Virgil's Gaze: Nation and Poetry in the Aeneid

Virgil's Gaze: Nation and Poetry in the Aeneid

Virgil's Gaze: Nation and Poetry in the Aeneid

Virgil's Gaze: Nation and Poetry in the Aeneid


Virgil's Aeneid invites its reader to identify with the Roman nation whose origins and destiny it celebrates. But, as J. D. Reed argues in Virgil's Gaze, the great Roman epic satisfies this identification only indirectly--if at all. In retelling the story of Aeneas' foundational journey from Troy to Italy, Virgil defines Roman national identity only provisionally, through oppositions to other ethnic identities--especially Trojan, Carthaginian, Italian, and Greek--oppositions that shift with the shifting perspective of the narrative. Roman identity emerges as multivalent and constantly changing rather than unitary and stable. The Roman self that the poem gives us is capacious--adaptable to a universal nationality, potentially an imperial force--but empty at its heart. However, the incongruities that produce this emptiness are also what make the Aeneid endlessly readable, since they forestall a single perspective and a single notion of the Roman.

Focusing on questions of narratology, intertextuality, and ideology, Virgil's Gaze offers new readings of such major episodes as the fall of Troy, the pageant of heroes in the underworld, the death of Turnus, and the disconcertingly sensual descriptions of the slain Euryalus, Pallas, and Camilla. While advancing a highly original argument, Reed's wide-ranging study also serves as an ideal introduction to the poetics and principal themes of the Aeneid.


This book studies the way Virgil's Aeneid defines a nationality—one that the poem invites us to understand as Roman—out of a play of contrasts between nationalities. It is intended for a broad literary audience: not only specialists in Latin poetry, but anyone who has read the Aeneid at least in translation. In the bibliography, names of journals in classical studies have the standard abbreviations found in the American Journal of Archaeology. In footnotes I abbreviate a few ancient titles that I cite often: Ad(onis), Aen(eid), Georg(ics), Il(iad), Met(amorphoses), Od(yssey). A. P. means the Anthologia Palatina (the Greek Anthology, minus the Planudean Anthology). It is customary, when writing on the Aeneid, to own one's keen awareness of being unable to take into account more than a part of the immense and ever-increasing critical literature; I am no exception, and I can only hope that my references make my debts plain and ultimately permit readers to make up my inadvertent omissions.

I wrote and rewrote this book over many years, traditionally finishing a new draft toward the end of the year. What will Christmastime be without a turn through these gilt and empurpled halls? I am particularly grateful to audiences at Stanford in December 1992 and February 2001, in Atlanta in December 1994, in Dallas in December 1999, and at more job talks than I care to remember. For enlightening conversations and correspondance I owe a debt of gratitude to Fred Ahl, Alessandro Barchiesi, Will Batstone, Pamela Bleisch, Ruth Caston, Joy Connolly, Basil Dufallo, Mark Edwards, Denis Feeney Kris Fletcher, Marcus Folch, David Halperin, Brent Hannah, Albertus Horsting, Richard Janko, Geoff Maturen, James O'Hara, Hayden Pelliccia, Piero Pucci, Susan Stephens, Richard Thomas, Tobias Torgerson, Michael Wigodsky; and to the students in my undergraduate and graduate classes on the Aeneid.

Ann Arbor

December 2005 . . .

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