter was to be married to a stranger.
6. The bees are omens that are interpreted to mean the arrival of foreigners.
7. Umbro can cure snake bites and cause snakes to fall asleep.
8. He shuts himself up in the palace.
9. The war is triggered by Anchises shooting Tyrrhus’ pet deer.
10. The Chimaera was the name of one of the ships in the races of Book Five.
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Book 8 Questions and Answers
1. How does Virgil describe Tiberinus?
2. What offering does Aeneas make to Juno?
3. Why does Evander recognize Aeneas?
4. How does Cacus attempt to hide the location of the cattle he steals?
5. How do Hercules’ troubles parallel Aeneas’?
6. How did Cacus decorate the outside of his cave?
7. Why is Mezentius no longer on his throne?
8. Who forges Aeneas’ wonderful armor?
9. What two people does Augustus face at Actium?
10. What different names are given for the forces whose aid Aeneas seeks?
1. Tiberinus is dressed in sea-green linen, with a crown of reeds on his head.
2. He offers her the white sow and her 30 piglets.
3. Evander had met Anchises long ago and saw the family resemblance in Aeneas.
4. He makes the cattle walk backward into his cave.
5. Both Aeneas and Hercules are plagued by the angry Juno.
6. Cacus’ cave had men’s heads hung outside of it.
7. Mezentius was ejected from his kingdom for his tyranny.
8. Aeneas’ armor is forged by Vulcan, who is technically his stepfather.
9. Augustus is fighting against Antony and Cleopatra.
10. They are called Tuscans, Etruscans, Etrurians, Maeonia’s sons, and Lydians.
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Book 9 Questions and Answers
1. What is Turnus compared to as he paces the Trojan’s walls?
2. What does Euryalus say is a cheap price for honor?
3. Why does Euryalus not bid his mother good-bye?
4. What three things foreshadow the death of Nisus and Euryalus?
5. What final attempt does Nisus make to save his friend?
6. What two gods are used in the simile describing Turnus hauling a Trojan down from the fort’s walls?
7. Why doesn’t Bitias’ spear hit Turnus?
8. What simile is used to describe the death of the giant Bitias?
9. What mistake does Turnus make once within the Trojan camp?
10. How does the Tiber respond to Turnus’ dive?
1. He is compared to a starving wolf at a sheep pen.
2. He says life is a cheap price for honor.
3. He says he could not stand against her tears.
4. First, Nisus says he would prefer that Euryalus survive him if there were some disaster. Second, Euryalus provides for his mother in case of his death. Finally, the narrative says, as they depart, that the tidings Ascanius gives the pair for Aeneas are “useless offerings” (416).
5. Nisus shows himself to the Italian horsemen after Volcens says he will punish Euryalus in place of the person who had just killed two members of his troop.
6. Turnus is likened to Jove’s eagle or Mars’...
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Book 10 Questions and Answers
