Vergil

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Life

Vergil, the greatest of the Roman poets, sprang from peasant origins. The Roman historian Suetonius reports that his father was either a potter or a day-laborer who married his employer’s daughter. Her name, Magia Pollia, contributed to the medieval practice of reading Vergil’s works as poems of prophecy. This...

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Life

Vergil, the greatest of the Roman poets, sprang from peasant origins. The Roman historian Suetonius reports that his father was either a potter or a day-laborer who married his employer’s daughter. Her name, Magia Pollia, contributed to the medieval practice of reading Vergil’s works as poems of prophecy. This peculiar form of bibliomancy, which came to be known as the sortes Vergilianae, also accounts for the corrupted form of the poet’s name, “Virgil” (from virga, “wand”), which so frequently appears in modern texts.

Curiously, Vergil’s birth in Cisalpine Gaul implies Celtic ethnicity. He would, therefore, have been considered a Gaul, at least in a legal sense, had Julius Caesar not extended Roman citizenship after Cisalpine Gaul became a province of Rome in 59 b.c.e. Vergil’s early education, at Cremona and Mediolanum (Milan), followed the traditional Roman curriculum: rhetoric and literature with basic arithmetic. In his late teens, Vergil went to Rome and continued his studies, which included philosophy and forensic rhetoric. This would indicate a future in law, though he seems to have spoken only once at court. He was by all indications constitutionally shy, a personality essentially unsuited to the speaking style of Roman lawyers.

Perhaps realizing that law was not a viable option, Vergil studied Alexandrine Greek under Epidius and philosophic Epicureanism under Siro, after which, in his early twenties, he returned to his family farm in Andes. In 41 b.c.e., land confiscations claimed his farm, among many others, for Marc Antony’s veterans. Vergil’s appeal to the young Octavian, later the emperor known as Augustus, saved his family’s land. The poet’s gratitude appears as the theme of the first of his ten Eclogues (43-47 b.c.e., also known as Bucolics; English translation, 1575), pastoral poems that parallel the Greek idylls of Theocritus of Syracuse.

The next phase of Vergil’s life places him at Nola and Naples. It is possible that there was a second attempt at confiscation of his family’s farm. It is certain, however, that for seven years he wrote his second masterwork the Georgics (c. 37-29 b.c.e.; English translation, 1589), four books of verse that chart the course of the farmer’s year in the style of the Greek Erga kai Emerai (c. 700 b.c.e.; Works and Days, 1618) of Hesiod. The Eclogues and Georgics brought Vergil into the literary circle of Gaius Maecenas, and this eventually brought him an imperial subvention from Octavian. It was, by general tradition, at the emperor’s suggestion that Vergil began the best known of his poems, the twelve-book epic known as the Aeneid (c. 29-19 b.c.e.; English translation, 1553). The Aeneid parallels Homer’s Odyssey (c. 800 b.c.e.; English translation, 1616) in its first six books and his Iliad (c. 800 b.c.e.; English translation, 1616) in its last six, though it concentrates on the aftermath of the Trojan War and seeks to establish the antiquity of the Roman “race.”

Death, the result of a fever, overtook Vergil after a tour of the East, and he died at Brundusium. On his deathbed, Vergil asked that his unrevised Aeneid be destroyed; Augustus’s intervention rescued the poem, and he commissioned two of Vergil’s colleagues, Varius and Tucca, to edit it but to add nothing. It was in this way that Augustus saved one of the noblest epic poems ever written. It appeared in its final state sometime after 17 b.c.e., about two years after Vergil’s death.

Influence

Vergil was buried at Naples, and his tomb became, especially in the Middle Ages, a place of superstitious reverence. His poetic works are widely known and read, and his Aeneid became one of the best-known epics in the Western world.

Further Reading:

Benestad, J. Brian. “Paterno on Vergil: Educating for Service.” America 170 (April 2, 1994): 15-17. In this speech, Benestad comments on Penn State’s head football coach, Joe Paterno, and his autobiographical comments on the enormous impression made on him as a student by studying Vergil’s Aeneid. For Paterno, a central message of the epic is that a man’s first commitment is not to himself but to others, for Aeneas was the ultimate team player.

Bernard, John D., ed. Vergil at 2000: Commemorative Essays on the Poet and His Influence. New York: AMS Press, 1986. Fifteen essays by noted scholars, concerning most aspects of Vergilian scholarship, including the author’s life and style and his historical background and influence.

Commager, Steele, ed. Virgil: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1966. This book of essays discusses everything from the landscape that gave Vergil his inspiration to important imagery in his poetry. Includes a chronology of Vergil’s life and a short bibliography.

Comparetti, Domenico. Vergil in the Middle Ages. Translated by E. F. M. Benecke. 1985. Reprint. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1997. This book remains the classic treatment of Vergil’s literary legacy showing how it influenced both education and literature for centuries. It is still the best discussion of Vergilian bibliography available. A respected scholarly source.

Frank, Tenney. Vergil: A Biography. 1922. Reprint. New York: Russell and Russell, 1965. This standard biography discusses the poet’s life through references to his works. Particularly interesting is Frank’s use of the pseudo-Vergilian poems Culex and Cirus, the influence of Epicureanism, and his discussion of the circle of Maecenas.

Hardie, Philip R. Virgil. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1998. Offers interpretation and criticism of the Aeneid and the Georgics.

Jenkyns, Richard. Vergil’s Experience, Nature, and History: Times, Names, and Places. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. This large-scale work concerns itself with examining Vergil’s ideas of nature and historical experience as compared with similar ideas throughout the ancient world. Jenkyns also discusses the influcence of Vergil’s work on later thought.

Knight, W. F. Jackson. Roman Vergil. 1944. Reprint. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1968. How Vergil changed the literary world and how Augustus changed the political world are two important concerns in this biographical and literary study. There is also good discussion of Vergilian style, meter, and language, as well as appendices on how Vergil’s poetry advanced Latin as a literary language and on the allegorical and symbolic applications of Vergil’s poems.

Levi, Peter. Virgil: His Life and Times. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999. This notable work by a leading classics scholar places Vergil in the context of his times.

Martindale, Charles, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Virgil. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Twenty-one essays (including the editor’s introduction) are divided into four sections covering the translation and reception of Vergil’s works, his poetic career, historical contexts, and the content of his thought. Includes numerous bibliographies.

