Discussion Questions

Note: line numbers are those of Mandelbaum's translation.

1. Consider the first eighteen lines of Mandelbaum's translation of the Aeneid. Is there any interpretive profit to be had from comparing them to the openings of the Iliad and the Odyssey? How does the opening of Virgil's poem set itself apart from those earlier openings, which most of his readers knew by heart? Especially, how does the opening sound out themes which are unique to the Aeneid and its age?

2. Who or what is Dido? What literary models does she incorporate, and why would that matter? Is there anything credible about Dido? In other words, is she a woman or merely a "woman"? Considering both Aeneas' character and the narrative exigencies of the story-line, why should Dido fall in love with him? Do you see anything ironic about her passion for Aeneas? Do you have a sense that their affair is doomed from the very beginning? What do you make of Aeneas' encounter with Dido in the underworld, which T. S. Eliot called "the most civilized passage in all of Western Literature"? See 1. 825-end; 4 passim; 6. 593-626.

3. What sort of a hero is Aeneas? Do you find in him any inadequacies which set him apart from, and perhaps make him compare unfavorably to, a full-blown Homeric hero? Consider especially how Aeneas portrays himself as the central character in his narrative of the fall of Troy, Book II. If Aeneas does fall short of true heroic stature, how could you account for that? Is it Aeneas himself who is a lesser man than the Homeric heroes, or is it something about the world of the Aeneid? For this one, you might look at the episode in which Aeneas fails to prevent the murder of Priam, then fails to carry out his plan to slaughter Helen -- 2. 680-840.

4. "Some critics choose to believe that Virgil had no choice but to praise the strong man; others argue that he was a bootlicking toady who knew where the stipends came from; still others believe that he acknowledged but lamented the historical necessity for Augustus" (Beye, 227-228). Based on your reading of the Aeneid, what is the right view to take of the propaganda question? Is it legitimate to value the artistic qualities of a piece of literature without reference to its content, or is that tantamount to admiring the technique with which a racist slogan has been painted on a bathroom wall? Pay particular attention to these passages: 1. 396-417; 6. 1044-1071; 8. 874-955.