The Aeneid by Virgil
|Book Name:||The Aeneid|
|Formatt:||Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / eBook|
|Release Date:||between 29 and 19 BC|
The Aeneid is The Iliad’s lesser-known younger brother. It was written by the Roman poet Virgil between 29 and 19 BC, 800 years after Homer. The story begins directly after the events of the Trojan War, following Aeneas, son of Venus, through his escape from fallen Troy to his arrival in Lavinium. This is Virgil’s Roman creation myth and it proudly proclaims the civilization’s manifest destiny and favor of the gods. It is also the great poet’s magnum opus and he traveled throughout the Empire perfecting it until, during the final edits, he caught a fever and died.
The great mystery is that Virgil’s death wish was for the manuscript to be burned. This was months after he read passages to the Emperor Augustus, the grandnephew of Julius Caesar. We will never know whether it was Virgil’s ego or a dislike of Augustus that spurred him to wish The Aeneid destroyed and forgotten. We have enjoyed The Aeneid for thousands of years only by Augustus’ order to publish the manuscript, against Virgil’s will.
“I come here from the home of the dread Furies, my sisters, and in my hands I carry war and death.”
The Aeneid is a quintessential fantasy, as sure as The Odyssey and The Iliad before it. The classic world that Virgil writes is inherently familiar to the Western world. Here, heroes are beautiful and brave and the gods, fickle and cruel, coercing mortals and setting brave men to war. Translated into prose, this reads as a drama, an opera or piece of theatre compared to the blockbuster thrillers written today.
Aeneas and his larger-than-life kin dream of founding a city, a home to replace their fallen Troy. Violence and sorrow harry their journey, painting their destinies in blood, and only the valorous and strong in battle, blessed by the gods, are worthy of being named. Theirs is the only story worth telling, and it is told through violence and grand speeches of raw emotion.
“When he stood face to face with Camilla and she drove the long pine shaft of her spear through his unprotected chest, he vomited rivers of blood and champed the gory earth with his teeth, twisting himself round his wound as he died.”
The common men and women bend to the whims of these great men and gods like grass under rain, too weak to shape events for themselves. Yet, even Aeneas and his foe Turnus are human puppets, caught up in a divine plan beyond their control and understanding. Their enemies and allies are chosen for them, their paths eerily traced as if they were trapped in a masochist’s D&D game. Death stalks them wearing the face of Mars, listening to their speeches of courage and cries to the gods, swinging its scythe with a smile. But while these characters, these enviable paragons of honor, easily win our sympathy, only the most daring reader would spend an hour with one.
“Lie there now, you fearsome warrior. Your good mother will not bury you in the earth or burden your body with the family tomb. You will be left for the wild birds, or thrown into the sea to be carried away by the waves, and the hungry fish will come and lick your wounds.”
For all their virtue, these heroes are not kind. Years of yearning and tragedy hardened their sadness into anger and soured their entitlement to greed. Lorn veterans quick to kill, following a wandering leader – what kingdom would such scarred men build, and would it be as great as Troy, or salvaged from a vision as thin and lost as their humanity? The reader hopes that Aeneas remembers Troy and its proud towers as they were before Achilles put them to flame, but it is unclear if he can relinquish the shield and spear for quiet, wise rule.
The Aeneid is a great castle in an old part of the world, wearing the shadows of gleaming skyscrapers jutting up far from the other side of a hill. Its walls are tall and strong, and if you stayed there a while, you’d feel something old and comforting, half-forgotten but often seen in the curves and angles of the buildings you call home.