Originally Posted by sun surfer
Separately, it's very interesting reading this after The Odyssey. I never had any clue how similar they both are. It seems as if Virgil decided to basically copy the structure of the Odyssey very closely and try to insert his own story about Aeneas into it, and, as issybird mentioned, even starting media res.
Yes, that's exactly what Virgil did. Books 1-6 of the Aeneid are based on the Odyssey, and books 7-12 on the Iliad.
The first is concerning Virgil's account of the Trojan Horse trick. He, or rather Aeneas, mentions that Laocoon, who originally pierced the Trojan horse with a spear, ends up getting eaten by two monstrous serpents in retaliation for hurting the "gift to a god".
I don't understand what is trying to be explained here. The Trojan Horse ruse was supposed to be a trick and Sinon a liar, yet something really happens that proves that Sinon is telling the truth (even though we still know he's a liar)? It seems contradictory.
The best I can think of is that either Aeneas is lying about the serpents to make his people's gullibility seem less blame-worthy to the Carthaginians, or Virgil himself is trying to make the Romans' mythical ancestors gullibility seem less blame-worthy by including this contradictory event. But wouldn't Virgil have noticed the contradiction?
The story of Laocoon is a much older story than Virgil; Virgil certainly didn't make it up - he simply incorporates this old myth (as he did so many others) as an episode in the Aeneid. The best account we have of the original story is in the epic poem the "Posthomerica", by the 4th century Roman poet Quintus Smyrnaeus. In that original version, the serpents are sent by Athena who, as you'll remember from our reading of the Iliad, was supporting the Greek side in the Trojan war.
The Greek playwright Sophocles wrote a tragedy (now, alas, lost) telling the story of the death of Laocoon.
In Virgil's version of the story, it's Minerva who's supporting the Greeks, and she who sends the serpents, as is indicated by the fact that the serpents go into the shrine of Minerva after devouring Laocoon and his two sons. Many commentators feel that Virgil is using the death of Laocoon to fortell the fate of the entire city of Troy only a few hours later.
You have to remember that gods are major participants in the Aeneid, and they are fighting with each other. Juno and Minerva both hate the Trojans as a result of the "Golden Apple" incident, in which Paris, the Trojan prince, chose Venus (Aeneas's mother) as being the most beautiful goddess out of Venus, Juno and Minerva, and she promised him the most beautiful woman in the world (Helen) as a bribe for choosing her. Goddesses don't like losing, and Juno and Minerva hate the entire Trojan race as the result of being spurned by Paris.