1. Whose prophecies does Juno say the Aeneidae have been
2. Why is Pallas not afraid of Turnus?
3. How does Pallas’ belt mirror Pallas’ own fate?
4. Why does Hercules cry?
5. What curse does Aeneas pronounce over Tarquitus’ corpse?
6. Who is Turnus’ sister?
7. Why is Juno allowed to interfere in the battle?
8. Give two similes used to describe Mezentius on the battlefield.
9. Why is Aeneas distressed by the death of Lausus?
10. What is Mezentius’ last wish?
1. She says they have been following “the prophecies of mad Cassandra” (93).
2. Whether he dies or conquers Turnus, he will have won glory. For this reason, Turnus’ threats do not scare him.
3. Like the bridegrooms, Pallas will be cut off in his youth.
4. He wants to help Pallas, but Jupiter will not let him.
5. He curses him to never be buried, but to be eaten by birds or fishes.
6. Turnus’ sister is the nymph Juturna.
7. Juno is allowed to save Turnus because Venus has protected Aeneas.
8. Mezentius is compared to a hunted boar and a starved lion.
9. Aeneas is impressed by the boy’s devotion to his father.
10. Mezentius’ last wish is to be buried beside his son.
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Book 11 Questions and Answers
1. What does Diomedes say has been the fate of the Greeks who participated in the Trojan War?
2. Along with gold and ivory, what gift does Latinus want presented to the Trojans?
3. Why does Evander want Aeneas to avenge Pallas’ death?
4. What difference is there between the Trojan and the Latin funerals?
5. How does Turnus insult Drances?
6. What metaphor is used to describe Turnus?
7. What aid do the gods improperly offer during the meeting of the forces outside of Laurentum?
8. What metaphor is used to describe the struggle between Tarchon and Venulus?
9. What second big opportunity does Turnus’ rage cause him to bungle?
10. How does Virgil poetically indicate the end of the day?
1. He says that they have all had bad luck. As examples he cites Agamemnon, who was killed by his wife, and his own companions, who were transformed into birds.
2. He wants his throne and robe—“the emblems of my sovereignty”—presented to the Trojans (442).
3. First, Evander cannot do it himself. Second, he wishes to tell Pallas’ shade, when he joins him in the underworld, that Turnus is dead.
4. While the Trojans are cremated with honors, including sacrifices and honor guards, most of the Latins are simply heaped up in piles and set aflame.
5. Turnus says that...
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Book 12 Questions and Answers
1. Who tries to discourage Turnus from fighting?
2. What sign does Juturna make appear in the sky?
3. How do Aeneas’ and Turnus’ responses to the disintegration of the truce differ?
4. What simile is used to describe Turnus as he races around in his chariot?
5. What simile describes Aeneas as he leads his troops back on the field?
6. What sign tells Turnus that his plans in Laurentum are all to come to nothing?
7. What other character dies exactly as Turnus dies (“with a moan...fled to shades below”)?
8. What animal simile is used for both Turnus and Aeneas?
9. Why does Juturna curse her status as an immortal?
10. Who does Lavinia say she wants to win?
1. Both Latinus and Amata try to make Turnus change his mind.
2. She makes an eagle, who has just caught a swan, drop the swan after a flock of birds attacks it.
3. Aeneas tries to restrain his men, while Turnus sees the fighting as an opportunity for more fighting.
4. He is like Mars racing along the Hebrus, accompanied by Fear, Anger, and Stratagem.
5. He is like an approaching storm that makes the farmers fear for their crops.
6. Watching the city burning from the field, Turnus sees a tower he had built engulfed in flames.
7. Camilla’s death scene uses exactly the same...
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Point of View
The particular literary character of the Aeneid derives from its double point of view. The personal vision, from Aeneas's point of view, emphasizes the human element in the story. The patriotic vision, concerned with both human and divine events combining to form the genesis of the Roman empire, is concerned with presenting a mythic and idealized view of Roman history. The tension between these two approaches creates a sense of breadth which affects both the work at hand and, because of its importance to world culture, the development of western literary expectations.
The action of the Aeneid ranges across the entire Mediterranean region. The most important geographic site is, of course, Italy—the final destination of the wandering Trojans. Virgil includes elements of the history, culture, and legends of many Mediterranean countries, however, so that even though this epic is about the founding of what became the Roman empire in Italy, the work is not narrowly nationalistic in focus.
Virgil drew heavily on Homer's Iliad and Odyssey in composing his own epic. Almost the whole of the first book is constructed from the Odyssey. The storm, the despair of Aeneas, the landing on a strange shore, the meeting with a disguised goddess, the reception by the ruler of the foreign land, the banquet, the minstrel's song leading up to the hero's...
(The entire section is 1083 words.)
