Saturday, January 16, 2010

Review: The Aeneid by Vergil

Title: The Aeneid

Author: Vergil

Pages: 379

Challenges: Read 'n' Review challenge

Summary (very, very basic):

The Aeneid was Latin poet Vergil's answer to the Greek poet Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. It tells the story of how Aeneas, a refugee from a destroyed Troy, founded the city of Rome.

Vergil based much of the structure of his epic, which is in two main parts -- The journey to Italy and the wars in Italy -- on Homer's two epics. He used long-told legends of Aeneas for the majority of his storyline.

As Aeneas and the other refugees set out for Italy, they are at the mercy of a wrathful Juno, who is upset that Aeneas' mother, Venus, was chosen by Paris as chief among the goddesses, and that the fleeing Trojans are destined to destroy Carthage, her favorite city.

Half of the epic, Aeneas is telling, at a banquet, of the Trojans' journey to Italy from the point in time where Homer's Iliad left off.

My Two Cents:

The Aeneid is one of those staples of an education in Latin with which I was acquainted during my high school and college years, but only from a translation standpoint. In other words, I would be assigned to translate passages from The Aeneid as homework, but never really read the epic in its entirety until now.

I love poetry, but epic poetry is something I've never quite been able to wrap my head around. I think it's because, with epic poetry, it's so much about the story and so little (In many cases) about the symbolism that I run into trouble. The conventions of the poetic form make it difficult to follow what would be, in prose, a normal sentence over several lines. By the time I get to the end of a "sentence" in an epic, I've lost the entire meaning of the thought because of the twists and turns of the poetic dialogue.

So, basically, this was a bit of a slog for me.

Keeping in mind that, in both Greek and Roman mythology, the gods and goddesses are petty and vengeful and really, really like to indulge their whims, I really thought Juno was spot-on. She was upset that Paris chose Venus as the best goddess (That's such a reductive way to state this, but there you have it), so she decided to take it out on Aeneas. However, she didn't really take into account that Aeneas would be protected by some other gods and goddesses, so she just ended up killing a bunch of people close to Aeneas without ever really being able to touch him. I guess that's the "Hurting those closest to your target hurts more than actually hurting your target" theory of vengeance.

Aeneas is one of those characters that ran kind of hot and cold with me. At times, he seemed to be the heroic, noble founder of Rome from legends. At other times, he was kind of boring. For being the title character of this epic, I found him pretty blah.

I did find myself, during battle scenes, grimacing quite often whenever someone was slashed/impaled/beheaded/what-have-you, as Vergil was quite fond of the term "gore" and all that went with it ("Thick gore," "thick black gore," "clotted gore" -- You get the idea). Much more effective than a lengthy description of blood spurting several feet from a decapitated trunk, if you ask me.

Overall, I liked The Aeneid well enough to see why it's a classic in higher education. However, for those of you squeamish of epic poetry, I'd suggest finding either a prose version (I'm sure they exist somewhere) or a version that offers summaries of each of the books.

My rating: 7/10


Kathmeista said...

Great review! I read this back in high school (all of it - one of my proudest teenaged moments and yes, I was a major nerd!) and mostly enjoyed it - I strongly remember hating Aeneas intensely for abandoning Dido like he did - but honestly I can't remember much else.

Kathmeista said...

PS I have an award for you:

Greg Zimmerman said...

Now, this is what you like to see when you tune into the book blog community early on a Monday morning. I enjoy reading reviews like this about staples of the canon much, much more than the latest "paranormal urban romance" book. :)

Great blog, too - I found you via Kath's awards. I'm a follower now!


Michelle said...

@Kath - Thanks! I'll put up my post soon!

@Greg - Thanks to you, too! I usually prefer the Classics, but I tend to read more contemporary fiction and young adult books at work, since I have to recommend them to the patrons at my library.

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