Discussion Questions: The Aeneid
What ho, Challengers! The next two weeks we’ll be wrestling our way through the Aeneid. The discussion post will be up next Thursday, June 17, and, as per usual, all participants will be entered to win a Penguin Clothbound Classic. But for now, here are a few starting points for our discussions next Thursday:
1. First of all, let’s look at the style of the Aeneid. In modern translations, it comes in both prose and poetry form. Which did you choose and do you think the format had any effect on your reaction to the content?
2. Looking at the Aeneid as a primary source, how seriously can be take it as historic truth? Virgil was pretty obviously creating a mythology for Rome and we know he was heavily influenced by Roman politics of the day (did you catch the million and one references to Aeneas’ son being called “Iulus,” aka the founder of the Emperor Augustus’ familial house?). Do these factors mean we should discount his work’s merit as a historical document or do they just mean the Aeneid may just tell us more about Rome in the 1st century BCE than ancient Italy?
3. Let’s definitely talk connections to Homer while we’re at it! It’s very tempting to view the Aeneid as a sequel to Homer’s Illiad—do you think that’s what Virgil intended? Was he legitimizing Rome’s own history by incorporating Greece’s?
4. What did you think about Dido? And how did her character/role in the story change your perception of Aeneas?
5. Lastly, let’s take a look at the supernatural elements that run rampant in this story, particularly the role of the gods, various visions, ghosts, and nymphs. So much of what occurs in the story happens because of the politics of the gods (for just one example, see Book V, Lines 1050-1060) rather than because of free will. How did this affect your opinion of the mortal and immortal characters in the story? And do you think it minimized the accomplishments of Aeneas or illustrated how important he was to be so often helped and hampered by the divine?
And every week I’m going to ask this same question because I’m usually itching to know and commiserate: What was your favorite part of the book? What was your least favorite?
Hopefully you can trudge through the lengthy battles of the second half and I’ll meet you back here next Thursday to discuss! Good luck!