this book at Amazon.com!
Q.: How come Vergil's name is spelled with an "e" on the
website (and on Butler Library), but with an "i" (in the
first syllable) on the cover of our book?
A.: In Latin, Vergil's name is Publius Vergilius
Maro. The "e" in his first syllable seems to have been
switched to an "i" (in English) around the 5th century C.E.,
probably to make it look more like "Virgin," as in, the
Virgin Mary. Other theories about that "i" include:
the Latin word for a virgin or maiden is: virgo,
virginis (f., III), and Vergil's friends nicknamed him this
in teasing reference to his bashful behavior;
the Latin word for a wand, particularly a magical
one, is virga, virgae (f., I), and people after Vergil's
death nicknamed him this in awed reference to his presumed magical
powers. (In the Middle Ages, some claimed that he could even resurrect
the dead, although this claim would be more applicable to Dante,
as we shall see anon.)
For a brief biography of Vergil, click
At the time the Aeneid was written, Rome had just emerged
from literally hundreds of years of war--foreign and civil--into an
era of peace and prosperity that generations of Romans had never known.
Some important details of the historical circumstances in which the
Aeneid was written are supplied below.
see a timeline showing Roman, Greek and Judaeo-Christian history in
ii] Augustus Caesar
The decisive battle in the civil wars that had plagued Rome since 133
B.C.E. was the Battle of Actium, in which the fleet of Octavian
Caesar (Julius Caesar's great-nephew) and Agrippa
defeated that of Anthony
and Cleopatra. When that happened, in 31 B.C.E., the era of the
Roman Republic came to an end and Octavian became the first Roman
Emperor. In 27 B.C.E. he was given the honorary name "Augustus"
by the Senate.
The following description of Augustus's rule is taken from encyclopedia.com:
"After the naval battle off
Actium, which Agrippa won over Antony and Cleopatra, Octavian controlled
all Roman territories. Although he began to reform the city and the
provinces, he never returned control of the state back to the people.
He did, however, give the impression
that Rome had gone from a military dictatorship to constitutional rule.
He established no court, and he considered himself, at least publicly,
not the ruler, but rather the first citizen of the republic. The senate
delighted to honor him: in 29 B.C. he was made imperator [Lat.,
"commander"; from it is derived emperor], in 28 B.C.
princeps ["leader"; from it is derived prince],
in 27 B.C. augustus ["august, reverend"], in 12 B.C.
pontifex maximus ["high priest"], and a month of the
calendar (Sextilis) was renamed Augustus (August) in his honor.
Augustus studied the plans of Caesar
for colonization throughout the empire. In economic policy, he supported
business and industry. He made taxation more equitable and had general
censuses taken. Knowing that the roads were the arteries of the empire,
he lavished expenditures on them. He built a new forum, beautified the
streets, improved housing conditions, and set up adequate police and
fire protection. He was munificent to arts and letters, and he was a
close friend of Maecenas and a patron of Vergil, Ovid, Livy, and Horace.
He was succeeded by his stepson Tiberius."
iii] A New Golden Age
The "Golden Age" that ensued under Augustus's rule--which
was characterised by peace, stability, a massive building program, and
a flourishing in the arts--was supposed to recall the original Golden
Age of Saturn, which Evander describes at Aeneid VIII: 415-431
(p. 240). The idea of a "Golden Age," in which life had been
simple and effortless (cf. Eden, in Judaeo-Christian mythology), comes
down to us from the Greek poet Hesiod,
a contemporary of Homer. In his Works and Days, Hesiod developed
a mythological history of humankind, divided into five periods:
the Golden Age, beneficently ruled by Saturn (in
Greek, Kronos, or Time--cf. English "chronology")
a period of serenity, peace, and eternal spring;
the Silver Age, ruled by Jupiter (Zeus),
less happy, but with luxury prevailing;
the Bronze Age, a period of strife;
the Heroic Age of the Trojan War;
the Iron Age, Hesiod's present, when justice and
piety had vanished.
Hesiod's conception of a world and race of humans "fallen"
from an irrecoverable state of grace was as compelling and influential
in Greco-Roman culture as the similar Eden story is in Judaeo-Christian
culture. As you read, note how Vergil uses Golden Age imagery in the Aeneid
to unite the span of human (or, at least, Roman) history under an arc
of both loss and hope. Why is it important that
Evander lives right on the spot where Saturn used to rule?
iv] by the way...
Saturnalia, the ancient Roman festival celebrated Dec. 17-23,
commemorated the "Golden Age" of Saturn's
rule. Gifts were exchanged in remembrance of the bounty Saturn had once
upon a time bestowed upon the Roman people. In
the 3rd century A.D., the Roman emperor Aurelian consolidated the festival
into a single day, Dec. 25. Shortly thereafter, the early Christian
church fathers set the festival commemorating the birth of Jesus for
the same date, which had the advantages of (a) already being a widely
and officially observed festival, and (b) coinciding with the winter
solstice, when the days start to get longer again.
Interestingly, the Church placed John the Baptist's
birth on the Summer Solstice (decreasing sunlight) and Christ's birth
on the Winter Solstice (increasing sunlight)--symbolizing the Baptist's
statement, in the Gospel according to John (Jn.
3:30) that "He [Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease."
The Aeneid is fiendishly complex, so I've prepared a book-by-book
list of study questions
for Books I-VI (which I also handed out in class). NB: it
is mandatory to look over the study questions before posting
to the online discussion!
Don't forget that I also asked you to think about the following:
--Aeneas's relationship to the past (you can thinik about this in relation
to Odysseus "nostalgia," which helps drive him to achieve
--that scene on pp. 20-21 where Aeneas "reads" the temple
of Juno at Carthage.