The Poem

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Last Updated on August 21, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1178

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 passion of love. Aeneas spends the winter in Carthage and enjoys the devotion of the queen, but in the spring, he feels the need to continue his destined course. When he sets sail, the sorrowing Dido kills herself. The light of her funeral pyre is seen far out at sea.

Again on the shores of Sicily, Aeneas bids his men refresh themselves with food, drink, and games. First, there is a boat race in which Cloanthus is the victor. The second event is a foot race, won by Euryalus. Entellus engages Dares in a boxing match, which Aeneas stops before the clearly superior Entellus achieves a knockout. The final contest is with bow and arrow. Eurytion and Acestes make spectacular showings, and each is awarded a handsome prize. Following the contests, Ascanius and the other young boys ride out to engage in war games. Meanwhile, the women grieve the lost guidance of Anchises and, at the instigation of Juno, set fire to the ships. Aeneas, sustained by the gods, bids his people repair the damage. Once more, the Trojans set sail.

Finally, they reach the shores of Italy, at Cumae, which is famous for its Sibyl. The Sibyl grants Aeneas the privilege of visiting his father in the underworld. After due sacrifice, Aeneas and the Sibyl begin their descent into Hades. At length, they reach the river Styx and persuade the boatman, Charon, to row them across. Aeneas sees the spirits of many people he knew in life, including the ill-fated Dido. Then they come to the beginning of a forked road. One path leads to the regions of the damned; the other leads to the land of the blessed. Following the latter road, they come at last to Anchises, who shows Aeneas in marvelous fashion the future of Rome and commands him to found his kingdom at the place where he would eat his tables. On his return to the upper regions, Aeneas revisits his men and proceeds to his own abode.

Again the Trojans set sail up the...

(This entire section contains 1178 words.)

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coast of Italy, to the ancient state of Latium, ruled by Latinus. On the shore, they prepare a meal, laying bread under their meat. As they are eating, Ascanius jokingly observes that in eating their bread they are eating their tables. This remark tells Aeneas that this is the place Anchises foretold. The next day, the Trojans come to the city of King Latinus on the Tiber. Latinus was warned by an oracle not to give his daughter Lavinia in marriage to any native man but to wait for an alien, who would come to establish a great people. He welcomes Aeneas as that man of destiny.

A Latin hero, Turnus, becomes jealous of the favor Latinus shows Aeneas and stirs up revolt among the people. Juno, hating Aeneas, aids Turnus. One day, Ascanius kills a stag, not knowing that it is the tame favorite of a native family. From this incident, there grows such a feud that Latinus shuts himself up in his house and ceases to control his subjects. Aeneas makes preparations for battle with the Latins under Turnus.

In a dream, he is advised to seek the help of Evander, whose kingdom on the Seven Hills will become the site of mighty Rome. Evander agrees to join forces with Aeneas against the armies of Turnus and to enlist troops from nearby territories as well. Venus presents Aeneas with a fabulous shield made by Vulcan, for she fears for the safety of her son.

When Turnus learns that Aeneas is with Evander, he and his troops besiege the Trojan camp. One night, Nisus and Euryalus, two Trojan youths, enter the camp of the sleeping Latins and slaughter a great many of them before they are discovered and put to death. The enraged Latins advance on the Trojans with fire and sword and force them into open battle. When the Trojans seem about to beat back their attackers, Turnus enters the fray and puts them to flight. The thought of Aeneas inspires the Trojans to such bravery that they drive Turnus into the river.

Aeneas, warned in a dream of this battle, returns and lands with his allies on the shore near the battlefield, where he encounters Turnus and his armies. Evander’s troops are being routed when Pallas, Evander’s beloved son, urges them on and himself rushes into the fight, killing many of the enemy before he is slain in combat with Turnus. Aeneas seeks to take the life of Turnus, who escapes through the intervention of Juno.

