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Barron's Booknotes-The Aeneid by Virgil-Free Book Summary
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POINT OF VIEW

Except for Books II and III where Aeneas tells his own story, the Aeneid is told from the point of view of an all-knowing narrator. This narrator is of course Virgil, but he pretends to get all his information from a goddess called the Muse. (If you look at the very beginning of the Aeneid, you'll see where Virgil asks the Muse for help in telling the story.) By following this convention of epic poetry, Virgil implies that his poem is accurate and objective. For example, when he says that Jupiter predicts that the Romans will rule forever, we're supposed to believe that he's right because the Muse told him it was true.

In reality the Aeneid is a very subjective poem. For one, you already know that one of the things Virgil wanted to do was to praise Augustus and the Roman Empire. That's not objective at all, but reflects Virgil's own beliefs. Even more importantly, Virgil has an unusual ability to get inside his characters' heads. For example, even though Dido seems to be described from the outside, you know exactly how she feels and what she's thinking about. The result is that you feel that you know her, and you feel very sorry for her.


Perhaps most important is Virgil's combination of an objective and subjective point of view that allows you to see Aeneas' character both from the outside and from the inside. For example, in Book IV when Aeneas leaves Dido, you see him almost from Dido's point of view. He hardly says anything to defend himself, and you get very little indication of his own feelings. This may make you dislike Aeneas a bit, but it also makes you see how much of his own feelings must be sacrificed in order to found Rome. By using this "outside" point of view, Virgil suggests that in some ways Aeneas' feelings don't matter that much. The important thing is that he does his duty.

But if that were the only side of Aeneas you see, he wouldn't be very interesting. So Virgil sometimes shows you things from Aeneas' "inside" point of view. For example, in Book I, when he is hit by Juno's storm and cries out that he wishes he had died in Troy, you learn what an unhappy and unwilling traveler he is at this point. Books II and III are told almost entirely from Aeneas' point of view and that's where you learn the most about him. If you think about it, you'll notice that much of the story in the early books of the Aeneid is told from Aeneas' point of view.

This becomes less and less true later on. This shift in point of view reflects the change in Aeneas himself from an uncertain exile to a great leader. Virgil seems to be saying that as Aeneas learns to accept his great fate, he has fewer internal conflicts that you as the reader need to see. It may also be that as Aeneas becomes a great leader he can't afford to let whatever conflicts he does have show. As a result, this shift in point of view makes Aeneas into more of a myth-a model of a great leader-and less of an ordinary person.


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