Otis, Brooks. Virgil: A Study in Civilized Poetry. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995. Excellent work that argues for Vergil as a sophisticated poet who presented mythic, well-known material in a new and meaningful style to his urban readers.

Perkell, Christine, ed. Reading Vergil’s “Aeneid”: An Interpretive Guide. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1999. Contains several essays covering various aspects of the work on a book-by-book basis. The editor also provides an introduction discussing the work’s historical background and themes. Several essays on such topics as influences and characters conclude this fine study.

Rossi, Andreola. Context of War: Manipulation and Genre in Virgilian Battle Narrative. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2004. An excellent study of Vergil's use of allusion to Homer's text in the Aeneid. This work points to the classical elements integral to the structure and narrative of the Aeneid, while demonstrating the synthesis of these elements into a new form.

Verbart, Andre. “Milton on Vergil: Dido and Aeneas in Paradise Lost.” English Studies 78 (March, 1997): 111-126. Discusses the relationship between Vergil and Milton’s Adam and Eve; notes that in Milton’s epic Adam’s first words to Eve echo Aeneas’s last words to Dido; notes four other parallels that have never been noted and comments on how Vergil’s work has affected the structure of Milton’s epic.

Wiltshire, Susan Ford. Public and Private in Vergil’s “Aeneid.” Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1989. An influential study of the theme of duty and public destiny, as well as a consideration of the cost of duty upon the individual in the Aeneid. Examines the ways in which the lessons of the Aeneid are relevant to the modern

Other Literary Forms

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There are several minor poems attributed with varying degrees of cogency to Vergil. Among these are the Culex (c. 50 b.c.e.; The Gnat, 1916), Ciris (c. 50 b.c.e.; the seabird), and Aetna (c. 50 b.c.e.).

Achievements

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More than any other poet of his age, Vergil adopted traditional Greek forms of poetry and adapted them to the Roman spirit. His Eclogues were inspired by the Idylls of Theocritus (third century b.c.e.), although they included allusions to real persons and events that would have been familiar to Vergil’s audience. The Georgics transformed the style of didactic poetry seen in the works of Hesiod and Aratus into an idealization of the Italian landscape and rustic way of life; unlike earlier didactic poetry, the Georgics provides less practical instruction and more celebration of agriculture and the Roman farmer. The Aeneid contains many scenes and images inspired by the Iliad and the Odyssey but focuses upon a hero who embodies the ideals of Augustan Rome.

In addition, Vergil’s poetry imbued traditional literary forms with the author’s own devotion to the Roman virtues of humanitas (compassion for humanity) and pietas (sense of duty). Because of the influence of Vergil’s works, especially the Aeneid, upon later periods, these virtues have become part of the entire Western literary tradition.

Vergil also interpreted, in a fictional and symbolic form, the most important moment in the history of ancient Rome: the transformation, under Augustus, of the Republic into the Empire. Vergil’s Aeneas is, in many ways, an idealized image of the emperor Augustus himself. The view that later ages would have of Rome’s first emperor was thus largely determined by Vergil’s depiction of Rome’s founder. Moreover, the Aeneid is also a profoundly patriotic poem, illustrating the belief of Vergil and Augustus that the founding of Rome fulfilled the will of the gods.

Vergil

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Other Literary Forms

Vergil’s greatness stems from his poetic works.

Achievements

Vergil is considered by many to be the greatest poet of ancient Rome, and his influence reaches well into the modern era of Western poetry. Vergil mastered three types of poetry: pastoral (Eclogues), didactic (Georgics), and national epic (Aeneid). This mastery is reflected in the final words of his epitaph, “cecini pascua, rura, duces” (“I sang of shepherds, farmlands, and national leaders”). Vergil’s fame was assured even in his own lifetime, as Tibullus, Sextus Propertius, and Horace praised and emulated him. His harshest critic was himself, and it was his dying wish that the unfinished Aeneid be destroyed. The Emperor Augustus himself intervened, however, and the poem was rescued and edited by Varius and Tucca in 17 b.c.e. The works of Vergil influenced Ovid and Marcus Manilius, and Vergil’s epic craft established a tradition which was followed by Lucan, Statius, Silius Italicus, and Valerius Piaccus. Writers of satire, epigram, and history, such as Juvenal, Martial, Livy, and Tacitus, also show the influence of Vergil’s thought, language, and prosody. The first critical edition of the Aeneid, the work of Probus, appeared in the time of Nero, and the Verona scholia also record interpretations based on editions by Cornutus, Velius Longus, and Asper in the late second century c.e. By this time, the poetry of Vergil had become a school manual, used for teaching grammar, rhetoric, and language.

In the fourth and fifth centuries c.e., Nonius and Macrobius discussed and quoted the works of Vergil. The tradition of centos soon arose, in which poets employed clever rearrangements of lines of Vergilian poetry to create poems with new meanings. The admiration of Vergil’s works eventually approached a kind of worship, with the superstitious practice of consulting random lines of his poetry as one might consult an oracle.

Dante and John Milton both studied Vergil, and their great epics owe much to his works, especially the Aeneid. John Dryden called the Georgics “the best poems of the best poet”; Alfred, Lord Tennyson, described Vergil’s hexameters as “the stateliest measures ever moulded by the lips of man.”

Vergil’s achievement is therefore enormous. He raised the dactylic hexameter to new levels of grandeur, he elevated the Latin language to new beauty, and he set new standards for three types of poetry. Perhaps his greatest achievement lies in the vision of the imperial grandeur of Rome depicted in the Aeneid.

Biography

Publius Vergilius Maro was born on October 15, 70 b.c.e., in Andes, an Italian town located near present-day Mantua. He was not born to Roman citizenship, but the franchise was later granted to his native province. His early education took place at Cremona and at Mediolanum, now called Milan. Like most promising young men of his era, Vergil eventually made his way to Rome, where he studied philosophy, rhetoric, medicine, and mathematics; he also completed preparation for the legal profession, although he spoke only once as an advocate. At this time, he also made the acquaintance of the poets who remained from Catullus’s circle and absorbed from them the Alexandrian ideals of poetry. In 41 b.c.e., the farm belonging to Vergil’s family was confiscated and given to the soldiers of Mark Anthony. According to tradition, this personal catastrophe, referred to in eclogues 1 and 9, was remedied by Octavian himself (after 23 b.c.e., the Emperor Augustus) in response to a personal appeal by Vergil, but many scholars believe the loss of the farm was permanent; the references in the Eclogues are subject to interpretation. It was during this period, from about 43 to 37 b.c.e., that Vergil wrote the ten Eclogues, working first in Northern Italy and later in Rome. The success of the Eclogues resulted in an introduction to Maecenas, Octavian’s literary adviser, and this personal connection assured financial support for Vergil’s literary activities and provided an entrée into the circle of Rome’s best writers and poets.

