Forms of Glory: Structure and Sense in Virgil's Aeneid

Forms of Glory: Structure and Sense in Virgil's Aeneid

Forms of Glory: Structure and Sense in Virgil's Aeneid

Forms of Glory: Structure and Sense in Virgil's Aeneid

Synopsis

Exploring the metaphorical world of Virgil's narrative, Hunt ranges throughout the poem viewing its part in relation to the structure of the whole as a unique aesthetic presentation. The result is penetrating application of organistic formalism to the entirety of the Aeneid and a strengthening of the bond between classical scholarship and contemporary criticism.

Excerpt

Writing an introduction to the structure of Virgil's Aeneid--one that will be helpful to the student or generally educated reader--is a tricky business, because the Aeneid is, in many respects, a tricky epic. It has a clear and, so to speak, objective three-part structure; but the basis of profluence is really subjective: the character of Aeneas--his desires and guilt, his accomplishments and sadness. One can explain in terms of Virgil's life and times--his own character as a citizen and as a poet--a good deal about why he constructed his epic as he did, but such explanation obviously fails to get inside the poem, account for the steady ambiguity and power of the poet's imagery and characterization. Again, one can explain a good deal by close commentary on Virgil's use of earlier epics--the Iliad, the Odyssey, and that bold and cynical mock-epic, Apollonios Rhodios' Argonautica. But besides the difficulty inevitably involved in any attempt at describing the exact meaning of the vastly complex originals, the critic's work must be partial and misleading in at least two ways: it leaves the reader confused about what, precisely, Virgil's innumerable borrowings imply (since the borrowed materials comment on the poem and the poem comments on the borrowings), and it leaves him confused about the degree of Virgil's originality.

For example, when Aeneas is having his affair with Dido, Virgil borrows heavily (as numerous readers have pointed out) from two sections of the Argonautica, Jason's visit to the isle of Lemnos and his later adventures with Medea. Jason, on the isle of Lemnos, wears a scarlet cape with symbolic golden figures on it, all of them suggestive of the advantage of gentleness and the civilized arts over violence--yet in the end it is by gentleness that Jason wins and later, not-at-all-gently betrays the once-violent women of Lemnos. In the same way, of course, he will still later betray the powerful witch Medea. Gentleness in a bad purpose is as bad as violence, then. Aeneas, another warrior famous for gentleness off the field, wears a similar cape of scarlet and gold in Carthage, where he has his affair with Dido- another witch. What the golden figures on Aeneas' cape are we are never told. Virgil's red-cape allusion appears in such a crowd of similar allusions that it cannot be dismissed; but what it means precisely is a mystery, and meant to be one, since Virgil could easily have mentioned the cape's . . .

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