Why Vergil? A Collection of Interpretations

Why Vergil? A Collection of Interpretations

Why Vergil? A Collection of Interpretations

Why Vergil? A Collection of Interpretations


Stephanie Quinn

Why Vergil? Though people have been asking the question for a long time, it is an especially crucial one now, in the world the way it is, in the late 1990s in the United States. This book offers both an answer to the question and a way to think about it, especially in reference to the Aeneid, Vergil’s epic poem. Since the Aeneid was written 2,000 years ago, at the end of the Roman Republic and beginning of the Roman Empire, in the time of Caesar Augustus, I am in fact also inquiring about the durability and reliability of art.

The “world the way it is” or “the way things are,” translates part of what may be the Aeneid’s most famous phrase — lacrimae rerum, the tears of things, of the world, of reality (Aeneid 1.462). The duty to learn what one should cry for —what deserves our tears —is the subject of Aeneas’ heroic lesson, the mission of his epic journey. This collection of scholarly essays on Vergil’s ancient poetry and on the twentiethcentury literature influenced by it situates Vergil’s works and influence within academic and public issues that concern us today, in the world the way it is.

I offer my response to the question, why Vergil, in the Introduction and Conclusion to this volume. In the Introduction, I describe a cumulative answer to the question of the book’s title as it is progressively developed by the contents of the collection. In the Conclusion, I explain why I, a university administrator and teacher, read Vergil’s works and urge others to do so as well.

This Preface to the collection maps its individual contents and explains how they can be used by teachers, students, and general readers. My hope for the anthology is that it will serve several audiences. One audience is teachers and students who are reading Vergil’s Aeneid in Latin and presumably by choice, but who are also reading it most probably in small snippets and slowly, perhaps arduously at first, and for whom therefore the pleasure and meaning of the whole may be elusive. One of the contributors to this volume recalls falling in love with Vergil on first reading parts of the Aeneid in a high school Latin class. So did 1.1 hope this volume will help those who are teaching Vergil now to inspire in today’s high school and college Latin students an attachment to Vergil’s words similar to the one my first Latin teacher, Mr. Irving Kizner, to whom this book is dedicated, inspired in me. The book aims to teach and to help teachers and learners. Although it is not a traditional teachers’ guide for the Advanced Placement examination in Vergil, the contents frequently reflect the AP syllabus.

Another audience is teachers and students of the Aeneid in translation. These students may be undergraduates who find themselves reading Vergil perhaps unexpectedly or perhaps reluctantly (for example in my literature courses to fulfill graduation requirements in science or business). For these students, answers to the “Why Vergil” question such as “Because we at this university have decided you should” or “I, the professor in this class, say so,” no longer suffice, if they ever did.

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