Reading and Studying: Virgil’s The Aeneid: Book 1

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I’m currently reading Virgil’s The Aeneid for the 2017 Classics Challenge that I’m doing. The Aeneid is one of the major classics in the western canon of literature.

One of the main things I remember about Greek and Roman mythology from when I used to read it a lot was that Hera (Greek)/Juno (Roman) often was fired up about one thing or another. I don’t blame her with such an unfaithful husband, but the way Juno goes about doing something about it, in my opinion, is quite awful considering that she often causes destruction and anguish to Jupiter’s paramours and their children because of her jealous rages. She is no different here in Book 1 of Virgil’s Aeneid.

But she heard a race of men, sprung of Trojan blood,

Would one day topple down her Tyrian stronghold,

Breed an arrogant people ruling far and wide,

Proud in battle, destined to plunder Libya.

So the Fates were spinning out the future…

This was Juno’s fear

And the goddess never forgot the old campaign

That she had waged at Troy for her beloved Argos. (Book 1: Lines 23-30)

There’s a lot of reasons on why Juno hates Troy. In these lines, Juno feared for her people and didn’t want them to be plundered by an arrogant people. Then, she brings up the Trojan war, which her rage goes even further back from. In the lines following 30, the narrator mentions Juno’s resentment having festered into a rage that also includes the slight against her done by Paris when he chose Venus over her. Juno couldn’t handle the slight to her beauty, nor would she tolerate Trojans coming in to destroy her dear Tyrians. So she let loose her rage, even bribing the west wind Aeolus who was scolded by Neptune for having done so. With another of the Olympian gods putting a stop to her, Juno’s troublemaking for the Trojans in Book 1 ends here, and Venus’s plotting begins to stop Juno from ruining the prophecy given by Jupiter and the Fates.

Aeneas is feeling down despite the hope-laced words he says to his men. “Brave words. / Sick with mounting cares he assumes a look of hope / And keeps his anguish buried in his heart.” (Book 1: Lines 244-246). As leader of what’s left of his people after having endured the wrath of Juno, Aeneas cannot afford to look weak when everyone else is already feeling down. However, later, when Aeneas and Achates are in Dido’s grove, Aeneas breaks down in groans and cries at seeing depictions of the tragedy of Troy. The last of Aeneas’s laments is about Hector: “And Hector – / Three times Achilles has hauled him round the walls of Troy / And now he’s selling his lifeless body off for gold” (Book 1: Lines 583-585). It’s agony as Aeneas basically relives the tragedy of his people. His agony is moving as the verses describe his tears and groaning as he goes over the tragedy of Troy that he has seen decorating Dido’s grove.

After losing many of his people, Aeneas feels a great love for his son Ascanius. Aeneas left behind his son at his ships because he didn’t know of the dangers he would face on this new land. “Aeneas – a father’s love would give the man no rest – / Quickly sends Achates down to the ships to take / The news to Ascanius, bring him back to Carthage. / All his paternal care is focused on his son” (Book 1: Lines 766-769). Aeneas is a father who wants his young son nearby once he knows it’s safe where he can focus on caring for his son and heir.

In addition, you can see the blatant parallel in Aeneas and Odysseus’s journeys as both have gained the wrath of an Olympian god (Poseidon/Neptune for Odysseus) and Olympian goddess (Juno/Hera for Aeneas). There’s also the parallel of being forced to wander and suffer tragedy. In addition, seven years is used as a measurement. What I mean by that is Odysseus and Aeneas both are specified as having done something for seven years to the detriment of their journeys. In the Odyssey, Odysseus stays as Calypso’s lover for seven years. In the Aeneid, at the end of book 1, at Dido’s urging, we as readers find out that it’s been seven years since Aeneas and his men escaped from fallen Troy and forced to wander in search of a new place to build their kingdom.

The epithets in the first book was interesting to read because they described events happening in the scene such as Aeneas having the epithet of “deluded father” when Cupid is disguised as Ascanius or such in the case of foreshadowing as Dido’s epithets of “doomed” and “tragic”. I feel the epithets also add more to the characters as a way for readers to classify them easier as to what’s an important aspect about the character.

Overall, Venus’s plan is working. By Venus deciding to interfere to help with fulfilling the prophecy promised to her by her father Jupiter and the Fates that the great Romans would arise out of the bloodline of the Trojans, Venus has essentially doomed Dido. There’s also a parallel here you can extract that by Venus’s interference once again by forcing a woman to become infatuated with a Trojan, she has doomed a great queen and her people, solidifying Juno’s fear; although, Venus did have the reassurance from Jupiter that Juno, herself, will eventually come to love the Romans.

Book 1 of Virgil’s The Aeneid is off to a great start. I’m enjoying it thus far. I’ve been wanting to read The Aeneid for over a year now. I’ve only read parts of it before while I was still in university, but I hadn’t been interested in it then. I’m certainly interested in it now!

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