In 38 or 37 b.c.e., Vergil met the great Roman poet Horace and arranged for Horace to meet Maecenas. It was at this time that the two poets and their colleagues, Varius and Tucca, participated in the famous journey to Brundisium described in Horace’s Satires (35, 30 b.c.e.). From that point on, Vergil lived and wrote in Southern Italy, at a country house near Nola and at Naples. From 37 to 29 b.c.e., he worked slowly on the Georgics, a didactic poem in four books which instructs the reader in various aspects of agriculture and animal husbandry. Finally, in 29 b.c.e., Vergil began his greatest undertaking, the Aeneid, an epic poem which describes the journey of the hero, Aeneas, from the ruins of Troy to the west coast of Italy; in the poem, Aeneas’s son Iulus is linked to the Julian clan from which the Emperor Augustus claimed descent. The writing of this poem also proceeded laboriously. In 19 b.c.e., Vergil embarked on a journey to Greece and the East, during which he hoped to polish and revise his epic. During his journey, he fell ill at Megara; shortly after reaching Brundisium, the port city on the east coast of Italy which serves as the gateway to Greece, he died. He was buried at Naples, and his dying request for the unrevised Aeneid to be destroyed was fortunately countermanded by the orders of Augustus.

Little is known of the character of Vergil, except that he was a shy and reclusive man who never married. He was also of weak physical constitution, often ill. The main source of information about Vergil’s life and character is the biography by Aelius Donatus, from the fourth century.

Analysis

In order to understand more fully the poetry of Vergil, his works should be considered in the light of two relationships: his literary connection with the Greek poetry on which his works are modeled, and his personal and ideological connection with the builders of the Roman Empire. Vergil, like most Roman artists, worked within genres invented by the Greeks, but he also left on his works a uniquely Roman imprint. It was his great genius that he was able to combine both Greek and Roman elements so effectively.

Eclogues

Vergil’s earliest major work was a group of ten short poems called the Eclogues, or the Bucolics. The poems are set in an idealized Italian countryside and are populated by shepherds. Vergil has clearly modeled the poems on the thirty idylls of Theocritus, a Greek poet of about 310 to 250 b.c.e. who lived primarily in Sicily. The Eclogues are, in fact, the most highly imitative of Vergil’s three works, although the Roman element asserts itself clearly. In the first eclogue, which is one of the most Roman, Vergil tells of two shepherds, Tityrus and Meliboeus. Tityrus has retained his farm in the face of confiscation, and he relaxes among his sheep while Meliboeus, ejected from his fields, drives his weary livestock to new pastures. Tityrus expresses his gratitude to the young Octavian, whom he depicts as a god. Here, Vergil uses the Theocritean framework, but the content of the poem reflects Vergil’s own private and public Roman experience. Eclogue 2, by contrast, follows Theocritus in both form and substance. Here, the shepherd Corydon bemoans his failure to win Alexis, imitating Polyphemus’s lament of the cruelty of Galatea in the Idylls (third century b.c.e.). Similarly, the capping contest between shepherds Menalcas and Damon in Eclogue 3 closely follows idylls 4 and 5.

Eclogue 4 is perhaps the most famous, as well as the most Roman. Here, the shepherd format has been abandoned. The poem honors the consulship of Vergil’s early local patron, Asinius Pollio, during which the former governor helped negotiate the Treaty of Brundisium. Welcoming the hope of peace, Vergil predicts the coming of a new Golden Age. His ideas about the cycle of ages are based on a number of sources, including the Sybilline Books and the “ages of man” in Hesiod. Because the new era of peace is here connected with the birth of a child, scholars of the Middle Ages believed that the poem held a messianic message, predicting the birth of Christ. Present-day scholars disagree about the identity of the young child: Some argue that Vergil refers here to the children of Pollio, who were born around this time, while others believe that the poem expresses hope for the future offspring of Mark Anthony and Octavia, or perhaps of Octavian and his new wife, Scribonia. In any case, the language of the eclogue is sufficiently vague to preclude any clear identification.

Eclogue 5 returns once again to the Theocritean format: Two shepherds, Mopsus and Menalcas, engage in a contest of amoebaean verse (poetry written in the form of a dialogue between two speakers). They sing of the death and deification of Daphnis, also a shepherd, and in so doing they reprise the song of Idyll 1. Eclogue 6 maintains the pastoral theme: Two shepherds catch Silenus (a mythological woodland deity with horses’ ears and tail) and induce him to sing of the world’s creation and other legends. The preface to this poem, however, deals with more Roman matters: Vergil dedicates the poem to Varus, the man who succeeded Pollio as legate in the region of Vergil’s birthplace. Apparently the new legate had urged the poet to write an epic; here the poet demurs. Eclogue 7, like eclogues 2, 3, and 5, adheres to the Theocritean model: Melliboeus tells of a contest between shepherds Thyrsis and Corydon.

Eclogue 8, like Eclogue 4, is dedicated to Pollio. Two shepherds sing an amoebaeic: Damon grieves over the faithlessness of Nisa, and Alphesiboeus sings of a young woman’s attempts to secure the love of Daphnis by magic charms. The latter topic has as its model Idyll 2 of Theocritus, but the ethos is Roman. Eclogue 9 returns to the farm confiscations discussed in Eclogue 1. Shepherd Moeris has been ejected from his farm; shepherd Lycidas expresses surprise, since he had thought that the poetry of Menalcas (Vergil’s persona) had secured the safety of all the farms of the region. The collection concludes with Eclogue 10, in which Gallus (a real-life Roman) grieves for the loss of an actress named Lycoris.