Aeneas decrees that the body of Pallas should be sent back to his father, with appropriate pomp, during a twelve-day truce. The gods watched the conflict from afar; now Juno relents at Jupiter’s command but insists that the Trojans must take the Latin speech and garb before their city can rule the world.

Turnus leads his band of followers against Aeneas, in spite of a treaty made by Latinus. An arrow from an unknown source penetrates Aeneas, but his wound is miraculously healed. The Trojan hero reenters the battle and is again wounded, but he is able to engage Turnus in personal combat and strike him down. Aeneas kills his enemy in the name of Pallas and sacrifices his body to the shade of his dead ally. No longer opposed by Turnus, Aeneas is now free to marry Lavinia and establish his long-promised new nation. This is Rome, the greatest power of the ancient world.

Places Discussed

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*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 emphasizes the longstanding connections between Rome and Carthage. For Aeneas, Carthage is where he is granted the chance to rest and recuperate by two goddesses, themselves enemies: Juno, who wishes to delay the founding of a new Troy, and Venus, Aeneas’s mother, who wants some respite for her hero son. The casualty of this episode is Dido, Carthage’s brave, widowed queen, who has founded Carthage after the overthrow of Tyre, in Phoenicia, and the murder of her husband Sychaeus. The divinely contrived love affair between Dido and Aeneas results in the queen’s suicide and her curse, which results in the three Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage. Vergil has Jupiter specifically refer to Hannibal’s invasion of Italy in the Aeneid. By doing so, he continues to provide plausible mythic links to Roman history through indisputably real sites, which would have been known to readers of his time.


*Cumae. Ancient site of Apollo’s temple and of the Sybil, its priestess. The town is located near Pozzuoli just north of Naples. The soft tufaceous rock and its seismically active topography made this site appear to be a point of access to the realm of the dead. Indeed, in the Aeneid it is Apollo’s Sybil who guides Aeneas to the underworld to consult the shade of his mortal father Anchises on what fate holds in store for the Trojan people. Anchises warns his son that he will have to fight what is in effect a second Trojan War, this one in Italy, to marry the princess Lavinia and establish Lavinium.

The temple of Apollo described by Vergil would have been familiar to Imperial Roman visitors to Cumae. Here again he ties Roman prehistory to a place that would have been familiar to Romans of his time. By the time of Augustus, Cumae was more a resort than a place of pilgrimage, another of the sulfur-bath towns frequented by wealthy Romans. However, the shrine and the sibylline priesthood continued to be maintained until the early Christian church decreed destruction of the Sibylline Books. Augustus used many of the caves that dotted the Bay of Naples as storage facilities for his legions.


*Latium. Roughly equivalent to the region of Lazio, the region of Italy that includes the city of Rome. Latium in the Aeneid also incorporates Lavinium, the city of King Latinus, father of Lavinia, the future bride of Aeneas. Lavinium thus becomes the site of a second Trojan War for a second contested bride. In 1975 archaeologists determined that the modern Prattica di Mare, a small farming community south of Rome, contains the citadel of Lavinium. They have unearthed thirteen ancient altars used for farm offerings as well as several late Mycenaean grave sites, one given the appellation “Grave of Aeneas” based on a problematic inscription.


*Pallanteum. Vergil’s name for the Etruscan settlement on the Palatine Hill at the future site of Rome. Aeneas tours this site with King Evander, his new ally in the battle to overcome the native Latin tribes living near Rome. All the details of topography that would have been familiar to Imperial Romans are present in Vergil’s description. There was, in fact, an Etruscan settlement on the site of Rome.

Historical Context

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Roman Government 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 achievements were important to all levels of Roman society. Upper-class men who hoped for political careers needed to demonstrate personal courage and organizational ability in the ultimate test of war. Men of the lower classes could improve their place in society with a reputation for courage, loyalty, and intelligent obedience in warfare.

