CPLT 324 VIRGIL QUESTIONS
Assigned: Publius Vergilius Maro. The Aeneid, from Books I-II, IV, VI, VIII, XII (1052-1134).
1. On page 1055, how does Virgil's invocation from lines 1-18 compare to Homer's invocation in The Iliad(120) and The Odyssey (225)? What is similar about the heroes and narrators? What is different?
2. On pages 1057-58, Aeneas stops to take in Carthage's artistic images of the Trojan war. Why is it appropriate that Virgil include such a "metanarratival" incident--one in which a work of art becomes the subject of a work of art? How does Aeneas' viewing of Dido's Trojan War scenes strengthen him and lend him authority? How does this incident strengthen Virgil's hand as maker of a Roman epic?
3. On pages 1060-63, Aeneas steps out of his protective cloud and meets Dido. What is similar about the two leaders' stories, and what does Dido offer Aeneas and his people? In what condition does Aeneas find her kingdom when he arrives?
4. On 1063-70, Aeneas recounts for Dido and her Court the story of Troy's fall--what contrast does Aeneas make between Trojans and Greeks as he retells the tale? In particular, how does he characterize Sinon, whom the Greeks tasked with "selling" the Trojans on the story of Greek flight and the Wooden Horse's religious value?
5. On 1070-75, the departed Hector comes to Aeneas in a dream, telling him to abandon the defense of Troy. Even so, Aeneas and his companions return to the fight. Discuss Aeneas' self-defense on his valor as a defender of Troy's territory and its ancient ways--what limitations does Virgil impose on him as an individual hero? How has Hector undercut Aeneas in his desire to go down fighting?
6. On 1076-78, Aeneas tells of Priam's being forced to witness the slaughter by Neoptolemus of his son Polites, and then knifed by the same supposed son of Achilles. How does Aeneas' narration both affirm and undercut Greek heroism? Moreover, how does it drive home the human cost of war (and empire-building like that of the Romans themselves)?
7. On 1079-85, Aeneas sees Helen and burns to kill her, but his mother Venus grants him visions that make him see the futility of clinging to Troy and sends him off to gather his family. A major characteristic of Virgil's Roman tradition is pietas (piety towards one's family and ancestors). How does the concluding selection from Book 2 rely upon that characteristic to impel the action forwards? What irony is also at work even as Aeneas acts in all piety to shepherd his family to safety? (In responding, consider Creusa's fate.)
8. On 1085-92, Dido falls in love with Aeneas after his heroic recountings, and the pair (with Juno's contrivance and Venus' strategic acquiescence) "marry" during their rain-driven encounter in a secluded cave. What are the nearly immediate consequences of this liaison for Dido? Insofar as she is to blame for her predicament, what error (by Roman standards) has the Queen committed?
9. On 1092-98, Jupiter (warned by Rumor) hears about Aeneas' tardiness, and sends Mercury to remind him of his duties. How does Mercury describe Aeneas' responsibilities? When Aeneas turns his mind to sailing for Italy, what strategy does he choose, and how does he defend himself against the charges leveled at him by Dido?
10. Again with reference to 1092-98, if Aeneas is still "heroic" in leaving Dido, what constitutes his heroism? What is the irony involved in Virgil's making him behave as he does (abandoning the woman he loves in mid-winter, unannounced)--how does Aeneas' action clash with Roman ideals of loyalty and honor?
11. On 1098-1106, the narrator describes at length Dido's "fatal madness" and her suicide. The Queen's majestic passion is clearly the center of Book 4, but in what ways does the narrator try to distance Augustan Roman readers from her? (For example, consider how Dido treats her sister Anna, and what she says about the gods.)
12. On 1106-16, describe the physical and moral structure of the Underworld through which Aeneas passes. What similarities do you find between Virgil's account and the one Homer gives in The Odyssey 11? What is the biggest difference in Virgil's account? (Consider, for example, how the two authors handle the firmness of the boundaries between the living and the dead.)
13. On 1116-25, Aeneas travels in the Elysian part of the Underworld, and his father Anchises' shade gives him a look at the future of his people--the future Roman Republic and Empire. What explanation does Anchises offer Aeneas concerning the world's creation and the reincarnation of souls?
14. Again with reference to 1116-25, examine the Roman future Anchises lays out for his son with regard to the way the speaker uses causally linked events to reveal the character of Rome rather than just its history--what qualities does Anchises emphasize in the illustrious Romans-to-be he names? What makes his Rome, as a political and military entity, so distinctive?
15. On 1125-29, Virgil offers his own variation on Homer's "Shield of Achilles" description in The Iliad 18.558ff (page 189ff in Norton World Lit. A). The technical term for such standout descriptions is ekphrasis. What vision of Rome does the shield offer Aeneas and Virgil's readers? What does it add to Anchises' comments from the Elysian Fields concerning the future?
16. If you have read the part of The Iliad (18.558ff) to which Virgil's description pays its respects, compare the two -- examine the difference between what Homer thought important to describe on the shield Hephaestus (Vulcan) made for Achilles and what Virgil considers worth representing on Aeneas' shield.
17. On 1129-34, Aeneas defeats Turnus (the Rutulian prince who leads the Latin opponents of the Trojan settlers). What heroic qualities does Aeneas show in his words and actions when he confronts Turnus? What role does Jupiter play in this episode?
Edition: Lawall, Sarah, ed. The Norton Anthology of World Literature. 2nd edition. Volumes 1ABC. New York: Norton, 2002. ISBN A = 0-393-97755-2, B = 0-393-97756-0, C = 0-393-97757-9.