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Barron's Booknotes-The Aeneid by Virgil-Free Book Summary
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REFERENCE

THE CRITICS

THE PRICE OF SUCCESS

If, then, the Aeneid is a story of success, it is also a story of what success costs: the cost to the land, the cost in lives-and it is characteristic of Virgil that we should remember not the victors but the defeated, Camilla, Nisus and Euryalus, Pallas, Lausus, Turnus, even Mezentius... -and, finally, the cost to Aeneas himself. He is reborn, to be sure, as the ideal Roman incarnate, but by this very fact he becomes increasingly isolated from any human contact. He loses his wife, his father, even his nurse Caieta; the only human relationship he is allowed is with his son, and that seems less personal than dynastic. Steele Commager, ed., "Introduction" to Virgil, Collection of Critical Essays, 1966

Unlike Homer's heroes, the figure of Aeneas simultaneously comprises past, present, and future.... In the Aeneid we see for the first time the tragedy of man suffering from historical fate. The hero is never allowed to belong completely to the moment. If and when, as in Carthage, he seems to be caught up in the moment, a god reminds him of his duty. Viktor Poschl, The Art of Vergil, 1962


THE AENEID AS THE STORY OF ROME

The real subject of the Aeneid is not Aeneas... it is Rome and the glories of her empire, seen as the romanticist sees the great past. The first title given it was The Deeds of the Roman People. Aeneas is important because he carries Rome's destiny; he is to be her founder by the high decrees of fate. Edith Hamilton, The Roman Way, 1960

Virgil owed his immediate acceptance as the prince of Latin poets, and still owes his place among the supreme poets of the world, not merely to his insight into the life of man and nature, his majesty and tenderness, and the melodious perfection of his verse. Over and above all these, he was the interpreter, we may even call him the creator, of a great national ideal. That ideal was at once political, social and religious. The supremacy of Rome took in his hands the aspect of an ordinance of Providence, towards which an previous history had been leading up under divine guidance. It meant the establishment of an empire to which no limit of time or space was set, and in which the human race would find ordered peace, settled government, material prosperity, the reign of law and the commonwealth of freedom. J. W. Mackail, Virgil and His Meaning To The World of Today, 1963

Each detail of the Aeneid is drenched with symbolism and... it must be read at several levels. But the symbolism of the sum is simple. An inevitable civil war-all the participants were Italians, all ancestors of the Romans-had happily come to its period. All had fought well and, according to their best fights, justly. All bitterness and all passion was now laid at rest, and all could now join hands as comrades and together walk to meet the shining future. Moses Hadas, A History of Latin Literature, 1952

THE TRIUMPH OF ORDER OVER DISORDER

The struggle and final victory of order-this subduing of the demonic which is the basic theme of the poem, appears and reappears in many variations. The demonic appears in history as civil or foreign war, in the soul as passion, and in nature as death and destruction. Jupiter, Aeneas, and Augustus are its conquerors, while Juno, Dido, Turnus, and Antony are its conquered representatives. The contrast between Jupiter's powerful composure and Juno's confused passion reappears in the contrast between Aeneas and Dido and between Aeneas and Turnus. Viktor Poschl, The Art of Vergil, 1962

THE CHARACTERS AND THEIR DRAMA

In the first place Aeneas is a hero in search of his soul. The Aeneid is very much of a spiritual quest, which makes it unique in ancient literature. Only Virgil admits of the possibility that a character can change, grow and develop. Aeneas in the early books is unsure of himself, always seeking instructions from his father or from the gods before committing himself to any course of action. In the underworld he sees a panorama of the future history of Rome down to the time of Augustus, and that vision gives him the self-confidence to act on his own initiative. R. M. Ogilvie, Roman Literature and Society, 1980

Virgil could do a great love story. Aeneas and Dido are not only the hero and heroine of our very first romance, they are great lovers, too, the woman the greater, as through the ages the poets have loved to portray her. She is 'Pierced by love's cruel shaft, feeding the wound with her life-blood and wasting under a hidden fire'; if she is with him 'she begins to speak and stops midway in the utterance'; he speaks and 'she hangs upon his lips.' When the night comes and the banquet hall is empty, she steals there from her bed to find the couch he had lain on and stretch herself upon it. Edith Hamilton, The Roman Way, 1960

Vergil, I think, has caught a truth in this representation of angry, murderous Aeneas. Killing Turnus is a victory for the cause, but not for Aeneas. In this final struggle... Aeneas can only be the loser. Triumphant he should never be; angry, I feel that I understand him better. It is his final assertion against (enslavement to?) the destiny that has almost dehumanized him, the final proof by Vergil that "pius Aeneas" (pious Aeneas) is not passive, but more tragic than Dido and Turnus together. William S. Anderson, The Art of the Aeneid, 1969


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