Of all the wars Rome fought, few were as important as the three Punic wars against Carthage, the city founded by Dido. These wars saw Rome's greatest triumphs as well as greatest defeats. Even when Italy itself was invaded by the Carthaginian general in 218 BC, the Romans refused to capitulate. After over a century of warfare, Roman forces eventually destroyed Carthage. Virgil constantly alludes to these ongoing wars in his narrative. Roman commentators believed that Dido's death scene in Book 4 was full of references to the Punic Wars.

Roman Society under Pressure At the end of the Punic Wars Rome was the major power in the Mediterranean. The Romans themselves believed that as long as Carthage had remained a threat, Rome was strong because of the need to stay united in the face of this powerful enemy. Social problems were quickly dealt with so that the city could focus its attentions on opposing the Carthaginian threat. When this single-minded focus was removed, Rome began to fall apart.

Originally, most Roman citizens had at least a small farm that could generally support a family. The wars devastated these family holdings. Many men were away for long periods of fighting. Many never returned. It was difficult for the women and children left behind to do heavy farm work. Further, many Romans had to flee the countryside and band together in the safety of the cities when Hannibal invaded Italy. Further, international trade sprang up in the peace that followed the Punic Wars, and many small family farms could not compete with a flourishing trade in agriculture. Returning Italian soldiers, as well as the wealthy Roman senators, were able to buy up failed farmland cheaply and to amass huge estates. Instead of planting grain, they chose to raise sheep, grapes, or olives, all of which needed fewer farmhands. The collapse of traditional Roman agrarian (or agricultural) society and the enlargement of the empire made it more and more difficult for the government to function effectively. Civil disturbances between various factions grew worse and worse. By the time Julius Caesar assumed personal control with the grudging acceptance of the senate after a bloody civil war, Roman society needed drastic action.

Renewal under Augustus Julius Caesar's assassination threw Rome and her empire back into civil war, which continued until Caesar Augustus's defeat of Antony and Cleopatra at Actium in 31 BC. Augustus attempted to revitalize the traditional Roman way of life and recruited poets to help. Virgil was commissioned to write in part to remind the Romans of the circumstances which created them and their society and the part of the gods in it. He defined their sense of having been chosen and lead by a divine wisdom. It has been suggested that Virgil knew Jews living in Rome and that his view of history was affected by their own sense of mission as "chosen people" with a specific preordained destiny.

The Roman Way of Life The Roman way of life, the mos maiorem ("manners of the ancestors") had both a religious and a social aspect. Roman religion was based on two sets of gods. There were the Olympian gods, of whom Juno, Jupiter, Venus, Neptune, Vulcan, Diana and Pluto play a role in the Aeneid. The Lares and the Penates, or "household gods," were the protective spirits of the family, the hearth (emblematic of the center of the household), the storeroom, and the countryside. Each family had its own personal household gods. Like the brownies or elves of fairy tales, but much more powerful, the household gods watch over each family. In the Aeneid, Aeneas's father is described carefully carrying his family's household gods away from the destroyed city of Troy. Traditional Roman families prayed to their Lares and the Penates every day.

Roman society was based on family and friends bound by mutual ties of respect and aid, and on the patronage system. Patronage may seem strange or even distasteful to a twentieth-century sensibility. To the Romans, it was perfectly honorable and practical way of life. A patron stood by his clients, ensured that they always received justice under Roman law, offered advice, and helped their careers. Clients of a patron in turn would support and advise him and live up to the recommendations he had given them. This pattern of give and take was expected at all levels of society. Aeneas and Misenus can be seen as an example of a patron and a client. Letters of recommendation from Roman patrons promote their clients as personal assistants, political candidates, even as potential sons-in-law. These young men would be expected to live up to their patron's recommendations. Prominent and powerful men expected to be asked to serve as mentors to promising young men, just as had been done for them in their youth. This practice connected families in a web of mutual responsibility and gratitude. A man might be asked to help the career of the nephew or son of a man who had done the same for him or his father years before. The connections down the generations among Anchises, Evander, Aeneas, and Pallas in the Aeneid offer examples of these kinds of continuing relationships. Further, the emperor Caesar Augustus functioned as a patron of the poet Virgil himself. Virgil's great epic is a preeminent example of a kind of work-for-hire that served the purposes of his patron while enabling the poet to advance his own career The system was clearly open to misuse, but it served Roman society and administration well for nearly a millennium.