Critics agree that these poems, although very artificial, are exercises which show the power of a great poet early in his development. Eclogues 2, 3, 5, and 7, among the first written, follow the Theocritean model rather closely, working within the conventionalized framework of the pastoral genre. Other eclogues introduce matters closer to Vergil’s life and times, such as the farm confiscations dealt with in eclogues 1 and 9 (and alluded to in 6) and the problems of Gallus in Eclogue 10. Eclogue 6 offers the promise of greater works to come, and this promise is redeemed first in the Georgics and later in the Aeneid.

Georgics

The Georgics comprise four books of dactylic hexameter verse on the subject of farming and animal husbandry. The basic Greek model is Hesiod’s Works and Days (c. 700 b.c.e.); however, Vergil’s sources for the Georgics also include the Alexandrian scientific poets and the Roman Epicurean poet, Lucretius. The Georgics are very Italian, and the Hesiodic model provides only a form and an outline: The poet distances himself from his model to a much greater degree than in the Eclogues. Vergil’s own words suggest that Maecenas, the great Augustan literary patron, suggested the subject matter of this poem. Augustus’s vision of the new order, the Pax Romana, had as its cornerstone a revival of “old Roman” virtues, religion, and the simple agrarian life. The Georgics, then, aimed to present the simplicity and beauty of Italian country life as an important element of Augustus’s new empire. Once again, Vergil is working with a Greek model and Roman ideas, but in the Georgics the model is less intrusive and the Italian element predominates.

Book 1 of the Georgics deals with the farming of field crops and the relationship of weather and constellations to this pursuit. Vergil stresses the importance of Jupiter and of Ceres, the goddess of agriculture. Near the end of the book, the discussion of weather phenomena leads the poet to a description of the ominous cosmological omens that accompanied the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 b.c.e.; Vergil closes the book by expressing his hope that Augustus will save Rome and by expressing his regret that years of civil war have prevented the people of Italy from peacefully farming their lands.

In book 2, Vergil treats the matter of vines and trees, especially the olive tree. He instructs the reader on the propagation, growth, planting, and tending of these plants. Technical discussions of soils, vines, and proper seasons are included, and here the Hesiodic and Alexandrian models are evident, although not predominant. Praise for the agriculture of Italy leads to praise of the country as a whole, and then of its chief, Augustus. The book concludes with a paean to the life of the farmer, especially as contrasted with the life of war. The themes of Augustus’s new order find eloquent voice.

Book 3 of the Georgics takes up the subject of cattle and their deities. At the beginning of the book, Vergil tells the reader that Maecenas urged the writing of the Georgics, and Vergil also promises future works in praise of Augustus and Rome. Following these literary comments, the poet once again turns to technical matters: care of broodmares, calves, and racing foals; the force of love among animals; sheep and goats; and the production of wool, milk, and cheese. A discussion of disease in sheep leads into the very famous and poignant description of the plague, based on similar passages in Lucretius and Thucydides.

In book 4, Vergil turns to the subject of bees and beekeeping. He discusses the location of hives, the social organization of bees, the taking of honey, and the very ancient practice of obtaining a new stock of bees by using the carcass of a dead animal. The book closes with the stories of Aristaeus and Arethusa, and finally of Orpheus.

The matter of sources, then, is much more complex in the Georgics than in the Eclogues. The Georgics reveals a wide variety of sources and a poet who is more confident and thus more willing to depart from his models. Vergil’s relationship to Maecenas, Augustus, and the new Roman order manifests itself both in the overall intent of the poem and in specific passages. The artificial landscape of the Eclogues yields to the reality and beauty of the Italian countryside.

Aeneid

The final and most important work of Vergil’s career was the twelve-book hexameter epic called the Aeneid. Vergil wished to pay homage to the great Greek epics of Homer (the Iliad and the Odyssey, both c. 800 b.c.e.) and Apollonius Rhodius (the Argonautica, third century b.c.e.), but Vergil also sought to create a work that would supplant the work of Ennius and glorify the Rome of his own day and its leader, Augustus. The solution lay in telling the mythological story of Aeneas, a Trojan hero who fought on the losing side in the great Trojan War. Homer mentions that Aeneas was purposefully rescued by the gods, and a firm post-Homeric tradition told of the hero’s subsequent journey to Italy. Vergil, then, would tell the story of Aeneas’s travels and of the founding of the Roman race, and in so doing would remain close to the Homeric era; at the same time, prophetic passages could look forward to the Rome of Vergil’s lifetime, and the poem overall would stress Roman virtues and ideals. In the figure of Aeneas, Vergil had discovered the perfect transition from the Homeric world in which epic was rooted to the Augustan era of his own day.

The first six books tell of the wandering journey of Aeneas and his men from Troy to the western coast of Italy, a voyage which was impeded by false starts, the anger of the goddess Juno, and Aeneas’s own fears, hesitations, and weaknesses. Vergil chose as his basic model for these books Homer’s Odyssey, also a tale of wandering. Since books 6 through 12 of the Aeneid describe the battles between Aeneas and the Italic tribes which opposed him, the poet here emulated the Iliad, an epic of war. Indeed, the opening phrase of the Aeneid, “I sing of arms and of the man” (“Arma virumque cano”), sets forth this two-part plan very clearly.

Book 1 begins with an introduction in which Vergil states his aim: He will tell of the deeds and sufferings of Aeneas, a man driven by destiny, whose task is to found the city of Rome in the face of strong opposition from Juno, the queen of the gods, whose anger is rooted in past insults (the judgment of Paris, the rape of Ganymede) as well as future offenses (the defeat of Carthage by Rome) of which the gods have advance knowledge. The actual narrative begins not at Troy but in medias res. Aeneas and his Trojan remnant are off the coast of Sicily, about to sail to Italy, when Juno conspires with Aeolus to cause a storm at sea. When the hero finally appears for the first time, he is cold and frightened, wishing that he had died at Troy. It is at once obvious that Aeneas is no courageous Homeric hero, but a man who must learn through difficulty to understand obedience to destiny and dedication to duty—the very Roman quality of pietas, or piety. Indeed, the first six books of the epic demonstrate Aeneas’s growing maturity and piety, which increase as he comes to understand fate’s grand plan for the future of Rome.

