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In addition to considering the book-specific questions below, it would
be good to think about the larger structural issues: how is the epic
as a whole organised? Is there evidence of ring composition, as in Homer,
and if so, how (if at all) does Vergil modify this structure? How would
you divide the work into parts? What main themes and plot concerns drive
each part? (It's a good idea to keep a set of lists at the back of your
notebook, to track themes/motifs both within and among the works we
study: for the Aeneid, you might make such lists as "fire,"
"walls," "ekphrasis," "Aeneas [mis]reading,"
"female quest victims" [see Book XI, below], etc.)
Jupiter's decision to unleash all the Olympians
parallels Zeus's in the Iliad (Bk. XXI). But with the chief
gods occupying different places within their respective universes,
how is Jupiter's decision more preplexing that Zeus's? Note carefully
what future conflicts already stand fated (l. 15-20) and what is omitted.
As Aeneas makes his entrance to battle, note his
helmet (l.374-81). What other scenes in the Aeneid
resonate with? Compare also Iliad
V:4-8 (Diomedes's helmet),
XVIII:205-14 (Achilles's helmet) and XXII:25-32 (Achilles's chest-plate).
Whose Iliadic aristeia
is evoked in the story of Pallas? Aeneas has only just met Pallas;
how then can the boy's death provoke such furor
from him? The
theme of the touching youthful victim is Vergil's; Homer showed little
interest in this particular brand of pathos. Why do you think Vergil
develops it so extensively?
- Lausus and Mezentius seem to be a variation on the same theme; why
do you think Vergil follows up a moment so important as the death of
Pallas with this doublet on the "enemy" side? How does Mezentius's
death change the way we see his character, and what new wrinkle does
Mezentius-as-father add to the death-of-son theme?
- This book seems pretty slow going compared to what surrounds it: Pallas's
funeral, the Latin war council, preparations for battle. What is the
purpose of all this delay and procedure? Why does Vergil hold up the
action this way?
- Camilla adds herself, in this book, to the impressive
list of female victims that have accrued to Aeneas's quest, starting
with Creusa. Unlike her predecessors, though, Camilla seems to be accorded
proper hero status, complete with aristeia.
What do you make of this? Is Vergil finally conferring heroic usefulness
on a female character, after extruding them from the manifest destiny
of the Trojans all this time? Or--?
Camilla's aristeia forms
a self-enclosed narrative; how would you characterise this narrative?
Is it a tragedy? How does her death fit into the set of deaths on which
Rome is to be founded? Is it related to any characteristic failing?
What effect does her death have on the battle?
Book XII, which alludes to most of the previous books and quite a few
from the Iliad as well, is obviously meant to draw things together
and round out various themes; yet it is also notorious for its abrupt
ending and lack of closure: unlike the Homeric epics, this one ends
as well as begins in medias res, and at the climax of the hero's
task (compare the Iliad and Odyssey, which each climax in
To make sense of the ending, we will need to evaluate the Turnus/Aeneas
episode closely from numerous angles: (1) the vocabulary of images (similes,
etc.) Vergil has developed throughout the work; (2) the system of values
Vergil has also been developing (the system that accounts, e.g., for Dido's
fall); (3) his system of Homeric allusions; (4) his technique of role-shifting
and role-reversal, both with reference to Homeric works and within the
Aeneid itself. With all that in mind, here are some questions you
can be pondering:
- Track Vergil's use of fire, hunting, snake and bee imagery through
the whole poem.
- Compare the simile that opens Book 12 (p.367, l.6-11: Turnus as lion)
with the one at IV:95-102 (p.97f.: Dido as doe).
- Compare the bee simile at XII: 800-807 (p.389) with those in other
- How many structural comparisons can you draw between Book XII and:
(a) Book II (e.g. Aeneas as besieged [II] vs.Aeneas as besieger [XII])?(b)
Book IV? (c) Book VI?
- How has Aeneas become like what Turnus used to be?
- How has the role of Venus changed since Book II (see esp. II:780 ff.,
- What has happened to the qualities of furor, amor, and
pietas--once so clearly identified with Juno, Venus, and Aeneas,
respectively? Are they still so easily distinguished?
- Who or what causes war in the Aeneid? What is Vergil's attitude
toward the violence of war? Does it differ from Homer's?
The Big Question, of course, is Should Aeneas have spared Turnus?
Here are a few questions you can ask to help you figure out an answer
on the Big Question:
- Is Turnus victim or aggressor here? Compare him with (a) Dido, (b)
Hektor, (c) Aeneas himself.
- How do Aeneas's feelings of responsibility for Pallas compare with
Achilles's for Patroklos? Are they merely self-indulgent (as you may,
or may not, have thought Achilles's were)?
- How does the duel between Aeneas and Turnus compare to the duel between
Achillies and Hektor?
- By Iliadic standards, would Aeneas's final act (killing Turnus) be
viewed as a spiritual victory or defeat? How about by Aeneidic standards
(going by what we've seen emerge as a standard for right behaviour over
the course of the work)?
- Would the alternative ending--pardoning Turnus--make effective storytelling?
- Is this ending anticipated, or not, in the rest of the work? Look
back at Jupiter's prophecy in Book I (pp.11ff.), Dido's prophetic curse
in Book IV (pp.117ff.), Anchises' prohecy in Book VI (pp.186ff.), the
Shield of Aeneas in Book VIII (pp.252ff.) and anywhere else that strikes
you as significantly foreshadowing the Roman destiny and offering instruction
as to the Roman character. How would these passages suggest Aeneas act
in this situation? And must Aeneas ambody all the Roman virtues in order
to advance the Roman cause?
- Some critics have contended that Aeneas, in failing here to "spare
the conquered" (VI:1154), is (like Adam with the apple) dooming
future Roman generations to a much more troubled history than would
otherwise have been their lot. But if that's the case, how do we account
for the many prophecies that have already outline the internecine quality
to be taken by Roman history? Or are these prophecies merely contingencies,
worst-case scenarios whose "activation"--and eventual solution--lie
in human choices?