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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.

Literary Style

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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.

Setting 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.

Imitation 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 narration of his adventures—all these elements are patterned on events in the Odyssey. The two works share both similarities and differences. In the Odyssey, Odysseus is trying to return home from the Trojan war to reunite with his wife and to take up his old and much-missed way of life. He succeeds, as his followers do not, by showing great resources and endurance. He is the ultimate individualist. Aeneas, however, is fleeing his home after the city's destruction in that same war. He loses wife, family, and home, and starts out to find the place ordained by the gods to build a new life and found a new empire. His first duty is to bring his people to that haven. Underscoring the connection between the two works, Virgil even has Aeneas rescue one of Odysseus's men on his way. Virgil's original audience knew Homer's narratives very well. They had their memories of and opinions about the Greek poet's earlier work to supplement their understanding and enjoyment—or criticism—of the Aeneid. This practice of building on an established tradition still takes place in popular entertainment today: modern audiences, for example, will watch a movie sequel or a televison show featuring a "crossover" guest performer from another series partly because they already know what to expect and enjoy seeing the familiar in a new setting.

Divine Intervention The gods have a number of roles in the Aeneid. Jupiter represents the providential divine intention for the human characters, while his wife Juno represents the seemingly irrational hostile forces that stand between the characters and their goals. Venus represents the divine nurturing of the Roman people and state. Sometimes gods are the direct motivation behind actions, and they are seen to always have some influence on events, which never unfold purely by coincidence or chance. Whether Virgil's audience actually believed in them or not, the gods were a tremendously powerful artistic symbol. The entire body of Greek and Roman art and literature is infused with demonstrations and explanations of the role of the gods in the affairs of humankind. This shared cultural referent was reinforced by a nostalgic affection among Virgil's audience for the ancient faith of their ancestors, with its overtones of rural simplicity and straightforward vigor.

Imagery Virgil's imagery in the Aeneid derives power from the repetition and sometimes startling variation of particular images through one or more books. Virgil exploits the repetition of imagery to constantly recall past events from the narrative. In the present, the past is being repeated or the future foreshadowed. The use of serpent and fire imagery in Book 2 provides an excellent demonstration of this facet of Virgil's technique.

Structure The structure of the Aeneid has interested a number of critics in the twentieth century. It has been suggested that the poem is divided between books of intense action (even numbered books) and diffuse action (odd numbered books). In this view Books 3 and 5 function partly to release the tension of Books 2 and 4. The Aeneid has been described as a trilogy, with the tragedy of Dido, told in Books 1-4, and that of Turnus, in Books 9-12, flanking a central Roman section in Books 5-8. Another way of looking at the structure of the Aeneid suggests that the first six books are patterned after Homer's Iliad and the second six resemble his Odyssey.

Diction, Rhetoric, and Meter Virgil's word choices and meter have been constantly studied and copied for nearly two thousand years. It is hard to understand this aspect of the Aeneid without having also studied Latin, but it is possible to make a few basic generalizations.

