4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
I sing of a great story,
This review is from: The Aeneid (Paperback)
Roman society was enamoured of Greek culture -- many of the best 'Roman' things were Greek; the major gods were derivative of the Greek pantheon; philosophy, literature, science, political ideals, architecture -- all this was adopted from the Greeks. It makes sense that, at the point of their ascendancy in the world, they would long for an epic history similar to the Homeric legends; the Iliad and the Odyssey, written some 500 years after the actual events they depict, tell of the heroism of the Greeks in their battle against Troy (Ilium). The Aeneid, written by Vergil 700 years after Homer, at the commission of Augustus (himself in the process of consolidating his authority over Rome), turns the heroic victory of the much-admired Greeks on its head by postulating a survivor from Troy, Aeneas, who undergoes as journey akin to the Odyssey, even further afield.
Vergil constructs Aeneas, a very minor character in the Iliad, as the princely survivor and pilgrim from Troy, on a journey through the Mediterranean in search of a new home. According to Fitzgerald, who wrote a brief postscript to the poem, Vergil created a Homeric hero set in a Homeric age, purposefully following the Iliad and Odyssey as if they were formula, in the way that many a Hollywood director follows the formulaic pattern of past successful films. Vergil did not create the Trojan legend of Roman origins, but his poem solidified the notion in popular and scholarly sentiment.
Vergil sets the seeds for future animosity between Carthage and Rome in the Aeneid, too -- the curse of queen Dido on the descendants of Aeneas of never-ending strife played into then-recent recollections of war in the Roman mind. Books I through VI are much more studied than VII through XII, but the whole of the Aeneid is a spectacular tale.
Books I through VI show Aeneas on the journey, and a failed love affair with Queen Dido. Aeneas is shipwrecked, and Dido (also an outcast from her homeland, setting out to found Carthage) gets Aeneas to tell her his story, in which he recasts the tale of the Trojan War and his own journey in terms that will lead to Rome. Gods and goddesses factor in here - Jupiter (the Roman Zeus) is protecting Aeneas, but Juno (the Roman Hera) favours Carthage, and is the one who caused the storm to shipwreck Aeneas near Dido so that he might be thwarted in his plan to found Rome. There is jealousy and rage because Aeneas eventually has to leave; Dido dies in a dramatic fashion, but not before her soul being given a blessed release by the favoured gods.
The most dramatic part of the story over, the reader settles into other action that, while interesting, is somewhat pale in comparison to the first half.
The Aeneid is a fascinating text, one of the greatest epics of the ancient world; it takes up the task of the Iliad/Odyssey cycle and 'updates', if you will, the story line into the Roman era. Pharr's book helps the reader to work with it in its original language, easily and methodically, with only a minimum of Latin training (one year is probably sufficient) required for engagement.
Vergil died before he could complete the story. He wished it to be burned; fortunately, Augustus had other ideas. Still, there are incomplete lines and thoughts, and occasional conflicts in the storyline that one assumes might have been worked out in the end, had more editing time been available. Despite these, the Aeneid remains a masterpiece.