Neptune soon intervenes, calming the wild seas; this act is described in terms of a unique simile—Neptune and the seas are compared to a statesman using words to calm a rebellious mob—which surely is a vague allusion to the great Augustus ushering in an era of peace on the heels of decades of civil war. Aeneas’s party finds harbor in North Africa, and the scene quickly changes to Olympus, where Venus complains bitterly to Jupiter about the way her son is being treated. The king of the gods responds with a prophecy: He tells of Aeneas’s Italian wars; of the founding of Alba Longa by Aeneas’s son Iulus (also called Ascanius); of Romulus and Remus; of the boundless future empire; of Julius Caesar; and, finally, of the new era of peace. Augustus is not explicitly named, but the final lines refer to his Pax Romana, the era of Roman peace. In the short term, Jupiter arranges for Aeneas to receive a warm welcome in Carthage in the person of Queen Dido. Dido’s history is related, and it is remarkably similar to that of Aeneas: She, too, is the widowed leader of a group of refugees, from Tyre, and her people have found their new home, which they are building happily, like bees in summer. The leaders meet, and their mutual sympathy is soon deepened through the machinations of Venus and Cupid; Dido falls in love with Aeneas.

Dido arranges a welcoming banquet for her guests, and after dinner Aeneas agrees to tell the story of the fall of Troy, his escape, and his subsequent wanderings in the Mediterranean basin. Books 2 and 3, then, constitute a flashback, the device also used in the Odyssey. In these books Vergil adheres more clearly to his sources than elsewhere in the epic. Book 2, which relates the fall of Troy, relies on the epic cycle, of which only fragments have survived to modern times. Aeneas loses his wife, Creusa, but he escapes carrying his father, Anchises, on his shoulders, bearing the household gods, and holding his son, Ascanius, by the hand. The stories of Laocoön and Cassandra, the death of Priam, and the figure of Helen all derive from the Greek tradition, but Aeneas’s ultimate acceptance of destiny and the picture of his devotion to father and son serve to underline ideals and values that are distinctly Roman. Book 3, the narrative of Aeneas’s wanderings, contains many episodes based on the Odyssey and a few which come from Apollonius. The Trojans make several erroneous attempts to find their new homeland, but omens and progressively clearer prophecies keep them on the track of destiny. Aeneas is warned by Helenus to seek further prophetic information in Italy from the Cumaen Sibyl. The monsters of Greek epic appear, interspersed with more realistic episodes. The book concludes with the most painful incident of all, the death of Anchises. Thus, Aeneas concludes his recollection of the past, a narrative based on the Greek models but heavily laden with Roman ideas of destiny, perseverance, and devotion to duty.

Book 4, perhaps the most famous in the Aeneid, tells of the ill-fated love of Dido and Aeneas. Dido’s frenzied emotion is pitted against Aeneas’s growing pietas. Drawing on book 3 of Apollonius’s Argonautica, Vergil tells the tragic tale. Fire and wound imagery convey Dido’s passion in a subjective manner. Through the machinations of the goddesses, the two leaders find themselves driven by a rainstorm, which interrupts a formal hunt, to the same cave. Here they enjoy a sexual union which Vergil surrounds with perverted wedding imagery. Aeneas and Dido live together openly, but only Dido perceives the relationship as a marriage. Aeneas has made no lasting commitment, and, worse, the outside world is offended by their conduct. Iarbas, an earlier and unsuccessful suitor of Dido, prays to Jupiter for satisfaction; as a result, Mercury is dispatched to remind Aeneas of his duty. Aeneas at first tries to hide his impending departure, but this fails, and the confrontation which follows does not change the hero’s mind. Obeying the call of destiny, Aeneas leaves Carthage. Dido has lost her self-respect and the respect of her people and their neighbors. She commits suicide on a pyre, abandoning her kingdom and her sister Anna. Roman virtue has defeated the passion of the foreign queen, and Aeneas has triumphed over his own weaknesses.

Book 5 describes the funeral games for Anchises and is clearly based on book 23 of the Iliad. Like Homer, Vergil uses the games to show his hero in the role of leader and judge. Later in the book, a mutiny of the women in Aeneas’s party, incited by Juno, is put down, but most of the ships are burned. A portion of the party elects to remain in Sicily, and Aeneas’s father appears in a night vision, urging him to come to the underworld. The book closes with the death of the helmsman Palinurus, which offers a fitting transition to book 6, the narrative of Aeneas’s journey to the underworld.

Aeneas arrives at Cumae, meets the Sibyl, and hears a short-term prophecy of events in Italy: He will marry a new wife, but there will be more bloodshed, and Juno will continue to hinder Aeneas’s progress. Before Aeneas can descend to the underworld, there are lengthy preliminaries, perhaps aimed at emphasizing the difficulty of a mortal’s descent to Hades: Aeneas must obtain the golden bough, a sign of fortune’s favor; he must perform the requisite sacrifices; and he must bury his dead comrade Misenus. Finally, Aeneas is permitted to descend to an underworld based largely on book 11 of the Odyssey, as well as on folk tradition. After encountering the traditional creatures of the underworld, including the ferryman Charon, Aeneas meets a succession of three figures from his past, beginning with the most recent: First, there is Palinurus the helmsman; next, in the Fields of Mourning, Aeneas finds the silent Dido, who turns away from the hero to the comfort of her first husband, Sychaeus; and, finally, Deiphobus, a Trojan warrior, describes his own death amid the sack of Troy. Through these three encounters, Aeneas makes his peace with the past, an essential preparation for his greeting of the future later in the book. An interlude follows, during which the Sibyl describes Tartarus, the place where the guilty are punished; here again, Vergil relies on Homer and folk tradition.

Aeneas moves on to the Elysian fields and a tearful reunion with Anchises. This portion of the book has many different sources, among them Lucretius’s Epicureanism, Pythagorean doctrines of the transmigration of souls, Platonism, and Orphism. Here, mythology yields to history and philosophy. Anchises explains the future to Aeneas, but this prophecy is more detailed than any thus far. Moreover, Anchises is able to illustrate his words by showing Aeneas the souls of the great future Romans as they line up for eventual ascent to the upper world. Here, in the exact center of the epic, a powerful passage reiterates the history of Rome as future prophecy. We meet the Alban kings and Romulus, and then the chronological order is interrupted for the highly emphatic introduction of Augustus himself: It is predicted that he will renew the Golden Age in Latium, and elaborate phrases describe the new boundaries of the Roman Empire under his rule. Aeneas is reminded that his own courage is needed if all this is to come about.