Quantity is the time it takes to pronounce a syllable. In Latin, a long syllable takes twice as long to pronounce as a short one. The Aeneid is written in quantitative hexameters; that is: each line has six metrical feet. These feet are a combination of short and long syllables. A hexameter line is made up of dactyls—one long syllable followed by two short syllables (the name "Ludwig von Beethoven" is an English double dactyl, for example) and of spondees—two long syllables ("blackboard" is an English spondee). This may sound restrictive, but within this relatively narrow rhetorical structure the Aeneid displays great variety. Lines can be jagged and abrupt. They can flow with a lulling smoothness of sound. Virgil often uses commonplace words in fresh ways. Sometimes he deliberately used outdated terms that would attract attention because of their quaintness. Virgil chose and combined words which enlarge the reader's range of perception. His essential tool is variation within a symmetrical pattern, even within individual lines. Adam Parry, in his essay "The Two Voices of Virgil" (see Bibliography) demonstrates some of the effects that occur in less than two lines with an example from Book 7: "For you Angitia's woods wept, For you Fucinus's glassy waters, For you the transparent lake." Here he has used repetition (of the phrase "for you"), personification (the weeping of the woods and the lake), and levels of variation (first: woods, then water; second: water, mentioned first by proper name ["Fucinus's glassy waters"] and then by the common noun "lake").

Literary Qualities

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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 writer's literary style and technique, a good rendering into English—and there have been several, notably the 1953 translation by Kevin Guinagh—communicates much of the original beauty and force of Vergil's language.

Homer is credited with originating a form of extended comparison, developed over many lines of verse, known as the Homeric or epic simile. Dozens of equally impressive similes are found in Vergil's writing. A typical example appears in the first book of the Aeneid, when Vergil compares Queen Dido's subjects, who are building a new city, to bees: "They labored as do the bees under the sun of early summer throughout the flowering countryside," Vergil begins, and elaborates on this image for five more lines. Surely one reason for Vergil's deliberate compositional pace was his aim of producing appropriate and arresting figures of speech with which to decorate and enliven his narrative.

The Aeneid can make no claim to realism in the modern sense. However, the generous range of details concerning such matters as the treatment of servants, the interest of high-born characters in rich clothing, and the importance of banquets, lofty speeches, and religious rites, all add substance and a sense of reality to the text. Furthermore, the believable behavior of the characters creates an atmosphere of authenticity, and the pitch of dialogue and verbal exchanges establishes a thoughtful tone. For example, the young Trojan Nisus, speaking of the desire for fame and glory, asks, "Do the gods put this ardor in our minds . . . or does his own fierce desire become everyone's god?" These words strongly indicate that Vergil not only wrote about human and divine affairs but had a profound understanding of their complexity.

Social Sensitivity

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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.

Compare and Contrast

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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 that they are worthy to lead in both war and peacetime.

Late twentieth century: The armies of most industrialized nations are professional. Politicians are no longer expected to necessarily have served in the military—although this is still a recommendation to some voters. The military's highest leaders and officers are not expected to take part in actual combat.

Media Adaptations

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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 and ultimately abandoning a lovestruck woman (or alien) on every planet.
  • In the spring of 1997, NBC television presented a 2-part miniseries based on Homer's Odyssey, an important primary source for Virgil's Aeneid.

For Further Reference

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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 Aeneas's landings noted.

Commager, Steele, ed. Virgil: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1966. In addition to a general introduction to Vergil and his works, the book includes twelve essays, eight of them on the Aeneid. These pieces examine such topics as themes in the epic, translation problems, and the differences between the Homeric poems and Vergil's work.

Cruttwell, Robert W. Virgil's Mind at Work. New York: Cooper Square Publishers, 1969. Cruttwell provides a careful examination and analysis of the symbols in the Aeneid, including a thoughtful indication of how the figures of speech seem to suggest the ways in which Vergil's mind worked during the composition of his masterpiece.

Dudley, Donald Reynolds. Virgil. New York: Basic Books, 1969. Eight essays on the originality of Vergil's poetry, Vergil and his influence on Dante, and various attitudes toward Vergil. The author notes that Vergil took a simple adventure story and turned it into a complex narrative dealing with human motivation and personality.

Feder, Lillian. Crowells Handbook of Classical Literature. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1964. A valuable reference work, this volume contains moderately brief but pithy entries on the main Greek and Latin works, with special emphasis on the Homeric and Vergilian epics. It also provides succinct articles on all characters of any importance in these and other classical titles.

