November 08, 2021

#08-149: The Aeneid

Aeneas Flees Burning Troy (1598)

Note: The Aeneid takes its place among the great national epics of the world, providing a mythical basis for the foundation of Rome, as well as tying it to the tale of Troy, one of the ancient world's great tragedies.

Get Ready: What are the differences between a great mythological epic and a solidly-written factual history? Which is more exciting to read? Which is more useful? Which would you prefer to read? Why?

The oldest epics in the so-called "Western Canon" are the works by Homer known as The Iliad and The Odyssey. The former tells of the Trojan War, and the latter of the wanderings of Odysseus, one of the Greek combatants in that war.

Eight centuries later, the Roman poet Virgil wrote a sort of sequel to Homer called The Aeneid. In it, Aeneas, a Trojan and minor character in The Iliad, wanders after that war ends in a manner similar to that of Odysseus. He ends up in Italy as the founder of Rome, just as his great-grandfather Ilus founded Troy (which was called "Ilium" after him, the source of the name of the epic Iliad).

The Aeneid is composed of 12 books. In the first six, Aeneas wanders a la The Odyssey; in the latter half, he battles for control of Italy, as in The Iliad.

Book I begins with Aeneas's fleet battling a storm (stirred up by a jealous goddess), and taking refuge on the coast of Africa. Here Aeneas encounters Dido, Queen of Carthage. He tells her details of the end of the Trojan War (including how Odysseus tricked the Trojans with the Wooden Horse, a tale not spelled out by Homer himself), and how Aeneas fled the falling city.

He continues with tales of his voyage. These include the aborted foundations of several cities, as well as encounters with some of the same perils Odysseus met, like the whirlpool of Charybdis, and the one-eyed giant Polyphemus the Cyclops.

Dido naturally falls in love with the dashing hero. But eventually he must move on to fulfill the prophecy regarding the founding of the city that became Rome. Heartbroken, Dido commits suicide, and in the act calls down a curse on Aeneas's efforts.

After further adventures, including an encounter with the angry ghost of Dido in Hades, Aeneas and his men reach Italy. There he battles with the inhabitants (the "Latins") and founds the city of Rome, thus giving the Romans a mythological underpinning for their existence. Virgil also includes "prophecies" (easy to do in hindsight) regarding events in Rome up to his own day. For example, Rome's three Punic Wars with Carthage are said to be the result of Dido's curse on Aeneas for spurning her.


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Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. a la
  2. aborted
  3. combatants
  4. foundations
  5. hindsight
  6. inhabitants
  7. perils
  8. refuge
  9. spurning
  10. underpinning

  1. in the manner of
  2. perception of events in the past
  3. acts of establishing
  4. rejecting
  5. people fighting
  6. safety; a safe place
  7. people who live in a place
  8. basis; justification
  9. dangers
  10. abandoned; given up (on)

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for November 8, 2021

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. a; 2. j; 3. e; 4. c; 5. b; 6. g; 7. i; 8. f; 9. d; 10. h