The Aeneid emphasizes that warfare, suffering, and selfless piety established a new Troy at Lavinium, allowing Rome itself to eventually arise.
Fate prevents Aeneas from establishing a city anywhere except Italy, and the goddess Juno is determined to delay its founding. The storm which she inspires drives the Trojans to Carthage, where they are befriended by Dido, its widowed queen.
Venus, goddess-mother of Aeneas, rouses Dido’s instant love for Aeneas, and the lonely queen offers Aeneas a home and equal power at Carthage. Destiny, however, requires an Italian bride for Aeneas, and Dido is left, forsaken and a suicide, as the Trojans depart.
The Trojans eventually land at Cumae near Naples. Apollo’s priestess, the Sibyl, guides Aeneas through the Underworld to the ghost of his father, Anchises. Anchises reveals destiny for his son, a procession of as yet unborn notables (including Augustus) who will ensure Rome’s greatness. Reassured of his mission, Aeneas continues northward on the Tiber, lands at Lavinium, but must fight a second “Trojan War” to obtain his fated Italian bride, Lavinia. This second war brings Trojan alliance with Evander, King of Pallantium, an Etruscan city on the site of Rome. It also allows Aeneas’ son Ascanius (Iulus) to distinguish himself in battle.
The Aeneid was written as a Latin “odyssey-iliad,” combining Homeric elements with Italian settings and imperial Roman emphasis. It implies that the Roman race is both ancient and blended from the best Trojan, Italian, and Etruscan stock, that endurance, piety, and selflessness produced the Imperial City. This was the vision Augustus had of Rome at the dawn of the Empire.
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 divine will which determines heroic action in the epic.
Lyne, R. O. A. M. Words and the Poet: Characteristic Techniques of Style in Vergil’s “Aeneid.” Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1989. Occasionally difficult, but excellent stylistic analysis of the Aeneid. Especially provocative in its discussion of the technique of epic simile and the way in which epic simile helps the poem define itself as a narrative.
Slavitt, David. Virgil. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1991. Pays particular attention to the craft of the poem and the personal sensibility of the poet. Comments on and critiques the quality of various English translations of the Aeneid.