Aeneid

Aeneid

Aeneid

Aeneid

Synopsis

The Aeneid is Virgil's Masterpiece. His epic poem recounts the story of Rome's legendary origins from the ashes of Troy and proclaims her destiny of world dominion. This optimistic vision is accompanied by an undertow of sadness at the price that must be paid in human suffering to secure Rome's future greatness. The tension between the public voice of celebration and the tragic private voice is given full expression both in the doomed love of Dido and Aeneas, and in the fateful clash between the Trojan leader and the Italian hero, Turnus.

Excerpt

The Aeneid is an epic poem about the destruction of civilizations and their resurrections. Its insistence on the human capacity to hope, even when—especially when—that hope is tested on the brink of ruin, lends the poem what many have felt to be its universality and has enabled it to exercise its hold on the imagination of the West for just over twenty centuries. Yet Virgil's epic is no simple tale of hope and triumph. Most epics concern themselves with celebrating the defeat of the enemies who had threatened doom to the community for which the epic poet composes his victory poem, and the Aeneid, in this regard, resembles other specimens of its genre. But in constructing his celebration of Rome's empire, Virgil never loses sight of the huge costs of the victory he is praising and never forgets that most winners were once losers. Impressed by this steady emphasis on suffering and loss, some readers of the poem feel that its representations of imperial glory tend to be overshadowed by an opposing tragic vision. What fuels the poem, however, is neither triumphalism nor defeatism but its pervasive tension between exaltation and lament. This severe dialectic—a counterpoint of defeat and triumph, abjection and salvation, death and rebirth—is the Aeneid's mainspring. The steady equipoise of this double vision arms the Aeneid with its unique power to comfort as well as disturb readers even today.

The enduring appeal of this epic over the past two millennia is easy to appreciate. Spend an hour or so leafing through the pages of The Times Atlas of World History and you will quickly be reminded of how, from the earliest days to the present, the boundaries of the tribes and nations of Europe (and elsewhere) are continually and sometimes radically erased, renegotiated, redrawn— by invasion, by civil war, by “barbaric” incursions. The peoples of Europe have always understood what it means to be displaced and exiled, to be conquered, to be an immigrant or an émigré, to lose one's homeland and to search, desperately, for a new one. To such readers down the centuries, the closing verses of Book 2—where Aeneas, the epic's hero, prepares to lead the survivors of burning Troy to safety—have always spoken with an incomparable and poignant clarity:

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