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FORM AND STRUCTURE
The Aeneid is an epic poem written in 12 books. An epic poem is a long, narrative poem about the adventures of a great hero. Virgil's Aeneid is modeled in part on the great Greek epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey, by Homer. The Iliad describes the exploits of Achilles and other Greek heroes in the Trojan War (the same war that forced Aeneas to leave Troy and that is described in Book II of the Aeneid). The Odyssey describes how Ulysses (or Odysseus in Greek) wandered for many years, trying to return home after the Trojan War.
The first six books of the Aeneid parallel the Odyssey because they describe Aeneas' search for a home. Aeneas even stops in many of the same places that Ulysses did. There is an important difference, however. Ulysses was trying to find his old home, while Aeneas is searching for a new home.
The second six books parallel the Iliad. They describe the war in Italy just as the Iliad describes the Trojan War. Again, there are many parallels. For example, the Trojans are besieged inside their fort in Italy just as they were trapped inside Troy. But again there is an important difference. The Iliad describes how the Trojans lost the war and Troy fell. In the Aeneid the Trojans win the war in Italy and get the chance to build a new city.
Virgil imitates many scenes from the Iliad. and the Odyssey in his epic, but he always changes them in significant ways so that they illustrate his own Roman themes. One of the most important differences between Homer's epics and the Aeneid is that the Aeneid is a patriotic poem while the Iliad and the Odyssey are poems about individuals and their adventures. Homer emphasizes heroes, not countries. But one of Virgil's main points is to show how Rome became the city it is, and to show what kind of person makes a good Roman citizen and leader.
You can also think about the Aeneid as being divided into three parts. The first four books take place with Dido in Carthage, including a flashback to the fall of Troy. The second four books (V-VIII) describe the Trojans' arrival in Italy and Aeneas' trip to the underworld where he sees the future of Rome. The last four books (IX-XII) describe the war in Italy and Aeneas' triumph over Turnus.
You can also consider the books of the Aeneid in pairs. The odd-numbered books tend to be less dramatic (for example, Book III in which the Trojans' wanderings are described or Book V where the funeral games for Anchises are shown). The even-numbered books reach more emotional peaks of tragedy or glory (for example, the death of Dido in Book IV, and Aeneas' vision of the future in Book VI).