Galinsky, G. Karl. Aeneas, Sicily, and Rome. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969. This is a study of the geographical and cultural aspects of the legend of Aeneas as they are represented in works of art from the eastern Mediterranean region. It also suggests several historical origins for the character of Aeneas and contains numerous photographs of carvings, coins, pottery, and statues based on the poem and the legend.

Letters, F. J. H. Virgil London: Sheed and Ward, 1946. This short, scholarly book analyzes various interpretations of the poem, reviewing the plot and themes of the epic in detail.

The Oxford Classical Dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1949. This is one of the most authoritative reference books available on classical literature. It contains learned but brief references on Vergil, the Aeneid, and many of the characters in the poem.

Putnam, Michael C. J. The Poetry of theAeneid. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1966. This impressive study examines the figures of speech, structural patterns, and verbal devices in the epic. Putnam emphasizes the pessimism of Vergil.

Quinn, Kenneth. Virgil'sAeneid: A Critical Description. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1968. Possibly the most exhaustive treatment of the work to be found, Quinn's volume provides a general introduction to the author and his poem and then engages in a detailed study of almost every topic that relates to the epic, including such items as the parallels between divine and human motivation, the verb tenses in the text, ambiguities in the poem, and influences on Vergil.

Rose, H. J. Outlines of Classical Literature. New York: World, 1959. This survey, by one of the most respected of all classical scholars, provides a chapter on the Golden Age of Rome which supplies considerable information on the origin of the Aeneid and important facts about Vergil and his historical milieu.


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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.

Ross, David O. Virgil’s Aeneid: A Reader’s Guide. Boston: Blackwell, 2007. An accessible guide toAeneid that also discusses Virgil’s life and times, and Homer’s influence on his writing. There are six chapters, an appendix and indexes.

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.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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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 Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, trans. Willard R. Trask Bollingen Series 36, Princeton University Press, 1973. This classic study explains how Latin literature affected the development of literature all over Europe. Curtius pays special attention to the influence of Virgil.

Davenport, Basil, The Portable Roman Reader, Viking Press, New York, 1951.

Dominik, William J., "From Greece to Rome: Ennius Annaks" in Boyle, A. J. ed. The Roman Epic, Routledge, 1993, pp 37-58. An important and revealing study of the poet who was Rome's epic poet before Virgil

Dryden, John. Introduction to Virgil: The Aeneid, translated by John Dryden, Heritage Press, pp ix- xlni. The founder of modern English criticism gives his reading of the Aeneid This introduction was the most influential reading of the poem in English for over a hundred years. It formed every educated English speaker's view of the poem.

Freeman, Charles, The World of the Romans, Cassell, 1993. A very thorough and well-written description of every facet of Roman life It includes the essentials of Roman history. The illustrations are very good. An excellent student resource

Goldberg, Sander, ''Saturnian Epic. Livius and Naevius," in Boyle, A. J., ed. The Roman Epic, Routledge, 1993, pp 19-36. A good study of the features of these two early Roman writers of epic which most influenced Virgil. A fascinating example of scholarship as detective work, piecing together literary history from fragments.

Graves, Robert, "The Virgil Cult," The Virginia Quarterly Review, Vol. 38, No 1, Winter, 1962, pp 13-35. Perhaps the best known modern attack on Virgil, it is as much an attack on T. S. Eliot and C. S Lewis and their conversion to Christianity. Wishart offers a fictionalized autobiography of the poet.

Hadas, Moses, Ancilla to Classical Reading, Columbia University Press, 1961. A good place to find biographical sketches of all those ancient writers that Virgihan critics assume everyone knows

Jones, J. W., "The Allegorical Traditions of the Aeneid" in Bernard, John D., ed. Virgil at 2000: Commemorative Essays on the Poet and his Influence, edited by John D. Bernard, AMS Press, New York, 1986, pp. 107-32. A worthwhile study of the allegorical readings of the Aeneid and of the medieval treatment of the poem.