The history lesson now resumes with the early Roman kings who followed Romulus—Numa, Tullius, Ancus Marcius—and then the Tarquin kings from Etruria. The heroes of the early Republic, such as Brutus and Camillus, follow, and then the chronology is once again interrupted for the introduction of Caesar and Pompey and an admonishment against the evils of civil war. The list of Romans resumes with Mummius, Aemilius Paulus, and other great warriors; the emphasis here is on those whose victories expanded the Empire. Anchises closes with a generalized description of the fields of endeavor in which Romans will achieve greatness—sculpture, oratory, and astronomy—but he isolates leadership and government as the unique responsibility of Rome toward the world. One last shade remains to be named, and that is Marcellus, Augustus’s nephew and heir, who showed great promise but died very young. Aeneas then departs from the underworld, through the gate of sleep, taking with him a new and more complete understanding of Roman destiny and his duty to fulfill that destiny; his growth as a man is complete, and in the remaining books he fights an enemy which is purely external.

Book 7 begins the “Iliadic” portion of the Aeneid, which describes the war in Latium; Vergil marks the new subject with a second invocation to the Muse and calls his new subject “a greater theme” and “a greater labor.” Avoiding Circe’s island, the Trojans sail the coast and enter the Tiber River. The mood is tranquil and calm as Vergil introduces the new cast of characters: King Latinus, an older man, who has one child; his daughter Lavinia, much sought after as a wife; Queen Amata; and Turnus, a Rutulian king and relative of Amata, and Amata’s preferred choice among Lavinia’s suitors. The omens, however, argue against Turnus and in favor of a heretofore unknown foreign prince. The Trojans, meanwhile, have disembarked on the banks of the Tiber, where a serendipitous omen makes clear that they have, at long last, found their future home. Aeneas and his men are received warmly by Latinus, who offers both alliance and the hand of Lavinia; the Latin king has some understanding of fate and of his own role in Rome’s destiny.

The founding of Rome, however, is not so easy a task: Aeneas’s relentless enemy, Juno, greets the happy welcome and the new alliance with rage. She searches out Allecto, a gruesome Fury, and sends her to kindle the anger of Amata, using a snake to stir up the queen’s emotions. Amata passionately opposes the alliance, the marriage, and the slight to Turnus; she is compared to a top, a madly spinning child’s toy, and she passes her fury on to the other matrons of Latium. Allecto moves on to infect Turnus with jealousy, hatred, and lust for war. Once again, Roman piety is opposed by furor (passion), here represented by Allecto, Amata, and Turnus; the main symbols of furor are snakes and fire—as used earlier in connection with Dido’s passion. Still, Allecto’s work is not yet complete: She virtually assures the coming of war by inducing Iulus, Aeneas’s son, to wound a stag which is the favorite of a girl called Silvia. Silvia summons the men of the region, and the conflict bursts into armed struggle. Latinus withdraws into his palace, and Juno takes the final irrevocable step of forcing open the gates of the temple of Janus, nothing less than formal declaration of war. (Vergil’s own times witnessed the closing of those gates, an event which Augustus saw as his greatest achievement.) The book concludes with a catalog of the Latin allies: the impious Mezentius and his son Lausus; Camilla, a female warrior patterned after Penthesilea, the Amazon fighter and Trojan ally described in the epic cycle; and Turnus himself, decked out for war. The catalog, a Homeric device, introduces the characters who will fight in the books that follow, thereby increasing interest in future events. Thus concludes the book which began so differently, on a tranquil note of sunrise, the Tiber, alliance, and betrothal.

Aeneas must also seek allies for the imminent battle, and to that end he sails up the Tiber to Etruria. This journey and the visit with King Evander provide the subject for book 8. En route to Etruria, the omen of the white sow marks for Aeneas the future site of Rome. When the Trojans arrive, they find Evander’s people celebrating an ancient feast in honor of the victory of Hercules over the brigand Cacus. Vergil devotes many lines of verse to the retelling of this tale, partly because it conforms to the Augustan theme of civilization overcoming savagery, and partly because Aeneas must learn and assume the customs of Italy as he leaves his Trojan past behind him. Evander offers his guests a brief tour of the area, pointing to future Roman landmarks and discussing the history and lore of central Italy. The Etruscan also provides background information about Mezentius and agrees to an alliance with Aeneas, sending a contingent of warriors led by his own son, Pallas.

In the meantime, Aeneas’s mother, Venus, has urged her husband, Vulcan, god of fire and metalworking, to create arms for Aeneas. Vergil follows Homer (in Iliad, book 18) in offering a lengthy description of his hero’s shield, but whereas the Homeric shield depicted scenes of the human condition, universal in their implication, Aeneas’s weapon offers a lesson in Roman history: Ascanius is depicted with his offspring; the wolf suckles Romulus and Remus; the Romans carry off the Sabine women; Romulus and Tatius make peace; Horatius and Manlius perform their heroic exploits; and Rome’s enemies are punished in Hades. In the center of the shield is depicted the raging battle of Actium, the naval conflict of 31 b.c.e. in which Augustus (then Octavian) defeated Mark Anthony while Antony’s foreign wife, Cleopatra, fled; the gods of war surrounded the scene. Other panels show Augustus celebrating his triumph and consecrating temples that honor the far-flung boundaries of his empire. Aeneas does not understand everything on the shield, but he lifts it high, signaling his willingness to take on the responsibility of Rome’s destiny.

Book 9 is contemporaneous with book 8, describing events in Latium during Aeneas’s absence. Iris, Juno’s messenger, inflames Turnus to begin the battle: They attack the Trojan fleet. At the urging of Cybele, the mother goddess, the ships are rescued and metamorphosed into sea nymphs. The frightened Rutulians withdraw, ending the day of battle. That night, Nisus and Euryalus, two Trojans bound by special friendship, volunteer to cross enemy lines in order to reach Aeneas. In a scene based on the Iliad, book 10, the night raid ends in catastrophe: Both are killed, although their mutual devotion prevails even in the face of death. Cruel Turnus beheads the two Trojans and impales the heads on pikes as prizes of battle, much to the despair of Euryalus’s mother. As the battle continues, Ascanius prevails, killing the insolent Numanus; Turnus, too, enjoys a moment of glory, killing Pandarus, before he escapes by leaping into the Tiber. The book is very reminiscent of the Iliad in its gory battle descriptions, but Vergil adds his own imprint with a series of wild animal similes.

