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Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Aeneid by Virgil (19 BC)

I both read this and listened to it--which, while it takes more than twice the amount of time, is a good approach to getting a better understanding of an ancient epic poem.  Virgil was commissioned by Augustus to write this work, and Virgil toiled over it for ten years, finishing it the year that he died.  So it may not have undergone a final edit.   Nonetheless, it is one of the most widely read ancient works.  It has been popular literally since it was written.

Virgil had grown up at a time when Rome was more or less continually in a state of civil war, and he was eager for a return to stability and a time of peace.  That was Augustus' wish as well, and he asked Virgil to write a work that would celebrate the glory of Rome.  Virgil set The Aeneid at a time parallel to The Odyssey and following The Iliad.  The hero, Aeneas, is a Trojan who left his city after Priam's death, which he witnessed. Jupiter foretold his fate, which was to leave Troy and found Lavinium, the city that would more or less become Rome.  They take to the sea, and after seven years of wandering, they make off for the land of their destiny.  Then, much like what happens to Odysseus, they are tossed about in the ocean (Aeolus, god of the winds, is involved, at the behest of the troublesome Juno) and end up in Carthage.  Aeneas is welcomed by a bewitched Dido, and Book IV is considered to be one of the ageless love stories.  I found it more a story where humans are manipulated by the gods and as a result the love they feel lacks any emotional depth. The next two books are the voyage to Italy.

The rest of the poem, Books VII-VII are the battles that ensue when they land, with much blood and death.  Men are brave, men die, one woman is a valiant warrior who also falls (Camilla is a great huntress in the mold of Diana, and a remarkable ancient woman), and in the end Aeneas and his Trojans win, but are destined to mingle their blood with the conquered Latins and create the land of Rome.  There are some chronological issues, with the events of the Aeneid taking place at the end of the Trojan War, which occurred in 1240 BCE, while the founding of Rome is generally acknowledged to be 753 BCE.  No matter, it is a great tale.

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