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Old 09-24-2012, 09:45 AM   #46
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I think I read this in the Introduction to my translation (or maybe it was in Alberto Manguel's Homer's The Iliad and The Odyssey), that Virgil pretty much put all the responsibility for the major actions on the deities, whereas the humans still had some responsibility in Homer's works. I've read the first five books in The Aeneid, and this really stands out to me so far. The humans are pretty low in initiative (except where the negative traits like greed or pride are involved), and seem to be nothing more than pawns, whether dutiful or roguish. I wonder if this was a prevailing view of the time, or if Virgil just uses it to bolster the idea of Rome's divine inception?
That's very interesting; I hadn't noticed but now that you mention it I can see it. Well, except for Dido's suicide, which "wasn't what the Fates had intended" even though the gods did cause her all-consuming passion. But for Aeneas, yes, certainly, especially his willingness to stick around Carthage for so long and then dump Dido and leave the moment he's told to.

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...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...
Ah, thanks; I should've known that it was yet another older myth added in.

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I wondered about the artwork, though I don't think the actual fall of Troy was depicted was it? - just some scenes of parts of the story. My feeling is that the telescoping of time was just artistic licence on Virgil's part, in order to give an historic reason for the enmity between Rome and Carthage.

What did startle me on reading Book Four was that Dido came across as positively unhinged. "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned" I know, but for someone who supposedly loved Aeneas, she is extraordinarily vengeful. As soon as Mercury tells Aeneas that he must go, he knows Dido will be enraged, rather than distressed:

"... What can he dare say now
to the queen in all her fury and win her over?" (349-350)

And then when he is asleep on his ship, he dreams that someone like Mercury warns him:

"... That woman spawns her plots,
mulling over some desperate outrage in her heart" (702-3)

It seems to me that Virgil is excusing Aeneas' treatment of Dido by portraying her as someone positively dangerous from whom he needs to get away. However, given that he was ordered to go by Jupiter, the only reason for her portrayal has to be to explain the enmity between Carthage and Rome.

It's a long way from the beautiful, grief-filled lament "When I am laid in earth" from Purcell's "Dido and Aeneas".
I think I tend towards agreeing with you that the "time traveling" was more artistic license, though the writer of these annotations is certainly trying to convince me otherwise! He does give some other good evidence, such as, when Dido first starts wandering around madly after learning Aeneas will leave, Virgil describes Carthage as disappearing around her for a moment, which the annotation writer equates to Dido herself traveling through time and seeing the eventual fall of Carthage in her madness. It is interesting though to think how Virgil used Dido herself to represent the entire history of Carthage, with her death foreshadowing the death of Carthage itself.

I also think it's interesting how sympathetic Virgil is to Dido. He wants to use this whole section to foreshadow why the Romans and Carthage fought yet he seems taken in by Dido's story himself and can't help making her tragic and sympathetic to the point that it makes his argument for why Rome eventually fights against Carthage less convincing; one comes away more with the sense that Carthage itself has a tragic and undeserved fate. Perhaps that's what Virgil really felt anyway but couldn't write explicitly.

Dido is a fascinating character though. To survive all of what she did prior, to escape and found a city in a foreign hostile land and be its leader, and then to go mad over this and commit suicide. Really quite a life.
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Old 09-24-2012, 05:42 PM   #47
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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.
I can definitely see Virgil's attempt to mirror the Iliad and the Odyssey in the Aeneid. To me that seems to be the only point of Book V, Aeneas staging athletic competitions at a memorial service for Anchises as did Achilles for the funeral of Patroclus in the Iliad. I see no other reason for this book in the Aeneid as it does nothing to further the story. All it reveals is that the Trojans do not mind poor sportsmanship and are more inclined to award prizes based on popularity and handsome appearance than on performance. There is the bit about the Trojan women attempting to burn all the Trojan ships to force the men to abandon plans for future travel and conquest in Italy in favor of just staying in the comfortable situation they find themselves in Sicily. Or is this a device Virgil includes to explain the presence of [future] cities occupied by Romans prior to the expansion of the Roman Republic to Sicily?