Book 10 opens with a council of the gods: Venus and Juno bicker, and Jupiter refuses to take sides. Back in Latium, the weary Trojans are cheered by the return of Aeneas, who brings with him Evander’s men and a host of Etruscan allies. The battle resumes, led by Turnus, Mezentius, and Mezentius’s son Lausus on the side of Latium, and Aeneas, Pallas, and Iulus on the side of Troy. Turnus kills Pallas and puts on his sword belt, spurring Aeneas to furious deeds of battle; Aeneas’s rage at Turnus, however, is frustrated by Juno, who removes Turnus from the battle. In a confrontation with Mezentius, Aeneas kills Lausus and then the repentant Mezentius himself, promising first to bury his enemy. The material of the book is again very Iliadic, but the compassion of Aeneas for friend and foe alike and the emphasis on the father-and-son relationship are very Roman.

Book 11 begins with a truce, during which Evander poignantly receives the corpse of his son, and both sides mourn their dead. The Latins hold a council of war, and it is reported that Diomedes, a Greek hero now living in Italy, will not aid their cause: The years at Troy have made him weary of war, and he respects the renowned piety of Aeneas. A rancorous discussion between Turnus and the Latin Drances is interrupted by the news that Aeneas and his allies are on the march. The battle now resumes, with Turnus guarding the city while the warrior maiden Camilla advances against the cavalry. Camilla excels in battle but is mortally wounded by Arruns; Opis, a nymph attending Diana, avenges Camilla’s death, killing Arruns.

In book 12, Turnus, now wounded, speaks with Latinus. He pleads for an opportunity to face Aeneas in single combat. Amata and Lavinia weep, and Latinus favors appeasement, but Turnus and Aeneas agree to a duel. Aeneas prays, divulging his plan for equality of Trojans and Latins and respect for Latin custom. But the compact for single combat is broken when Juturna, a nymph and sister of Turnus, incites the Rutulians and one of them hurls a javelin. Aeneas is wounded as he shouts for both sides to remain calm and respect the truce, but the battle erupts, and Aeneas, now a martyr to the cause of peace and respect for law, is healed by his mother and soon returns to the fray. When the battle reaches the walls, Amata, believing Turnus to be dead, kills herself. As the conflict approaches its climax, Jupiter and Juno reach an agreement: Juno will withdraw from the battle and cease her harassment of the Trojans, and the newly unified nation of Trojans and Latins will be called Latins, using Latin language and Latin dress. Juno will be worshiped and honored by the pious new nation. Juturna, too, withdraws from the conflict, and Aeneas confronts Turnus. The Rutulian is wounded and he surrenders all claim to Lavinia. Aeneas is moved by Turnus’s words of acceptance, but a glance at Pallas’s sword belt, now worn by Turnus, spurs him to deliver the mortal blow. The epic closes with the flight of Turnus’s shade to the world of the dead.

Book 12 completes the portrait of Aeneas as the personification of Roman leadership: He is strong yet compassionate; he obeys and upholds the law; his victory promises to spare the conquered and honor their laws and customs. The confused Trojan fugitive of book 1 has made his peace with his Trojan past and has evolved into a pious, devoted, and progressive leader—a symbol of the glory of Augustan Rome. Turnus, too, commands respect in this book. He possesses all the natural vigor of primitive Italy, which, once harnessed by just government, provides an important component of Roman greatness.

The works of Vergil are thus characterized by a creative tension between deference to Greek models and allegiance to Roman history and values. In the Eclogues, Vergil was still striving to find the correct balance, but in the Georgics and in the Aeneid he skillfully infused the old Greek forms with the moods and themes of his own day. Augustus’s new vision of peace and empire found eloquent expression in the timeless hexameters of Rome’s greatest poet.

Further Reading:

Benestad, J. Brian. “Paterno on Vergil: Educating for Service.” America 170 (April 2, 1994): 15-17. In this speech, Benestad comments on Penn State’s head football coach, Joe Paterno, and his autobiographical comments on the enormous impression made on him as a student by studying Vergil’s Aeneid. For Paterno, a central message of the epic is that a man’s first commitment is not to himself but to others, for Aeneas was the ultimate team player.

Bernard, John D., ed. Vergil at 2000: Commemorative Essays on the Poet and His Influence. New York: AMS Press, 1986. Fifteen essays by noted scholars, concerning most aspects of Vergilian scholarship, including the author’s life and style and his historical background and influence.

Commager, Steele, ed. Virgil: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1966. This book of essays discusses everything from the landscape that gave Vergil his inspiration to important imagery in his poetry. Includes a chronology of Vergil’s life and a short bibliography.

Comparetti, Domenico. Vergil in the Middle Ages. Translated by E. F. M. Benecke. 1985. Reprint. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1997. This book remains the classic treatment of Vergil’s literary legacy showing how it influenced both education and literature for centuries. It is still the best discussion of Vergilian bibliography available. A respected scholarly source.

Frank, Tenney. Vergil: A Biography. 1922. Reprint. New York: Russell and Russell, 1965. This standard biography discusses the poet’s life through references to his works. Particularly interesting is Frank’s use of the pseudo-Vergilian poems Culex and Cirus, the influence of Epicureanism, and his discussion of the circle of Maecenas.

Hardie, Philip R. Virgil. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1998. Offers interpretation and criticism of the Aeneid and the Georgics.

Jenkyns, Richard. Vergil’s Experience, Nature, and History: Times, Names, and Places. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. This large-scale work concerns itself with examining Vergil’s ideas of nature and historical experience as compared with similar ideas throughout the ancient world. Jenkyns also discusses the influcence of Vergil’s work on later thought.

Knight, W. F. Jackson. Roman Vergil. 1944. Reprint. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1968. How Vergil changed the literary world and how Augustus changed the political world are two important concerns in this biographical and literary study. There is also good discussion of Vergilian style, meter, and language, as well as appendices on how Vergil’s poetry advanced Latin as a literary language and on the allegorical and symbolic applications of Vergil’s poems.

Levi, Peter. Virgil: His Life and Times. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999. This notable work by a leading classics scholar places Vergil in the context of his times.

Martindale, Charles, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Virgil. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Twenty-one essays (including the editor’s introduction) are divided into four sections covering the translation and reception of Vergil’s works, his poetic career, historical contexts, and the content of his thought. Includes numerous bibliographies.

