The Aeneid: History’s Most Epic Poem
Updated: Oct 4, 2022
By Nina Patel '23
Despite being slightly outdated, Virgil’s The Aeneid is a classic must-read in the world of Latin poetry. In his epic exploration of violence, perseverance, and discovery, Virgil attacks controversial topics, such as man-eating, two-headed serpents and large-scale feuds caused by golden apples. Following the famed hero Aeneas on his journey to found Troy, The Aeneid prompts readers to ask life’s big questions, such as, “Is Cerberus one dog with three heads, or three dogs with one body?”
Virgil’s greatest strength lies in his character development. Throughout the epic, we see Aeneas grow through his relationships with other characters, especially Dido, his ex-wife who he abandoned in Carthage after denying the fact that they were ever married. Aeneas’ initial actions display great immaturity, as he attempts to sneak an entire fleet of ships off the island while she sleeps to avoid confrontation. However, during their accidental encounter in the underworld a few books later, he handles the situation with great poise, exclaiming, “I’m not the cause of your death!” and attempting to chase her through the underworld.
While Virgil’s fundamental plot-building skills are some of the best Ancient Rome has to offer, he has a tendency to go off on minor tangents, introducing each new character by describing their entire life story in a single run-on sentence. While this technique is certainly informative, it tends to take away from the story at hand, allowing the reader to forget about Aeneas entirely and become wholly invested in the lives of each minuscule side character.
Virgil also has a habit of having characters recount entire events in extensive stretches of dialogue which last so long it is easy to forget that someone is speaking. Some readers may find this stylistic decision aggravating, as the event being explained has often already been described with a nearly identical passage earlier in the poem. However, Virgil’s frequent repetition may prove helpful for the more forgetful reader, who needs a friendly reminder of exactly what made Juno so angry or of every person who died in Troy. Rather than calling his characters by their actual names, Virgil shakes things up by referring to each character in four or five different ways throughout the epic. Virgil’s nicknames for his characters are typically built around their ancestry and place of birth, often using multiple adjectives and nouns with irregular endings. This creates a fun challenge for the reader as they are forced to recall the most famous stories and myths that surround each character in order to piece together a one-word name from a sea of loose adjectives. Despite the mild annoyance this may cause, Virgil’s Aeneid is an overall hit, conveying a realistic and relatable story with language that is fun and easy to read.