Considerable length has become one of the standard criteria for defining the epic as a literary form. In an extended poem like the Aeneid, with its large cast of characters and a story line crowded with incident, the structure must be coherent. Over the years, critics have studied the twelve books of the Aeneid to determine their relationship to the whole shape of the poem. One conclusion is that the first six books, telling of the travels of Aeneas and his people in their search for a new home, resemble the general content and form of the Odyssey, while the second six, relating the adventures and tribulations of Aeneas after he lands in Italy, are reminiscent of the Iliad. Vergil, like Homer, uses the "flashback" device to good effect: when Aeneas lands in Carthage in the first book, he summarizes his adventures up to that point for the queen. Another way to view the organization of the material is to break it down into three sections of four books each. The first four books deal primarily with the relationship between Aeneas and Queen Dido. This section includes considerable background material on the fall of Troy and its aftermath. The second four books focus mainly on Aeneas as a leader, and the last four on Aeneas's conflict with Turnus.
In the original Latin, the battle episodes in the Aeneid are presented in a clear, lively manner. While no translation can ever replace the original, particularly in terms of a...
(The entire section is 526 words.)
Vergil was a poet living in a violent era who created a national poem about an earlier time that was equally as turbulent. As a result, the Aeneid features many scenes of violent combat that may affect some readers' sensibilities. The violence that occurs is quite bloody, but none of the many deaths seems gratuitous. Violence is tempered by Aeneas's abhorrence of war, which is well documented throughout the epic. Vergil perceives injury and death to be part of the price that human beings must pay for glory, fame, and high achievement. He tells the "truth" about an often brutal society as he understood and imagined it.
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Compare and Contrast
Legendary Period: Aeneas and the Trojans are only one of the many peoples who legend records as being driven from their homes in this period. Men, women, and children, bringing with them only the possessions they can carry, search desperately for some haven where they can restart their lives. They often meet with serious resistance from the inhabitants of places where they come ashore.
Late twentieth century: Recent history is full of instances of people being driven from their homes by war. Often reduced to poverty, few find their integration into other societies easy or even peaceful.
First century BC: There is enormous interest in poetry among the literate. The Roman tradition of patronage and the lack of copyright law means that poets are almost always subsidised by wealthy and politically powerful men. Even under the patronage system, some exceptional poets, such as Virgil and Horace, can have both financial independence and comparative artistic freedom to create their works.
Late twentieth century: Poetry is no longer a common medium for conveying history, ideas, or elements of a shared cultural experience. Most poets depend on university appointments or grants from various cultural bodies. Others hold down full-time jobs to support their writing.
Legendary Period: All free men are soldiers when the need arises. Political leaders are expected to take part in the fighting to prove...
(The entire section is 282 words.)
Topics for Discussion
1. Juno hates the Trojans for several reasons, and torments and foils them whenever she can. Does this enmity seem to have any legitimate basis?
2. The gods tell Aeneas that he must leave Dido and pursue his mission. Generations of readers have condemned Aeneas for abandoning the devoted woman. Is Aeneas's leaving justified? Consider that Juno and Venus (for different reasons) conspired to make Aeneas and Dido fall in love in the first place.
3. Much has been written about the last scene in the poem, in which Aeneas starts to take pity on the vanquished Turnus but then suddenly slays him. Is this act consistent with the characterization of the hero?
4. Does the human-like behavior of the divine characters in the poem render them less believable as actors in the epic drama? Would this poem be improved by the removal of the gods and goddesses from the story, or do these supernatural beings add to the force and substance of the narrative?
5. Apart from Aeneas, which of the central male characters plays the most important role in the narrative? What actions and character traits determined your choice?
6. What elements of the passage concerning Aeneas's journey to the Underworld strike you as the most effective in creating an image of the ancient concept of the afterlife?
7. The Aeneid is famous for the "Vergilian melancholy" that pervades it. What sections of the text tend to support this...
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Ideas for Reports and Papers
1. The comparisons between the Homeric epics and the Aeneid are many. In what ways are these three works similar? Is Vergil's poem an improvement over his Greek models? In what ways is Aeneas a more mature, responsible "hero" than Odysseus?