Otis, Brooks. Virgil: A Study in Civilized Poetry. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995. Excellent work that argues for Vergil as a sophisticated poet who presented mythic, well-known material in a new and meaningful style to his urban readers.

Perkell, Christine, ed. Reading Vergil’s “Aeneid”: An Interpretive Guide. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1999. Contains several essays covering various aspects of the work on a book-by-book basis. The editor also provides an introduction discussing the work’s historical background and themes. Several essays on such topics as influences and characters conclude this fine study.

Rossi, Andreola. Context of War: Manipulation and Genre in Virgilian Battle Narrative. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2004. An excellent study of Vergil's use of allusion to Homer's text in the Aeneid. This work points to the classical elements integral to the structure and narrative of the Aeneid, while demonstrating the synthesis of these elements into a new form.

Verbart, Andre. “Milton on Vergil: Dido and Aeneas in Paradise Lost.” English Studies 78 (March, 1997): 111-126. Discusses the relationship between Vergil and Milton’s Adam and Eve; notes that in Milton’s epic Adam’s first words to Eve echo Aeneas’s last words to Dido; notes four other parallels that have never been noted and comments on how Vergil’s work has affected the structure of Milton’s epic.

Wiltshire, Susan Ford. Public and Private in Vergil’s “Aeneid.” Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1989. An influential study of the theme of duty and public destiny, as well as a consideration of the cost of duty upon the individual in the Aeneid. Examines the ways in which the lessons of the Aeneid are relevant to the modern

Bibliography

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Further Reading:

Benestad, J. Brian. “Paterno on Vergil: Educating for Service.” America 170 (April 2, 1994): 15-17. In this speech, Benestad comments on Penn State’s head football coach, Joe Paterno, and his autobiographical comments on the enormous impression made on him as a student by studying Vergil’s Aeneid. For Paterno, a central message of the epic is that a man’s first commitment is not to himself but to others, for Aeneas was the ultimate team player.

Bernard, John D., ed. Vergil at 2000: Commemorative Essays on the Poet and His Influence. New York: AMS Press, 1986. Fifteen essays by noted scholars, concerning most aspects of Vergilian scholarship, including the author’s life and style and his historical background and influence.

Commager, Steele, ed. Virgil: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1966. This book of essays discusses everything from the landscape that gave Vergil his inspiration to important imagery in his poetry. Includes a chronology of Vergil’s life and a short bibliography.

Comparetti, Domenico. Vergil in the Middle Ages. Translated by E. F. M. Benecke. 1985. Reprint. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1997. This book remains the classic treatment of Vergil’s literary legacy showing how it influenced both education and literature for centuries. It is still the best discussion of Vergilian bibliography available. A respected scholarly source.

Frank, Tenney. Vergil: A Biography. 1922. Reprint. New York: Russell and Russell, 1965. This standard biography discusses the poet’s life through references to his works. Particularly interesting is Frank’s use of the pseudo-Vergilian poems Culex and Cirus, the influence of Epicureanism, and his discussion of the circle of Maecenas.

Hardie, Philip R. Virgil. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1998. Offers interpretation and criticism of the Aeneid and the Georgics.

Jenkyns, Richard. Vergil’s Experience, Nature, and History: Times, Names, and Places. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. This large-scale work concerns itself with examining Vergil’s ideas of nature and historical experience as compared with similar ideas throughout the ancient world. Jenkyns also discusses the influcence of Vergil’s work on later thought.

Knight, W. F. Jackson. Roman Vergil. 1944. Reprint. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1968. How Vergil changed the literary world and how Augustus changed the political world are two important concerns in this biographical and literary study. There is also good discussion of Vergilian style, meter, and language, as well as appendices on how Vergil’s poetry advanced Latin as a literary language and on the allegorical and symbolic applications of Vergil’s poems.

Levi, Peter. Virgil: His Life and Times. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999. This notable work by a leading classics scholar places Vergil in the context of his times.

Martindale, Charles, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Virgil. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Twenty-one essays (including the editor’s introduction) are divided into four sections covering the translation and reception of Vergil’s works, his poetic career, historical contexts, and the content of his thought. Includes numerous bibliographies.

Otis, Brooks. Virgil: A Study in Civilized Poetry. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995. Excellent work that argues for Vergil as a sophisticated poet who presented mythic, well-known material in a new and meaningful style to his urban readers.

Perkell, Christine, ed. Reading Vergil’s “Aeneid”: An Interpretive Guide. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1999. Contains several essays covering various aspects of the work on a book-by-book basis. The editor also provides an introduction discussing the work’s historical background and themes. Several essays on such topics as influences and characters conclude this fine study.

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.

Rossi, Andreola. Context of War: Manipulation and Genre in Virgilian Battle Narrative. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2004. An excellent study of Vergil’s use of allusion to Homer’s text in the Aeneid. This work points to the classical elements integral to the structure and narrative of the Aeneid, while demonstrating the synthesis of these elements into a new form.

Verbart, Andre. “Milton on Vergil: Dido and Aeneas in Paradise Lost.” English Studies 78 (March, 1997): 111-126. Discusses the relationship between Vergil and Milton’s Adam and Eve; notes that in Milton’s epic Adam’s first words to Eve echo Aeneas’s last words to Dido; notes four other parallels that have never been noted and comments on how Vergil’s work has affected the structure of Milton’s epic.

Wiltshire, Susan Ford. Public and Private in Vergil’s “Aeneid.” Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1989. An influential study of the theme of duty and public destiny, as well as a consideration of the cost of duty upon the individual in the Aeneid. Examines the ways in which the lessons of the Aeneid are relevant to the modern

Discussion Topics

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What evidence supports Vergil’s reputation as an enormously painstaking writer?

What concerns of Roman society appear in both the Eclogues and Georgics?

Why was Vergil’s poetry so popular in the Middle Ages?

How do Aeneas’s travels differ from Odysseus’s in Homer’s Odyssey (c. 725 b.c.e.; English translation, 1614)?

Compare Lavinia’s role to that of Helen in the Iliad (c. 750 b.c.e.; English translation, 1611).

What attitudes toward the subject of war do Aeneas’s accounts of young warriors in the Aeneid express?

How does Vergil incorporate the theme of Rome’s future in the Aeneid?

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