Virgil does seem to actually start following the Odyssey in Book VI though in that Aeneas journeys to the underworld to speak with his dead father and receive prophecies about the future as did Ulysses in the Odyssey. I found it interesting that the underworld is divided into Elysium and Tartarus, essentially corresponding to heaven and hell, respectively, in Abrahamic religions, and that Aeneas encounters his father Anchises in Elysium and Agamemnon in Tartarus. Definitely a Trojan point of view there?

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I also think it's interesting how sympathetic Virgil is to Dido. He wants to use this whole section to foreshadow why the Romans and Carthage fought yet he seems taken in by Dido's story himself and can't help making her tragic and sympathetic to the point that it makes his argument for why Rome eventually fights against Carthage less convincing; one comes away more with the sense that Carthage itself has a tragic and undeserved fate. Perhaps that's what Virgil really felt anyway but couldn't write explicitly.

Dido is a fascinating character though. To survive all of what she did prior, to escape and found a city in a foreign hostile land and be its leader, and then to go mad over this and commit suicide. Really quite a life.

I also found the portrayal of Queen Dido as a neurotic who becomes unhinged at being abandoned by Aeneas a bit odd. Her history depicts a competent and tough lady who overcomes the treachery of her brother, including the murder of her first husband Sychaeus (who the Aeneid reveals remains the true love of her life), and founds the successful city of Carthage. It is made clear as well though that Queen Dido had before the arrival of Aeneas put off aggressive suitors among the rulers of local Libyan tribes. Having first succumbed to Aeneas and then been abandoned by him she fears that such advances will be renewed with vigor that can't be resisted so this contributes also to here thoughts of suicide?
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Old 09-24-2012, 05:53 PM   #48
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...

I also found the portrayal of Queen Dido as a neurotic who becomes unhinged at being abandoned by Aeneas a bit odd. Her history depicts a competent and tough lady who overcomes the treachery of her brother, including the murder of her first husband Sychaeus (who the Aeneid reveals remains the true love of her life), and founds the successful city of Carthage. It is made clear as well though that Queen Dido had before the arrival of Aeneas put off aggressive suitors among the rulers of local Libyan tribes. Having first succumbed to Aeneas and then been abandoned by him she fears that such advances will be renewed with vigor that can't be resisted so this contributes also to here thoughts of suicide?
I suppose we have to put it all down to the gods' interference once again, given that Juno wanted to make it happen to stop Aeneas from going to Italy, and Venus was rather smug about the idea - she clearly knew she could get the whole thing off the rails in due course.

They were a pretty tough lot of gods to have around. The things humans saddle themselves with!
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Old 09-24-2012, 06:09 PM   #49
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It is made clear as well though that Queen Dido had before the arrival of Aeneas put off aggressive suitors among the rulers of local Libyan tribes. Having first succumbed to Aeneas and then been abandoned by him she fears that such advances will be renewed with vigor that can't be resisted so this contributes also to here thoughts of suicide?
I read that as Dido wouldn't be able to take the moral high ground any longer; that the public nature of her affair with Aeneas meant she'd be viewed as tainted. She'd be bargaining from a weaker position than before.

The games, while a time-killer, cracked me up. So much cheating and poor sportsmanship!
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Old 09-24-2012, 06:41 PM   #50
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You would think that as a queen, Dido could do as she pleased, but I suppose it was the usual double standard in operation.

I am a bit behind where I should be, and am just part way through the funeral games. I keep wondering how large the ships must be to have all those goodies stowed away ready to give as gifts and prizes. They seem to have everything but the proverbial kitchen sink!
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Old 09-28-2012, 11:07 AM   #51
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I finished! A bit early, but I still have a long introduction to read (which I saved for after).

I think my favourite little segment from the Aeneid may be Nisus, Euryalus and Euryalus' mother. So tragic!