2. Using historical and mythological criteria, evaluate Vergil's choice of a Trojan leader as the hero of the story of Rome's founding. Was his choice a good one?
3. What events in Roman history helped to make the Aeneid such a popular favorite at the time of its publication, not only with the emperor but also with the general reading public of the empire?
4. In what ways did Vergil's education and earlier literary works help to prepare him for the writing of this monumental poem?
5. Later writers have avowed the influence of Vergil on their works. What Vergilian influences can be found in the writings of such authors as Dante and Milton?
6. The Aeneid, like many such verse epics, contains a large number of symbols. Which of these seem to be the most important in this text? What does each major symbol represent?
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Topics for Further Study
- The Etruscans, who join Aeneas as allies, also claimed to have come from Asia Minor. Research the Etruscans and the ways in which they influenced the essential character of Roman society.
- Can the wanderings of Aeneas and his Trojans be found to have any basis in fact? There are strong archaeological indications that many established kingdoms were in fact destroyed around the traditional date of the fall of Troy (circa 1193). Research this period and try to determine if there is any archaeological evidence for the legends of the Trojan refugees.
- Virgil locates the origins of Rome and Carthage's long period of warfare in the goddess Juno's spiteful actions and Queen Dido's broken heart and suicide when Aeneas leaves her. Compare and contrast Virgil's imaginative account with the more concrete historical reasons behind the three Punic wars between Rome and Carthage.
- Define the concept of a "hero" from your own point of view. Give historical or contemporary examples if they help explain your concept. Compare your idea of what it takes to be a hero with some traditional literary, legendary, or mythic considerations of what a hero must be, think, or do (handbooks of literary terms will supply some definitions). Discuss ways that Aeneas either lives up to or falls short of both your idea of a hero and the traditional view of one.
- Virgil used plot elements and even characters from the earlier Odyssey and...
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- For centuries the Aeneid was an enormously popular source of ideas for other writers and artists. The first medieval romance was an adaptation of the Aeneid. Hundreds or thousands of paintings have been based on scenes and episodes from the poem. The Aeneid was the basis for many operas; the two most famous being Purcell's Dido and Aeneas and Berlioz's Les Troyens.
- The Aeneid provides a story outline and a collection of characters and incidents that have become an integral part of popular culture. We see the dilemma of Aeneas and Dido recreated over and over in novels, movies, and on television. In novels and movies of the American westward expansion and in such "revenge" films as Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs and the Deathwish series starring Charles Bronson, audiences see a quiet hero roused to action when someone young and vulnerable is killed, much as Aeneas is at the end of the Virgil's epic.
- The early television series Wagon Train has been compared to the Aeneid, with its similar small band of people leaving behind one way of life and traveling in search of a place where they can make another. It has been suggested by recent scholars that the television series Star Trek—which has been called "Wagon Train to the stars,'' also closely resembles Virgil's basic plot. Captain Kirk recreated the Aeneas and Dido episode regularly, for example, romancing...
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What Do I Read Next?
The Eclogues (often called the Bucolics) is Virgil's first published collection of poetry. It consists of ten selections, (eclogues, in Greek). The word Bucolics comes from the Greek word for cowherd. These are pastorals, poems set in an idealized countryside among herdsmen and small landowners. Reality intrudes in Eclogues 1 and 9, which concern the confiscation of Virgil's farm.
Virgil wrote the Georgics in four sections. This handbook of agriculture was also intended to promote the revival of traditional Roman pastorial and agrarian life, with an emphasis on family life, hard work, practical patriotism and simplicity of manners and pleasures. Commissioned by Caesar Augustus in an attempt to make Rome's pastoral and agrarian past seem like an attractive and viable way of life for the population to continue to follow, the vision put forward in the Georgics is in many ways like that of Thomas Jefferson's for the new nation of the United States of America that he helped found.