Kragelund, Patrick, Dream and Prediction in the Aeneid. 1976. Denmark: Special Trykkeriet.

Le Bossu, Ren, "On the Fable of the Aeneid,'' in Le Bossu and Voltaire on the Epic, Scholars Facsimiles and Reprints, 1970, pp. 26-31. A short statement of the main ideas of this important early modern critic of the Aeneid

Mackail, J. W., Virgil and his Meaning to the World of To-Day, Marshall Jones Co., 1922. A popular introduction, most useful for its discussion of Virgil's technique.

Marks, Anthony and Tingay, Graham, The Romans, Usbourne Publishing Ltd., 1990. This book is for young readers, but it's layout makes it a good source for presentations. Handouts and charts can be simply made by enlarging pages.

Miles, Gary B. and Allen, Archibald W., "Virgil and the Augustan Experience," in Vergil at 2000: Commemorative Essays on the Poet and his Influence, edited by John D. Bernard, AMS Press, New York, 1986, pp. 13-41. Conveys the complexity the Aeneid's ideals.

Miola, Robert, "Vergil in Shakespeare - From Allusion to Imitation,'' in Virgil at 2000: Commemorative Essays on the Poet and his Influence, edited by John D. Bernard, AMS Press, New York, 1986, pp. 241-58. A wide-ranging study of the influence of Virgil on Shakespeare. This article would be the perfect place to begin a paper comparing the two poets.

Otis, Brooks, "The Odyssean Aeneid and the Iliadic Aeneid," in Commager, Steele, ed. Virgil: A Collection of Critical Essays, Prentice Hall. Inc. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1966, pp 89-106. Otis concentrates on the ways that Virgil adapted Homer's epics. He shows Virgil transforming Homer rather than simply imitating. He traces the way this builds in a sort of Homeric commentary within the Aeneid

Pope, Nancy P., National History in the Heroic Poem: A Comparison of the Aeneid and The Faerie Queene. 1990. New York: Garland Publishing.

Putnam, Michael C. J., Virgil’s Aeneid: Interpretation and Influence. 1995. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Quinn, Kenneth, Virgil's Aeneid: A Critical Description, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1968. A somewhat more demanding read than Anderson's introductory book, filling in the fine detail. The first chapter, "The Heroic Impulse," gives a balanced introduction to modern critical treatment of Virgihan heroism and covers the heroic impulse in heroism in the minor as well as the main characters

Reynolds, L D., "Vergil," in Texts and Transmissions, Clarendon Press, 1986, pp 433-36. A clear and fascinating introduction to the manuscripts which preserved the text of the Aeneid

Slavit, David R., Virgil. 1991. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Aeneid. Translated by Allen Mandelbaum (1964) 197. New York: Bantam Books.

Aeneidos Liber Quintus. Edited with commentary by R. D. Williams. 1960. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Virgil, The Aeneid, 2 Vols., trans. H. Rushton Fairclough Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, 1978. A good plain translation of the poem with the Latin text on the facing page

The Aeneid, trans. David West, Penguin Books, 1990. A popular modem translation with useful maps and appendixes

Williams, R. D., The Aeneid of Virgil. 1985. Bristol: Bristol Classics.

Williams, R. D., Virgil,, Greece and Rome: New Surveys in the Classics 1, Clarendon Press, 1967. The journal Greece and Rome is geared towards secondary school teachers of classical literature and interested, but serious amateurs. This booklet gives a good serious overview of criticism on the Aeneid.

Williams, R D. and Pattie, T. S., Virgil. His Poetry through the Ages, London, British Library, 1982. This introduction is carefully geared to the first-time reader of the Aeneid It includes a full synopsis of the epic. The chapter "Virgil Today" is probably the best place to begin reading criticism on the Aeneid

Wolverton, Robert E., An Outline of Classical Mythology, Littlefield Adams and Co, 1966. A short and occasionally funny introduction to mythology. There are family trees and useful lists of types of stories.




Critical Essays