Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Friday, May 29, 2009

"The Aeneid" by Virgil

I'm sure you all know the story. Aeneas, a hero of Troy, escapes its sacking by the Greeks and sets sail with a group of noble refugees, guided by his mother Venus. The first half of the book covers their travels that eventually take them to Italy; the second half vividly describes the gory battle scenes that take place as the new arrivals skirmish with the previous inhabitants of the land. This is another book I thought I had read in high school, but now I'm not so sure. I am also not sure how this epic fits with the story of the twins Romulus and Remus who are also credited with founding Rome. They were briefly mentioned in this book but it was unclear as to whether they came before Aeneas, who merely later added his seed to the lineage, or if the twins were on the scene in years following Aeneas, or if they are separate and mutually exclusive myths. Either way, I thought it was appropriate that I began to read this book on my way to Rome.

As poetry, this story seemed exceedingly prolix. I would think that a message just as forceful and exalted could have been presented in a poem more the length of "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" (a long poem, to be sure, but nowhere near a 331-page epic).

When I first picked the book up, I inwardly scoffed at the glossary at the back (containing mainly the names of people and places), but as I read I found myself referring to that index multiple times. Without the glossary I would have had a bit of trouble remembering the difference between the Danaans (the Greeks) and the Dardans (the Trojans)--definitely an important distinction, but a difficult one to remember due to the similarity of their names. However, at other times, as during battle scenes, unless a key character was being discussed, I found it didn't matter much who they were talking about.

It is notable that, although I wouldn't necessarily recommend this book to others as an enjoyable read, the last few pages were downright suspenseful for me! Aeneas and his enemy Turnus were locked in single combat, and until the very last lines, I wasn't quite sure who would win!

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