Critical Insights: Aeneid
The essays in this volume discuss many different aspects of Vergil's work, including the historical awareness of Rome's future greatness, the significant psychological and ethical questions on fate and free-will, personal glory versus responsibility by those who lead, and the profound influence the Aeneid has had on Christian authors.
Vergil's Aeneid has long remained a staple of the Western literary canon. At certain times it yields in its popularity to Homer's poems, particularly to the Odyssey. At others, it takes center stage as the classical epic read in traditional school and college curricula. One reason for its staying power is its careful composition. It is, quite simply, a model of syntax and style.
Vergil began the Aeneid after receiving a subvention from Augustus in about 30 B.C.E. and was still at work on the poem at the time of his death in 19 B.C.E. This would mean that he composed, on average, slightly more than one line per day. An old joke runs that Vergil was the first person to perfect the art of extending a government grant. Even so despite the long labor, Maurus Servius Honoratus, the late fourth century commentator on Vergil's works more simply known as Servius, reports that Vergil had made a deathbed request to destroy the unfinished Aeneid. Only the direct intervention of the emperor himself managed to save it.
In essence, the Aeneid has just about everything a reader might desire: a journey which parallels that of Odysseus, a thrillingly dramatic story of the wooden horse and fall of Troy (which the Homeric poems completely lack), the sexual tension inherent in the Dido and Aeneas narrative, a second Trojan War in Aeneid 7-12 for a second Helen named Lavinia.
Added to this is the historical awareness of Rome's future greatness as well as significant psychological and ethical questions on fate and free-will and personal glory versus responsibility by those who lead. The essays in this volume examine all of these areas as well as the profound influence the Aeneid has had on Christian authors such as St. Augustine and Dante Alighieri. Readers should find it accessible, even without knowledge of the poem in its original Latin. To make this volume more accessible to general readers, wherever Latin, Greek, or Italian appears, an English translation immediately follows.
Essays consider the historical circumstances in which the poem was created, as well as Vergil's cyclical view of history. The impact of the Aeneid on St. Augustine (and so the early Christian church) is also explored. Extending this idea, the impact of the poem on Dante is traced. The central point here is that the written word, with its multiple layers of significance, is inherently metaphorical and metaphor, because of its symbolism, produces allegory.
The essay "Independent Imitation: The Aeneid and Greek Epic," focuses on the distinctive ways in which Vergil achieves originality, even as he recalls Greek literary tradition. Another considers the historical background against which Vergil wrote the Aeneid. History was as much an influence on Vergil's work as the historical era was on the poet's life, and another synthesizes historical fact with insightful observations on the content and motivations behind Vergil's poem.
The reprinted essays of this volume range from classic works such as that of Viktor Pöschl on the poetry of Vergil to the feminist psychoanalytic approach. Careful consideration is given to the role of suffering, which is seen as pathos in Greek tragedy yet as a positive concomitant of establishing a society in Vergil. "The Poetic Achievement of Virgil," an essay which examines the reasons for the exceptional place the Aeneid has held from its first appearance in early imperial Rome.
Each essay is 5,000 words in length, and all essays conclude with a list of "Works Cited," along with endnotes. Finally, the volume's appendixes offer a section of useful reference resources:
- A chronology of the author's life
- A complete list of the author;s works and their original dates of publicaiton
- A general bibliography
- A detailed paragraph on the volume's editor
- Notes on the individual chapter authors
- A subject index