I'll save what else I may have to say until Monday.

Last edited by sun surfer; 09-29-2012 at 09:08 AM. Reason: misspelling...how did i not catch that when i first wrote it? :p
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Old 09-29-2012, 08:07 AM   #52
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I finished! A bit early, but I still have a long introduction to read (which I saved for after).
I feel so bad, I am still on book 1 - too much to catch up with. Still, very much enjoying the discussion!
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Old 09-29-2012, 12:21 PM   #53
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I was really enjoying it until Book 6 (the visit to the underworld). That kind of put the brakes on my enthusiasm, but I'm determined to finish it this weekend. It helps to know that sun surfer found her(?) favourite part further in the story yet.
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Old 09-29-2012, 12:32 PM   #54
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I was really enjoying it until Book 6 (the visit to the underworld). That kind of put the brakes on my enthusiasm, but I'm determined to finish it this weekend. It helps to know that sun surfer found her(?) favourite part further in the story yet.
Book 6 is the heart of the Aeneid, thematically as well as positionally. It's arguably the most important book in the Aeneid. Before book 6, Aeneas is fleeing from Troy; after book 6, he's working towards the foundation of what will become Rome. Everything changes with book 6.

Most modern readers enjoy the first half of the Aeneid more than the second half, but the opposite was true in the ancient world: the first 6 books were considered to be good, but the second 6 books the true work of genius.
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Old 09-29-2012, 02:28 PM   #55
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Book 6 is the heart of the Aeneid, thematically as well as positionally. It's arguably the most important book in the Aeneid. Before book 6, Aeneas is fleeing from Troy; after book 6, he's working towards the foundation of what will become Rome. Everything changes with book 6.

Most modern readers enjoy the first half of the Aeneid more than the second half, but the opposite was true in the ancient world: the first 6 books were considered to be good, but the second 6 books the true work of genius.
It may be the pivot point, but I don't see what was so important about the visit. Future Roman successes are foretold, but they would have happened anyway even without the foretelling. Maybe I was too bored and missed the crucial bits, but I don't remember anything in that Book that was necessary to the rest of the story. Maybe someone else here can enlighten me.
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Old 10-01-2012, 10:14 PM   #56
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I have just finished and like others, I found the final books a hard slog. I felt I was wading through rivers of blood and some of the descriptions were pretty gruesome. At the same time, I didn't get the sense of its being violence for its own sake, as some (many?) films seem to be these days, for example. In Book 12, lines 584-9, Virgil says (Fagles translation):

"Now what god can unfold for me so many terrors?
Who can make a song of slaughter in all its forms -
the deaths of captains down the entire field,
dealt now by Turnus, now by Aeneas, kill for kill?
Did it please you so, great Jove, to see the world at war,
the peoples clash that would later live in everlasting peace?"

I found Fagles' Translator's Postscript very interesting. For example, in terms of the two voices - "the public 'official' voice of imperial triumph ... and the muted, intimate voice of loss and suffering". (page 398)

And given our earlier discussion about things such as the scenes from the Trojan War that Aeneas sees in Carthage, and also the scenes of later events in Roman history on Aeneas' shield, on page 391 there is a comment about this and Virgil's use of the historic present through the poem. I liked Fagles' reference to T S Eliot's "Burnt Norton" which fits the situation perfectly:

"Time present and time past
are both perhaps present in time future,
and time future contained in time past."

All in all, a thought-provoking experience to have read this extraordinary work, even if not as polished as Virgil would have liked it to be. We are indebted to Augustus for saving it from being destroyed.

Thanks for encouraging us to take the journey, issybird.
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Old 10-02-2012, 08:31 PM   #57
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I finished it last night, but unlike others, I found the second half to be thrilling. It must be a guy thing. I don't usually go in for war fiction, but I found the characterizations to make the action more natural. As literature, I especially liked Virgil's use of similes throughout the book. They made the descriptions more succinct as well as poetic.
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