Lucan's Pharsalia, also known as the Bellum Civili, is an epic written during the reign of the Emperor Nero. It is about the civil war between Caesar and Pompey a hundred years earlier. Unlike the Aeneid, it takes place in known historical times. It uses Fate rather than the intervention of the gods to explain events. For these reasons, its earliest critics claimed it was not an epic.
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For Further Reference
Anderson, William S. The Art of the "Aeneid." Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1969. This is a fairly brief but thorough study of the poem by parts. Each chapter examines the literary techniques and values of two books of the epic. The book also includes a map of the travels of Aeneas, a chronology of Vergil's life, and an extended note on the poet's style.
Boardman, John, Jasper Griffin, and Oswyn Murray, eds. The Oxford History of the Classical World. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986. While this volume focuses primarily on the historical features of the classical era, there are helpful chapters on Vergil and the Aeneid, viewed from a historical perspective.
Boissier, Gaston. The Country of Horace and Virgil. Translated by D. Havelock Fisher. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1896. An old but interesting study, this book is devoted mostly to Vergil. It explains, among other things, how the poet was influenced by the regions in which he set his major work.
Camps, W. A. An Introduction to Virgil's "Aeneid." New York: Oxford University Press, 1969. This study, of moderate length, is well organized and treats the poem by its subject, the principal characters, the background of the action (including historical material), key episodes, and the structure of the narrative. There is also an excellent map of the ancient world at the eastern end of the Mediterranean, with all of...
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Cairns, Francis. Virgil’s Augustan Epic. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1989. An outstanding piece of criticism that opens the poem to the reader. Explains the role of games in the narrative, the significance of numerous characters, and geographical and mythological references. Accessible and pleasantly written.
Gransden, K. W. Virgil: The “Aeneid.” Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1990. Stresses the character of Aeneas, his moral burdens, his ambition, and his suffering. Also useful in understanding Vergil’s epic ambition and the political goals of his poem within the context of Augustan Rome.
Johnson, W. R. Darkness Visible. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976. Reassesses the temper of the poem, seeing it not as imperial and stately but pessimistic and skeptical. Controversial among Vergil scholars, but probably the most important book on the Aeneid published in the last quarter of the twentieth century.
Henry, Elisabeth. The Vigour of Prophecy: A Study of Virgil’s Aeneid. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1990. An examination of the various temporal perspectives of Vergil’s Aeneid, this book illustrataes how recollection of past events and prophetic knowledge of the future create a philosophical vision of fate and...
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Anderson, William S., The Art of the Aeneid, Prentice-Hall, 1969, 473 p. An introductory study of the Aeneid which discusses themes, images and technique in the context of a broad synopsis. It is a good accessible running commentary to all aspects of the poem.
Bernard, John D., ed.,Vergil at 2000: Commemorative Essays on the Poet and his Influence, AMS Press, 1986. A collection of essays on Virgil and his influence, many of which are listed below.
Boyle, A. J., ed., The Roman Epic, Routledge, 1993. A good new collection of essays placing the Aeneid in the setting of its Latin predecessors and descendants.
Boyle, A. J., "Roman Song" in his The Roman Epic, Routledge, 1993, pp. 1-18. Perhaps the best short English introduction to the tradition of the Latin epic. Boyle briefly covers the form from Virgil's earliest predecessors, Livius and Naevius to the Renaissance epic.
Boyle, A. J., "The Canonic Text: Virgil's Aeneid" in his The Roman Epic, Routledge, 1993, pp. 79-107. A solid discussion of all aspects of Virgil's epic from his sources through literary style to its political and moral implications. Boyle offers an essentially negative reading of Aeneas's character.
Commager, Steele, ed., Virgil: A Collection of Critical Essays, Prentice Hall, 1966. A good introductory collection for student use.
Curtius, Ernest Robert, European...
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