Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Virgil's Aeneid: Last Thoughts

I'm still thinking about the Aeneid.

The ending of the book has left my mind reeling.  As I looked into interpretations of the final scene, I found that almost all traditional literary critics seem to emphasize the piety of Aeneas (meaning his sense of responsibility to fate and his homeland, rather than religious piety) rather than his passion, even at the end of the book.  It is Turnus that is portrayed as the out-of-control person.

I was not completely convinced.

1. Perhaps the killing of Turnus is Virgil's articulation that responsibility, not emotional self-control, is more important.  When one's duty conflicts with passion (as in the case with Dido), passion is wrong.  When duty dovetails with one's passions, there is nothing wrong with it.  That is, is this really a story about passion versus stoicism--or just a story about living up to your fated role, no matter what (in this case, of founding the Roman Empire)?

2. What does Aeneas do next?  Does he regret killing Turnus in anger?  And does he return the body to Turnus's family as the young man requests, allowing him to have an honorable death?  If Virgil is assuming that Aeneas thought what he did was both "pious" (killing Turnus) and compassionate (sending the body back), does that change how we feel?

3. Perhaps the reason this book has remained so relevant is because there is room for the reader to interpret in a variety of ways.  The text makes room for interpretations which Virgil might never have considered.

4. Or perhaps Virgil intended to teach us that people are complex and that what is "right" (or even what is desired) is not always easy to ascertain.

What do you think?


  1. I haven't read this one yet, but I plan to read it in 2012. :)

  2. In Grand Strategies: Literature, Statecraft, and World Order, Charles Hill posits that literature can be used to understand not just the human condition but statecraft as well (not that that is literature’s sole reading—just one of many). He has a lot to say about the Aeneid and most fits in with the traditional interpretation of civic duty versus the heroic code. His conclusion about the final scenes: “No matter how far humanity may go in seeking to foster the arts of civilization and the ideals of civic peace, there will come times when acts of war are required in order to defend world order and sustain the peace of civilized peoples.” Obviously it can be interpreted in other ways, but given Virgil's audience that interpretation seems helpful.

  3. Just checking-in... where've ya been?

  4. Hi-I am taking the liberty of stopping by to personally invite you to once again participate in Irish Short Story Week, now in its second year. The event begins on March 12 and I have decided to devote the rest of the month to it. I have a link on my resources page to a wonderful podcast of story by Elizabeth Bowen, "The Jungle" as well as links to the web pages of many Irish Women authors. I hope your time and interests will permit you to share your insights with us.


    Mel u


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