Thursday, March 29, 2012

Farewell, Aeneas

Helen as Dido
For those of you not following my reading updates in the column at the right, we just passed a small but momentous milestone: I finally finished the Aeneid, approximately 13 months after I began reading it. While I am thrilled to have finished it, and of course I am vastly more cultured and classically read and et and cetera and am relishing my new found appreciation for all things Virgilian--I am mostly glad to be done. I am not one of those who subscribe to the idea of cutting your losses when it comes to books, as you can see. I hold on to the bitter end, and I take my enjoyment from the sense of liberation that follows. Ahhhh.

My workshop comments for Virgil: wow! You have lots of vivid imagery and great characters, but consider spending less time on the battlefield. Also, I didn't really believe that Dido would kill herself over the bland-o Aeneas. Try rewriting from Dido's point of view.

Ha ha, I kid. Although I did get tired of being constantly introduced to new characters and their distinguished ancestors only to have them sliced in half in the next line.

Common misconceptions about the Aeneid which I am now qualified to dispel:

1. The Aeneid is the Roman Odyssey.

No. The Aeneid just borrows heavily from the Odyssey. Aeneas is a completely different character than Odysseus. He's much duller, for one, and he fought on the opposite team. Also, his wife is dead. If Virgil can be accused of plagiarizing any of Homer's works, it's the Iliad. They both have similar bodycounts.

2. Dido is a tragic heroine.

No. Dido is just crazy, in a woman-written-by-a-man kind of way.

3. Virgil is prissy, derivative classic lit; blind oral tradition Homer is the real thing.

Actually, this one might be true. I'm not sure that oral tradition isn't overrated, though.

4. Virgil's poetic vision was compromised because he was writing for The Man.

Again, probably true. I like to think that Dido could have had a better role if she wasn't supposed to prove that Octavian was right to pursue war against Cleopatra. Also, surely those endless lists of now-you've-met-them, now-they're-dead warriors owe something to Virgil's attempt to write all the important Romans into the poem, yearbook style.

5. The Aeneid is much better if you read it in high school or college.

True. Manifestly.


Alien in CH said...

The Ancients teacher at Mars Hill, where I used to teach, agreed with you that the Aeneid is kind of boring. He didn't love the Odyssey, either, but he was a big Illiad fan.

Gramps said...

The Aeneid is poetry, the O and I are stories; the beauty of the Aeneid is Virgil’s language, the power of O and I is the whole panoply of story-telling elements marshaled up by someone(s) named for convenience “Homer” . . . and “H” didn’t have to write a national epic either. Those stories translate pretty well but Virgil’s poetry is probably better in the original, no matter how good the translation.