Virgil [70-19 B.C.E.], Aeneid  [19 B.C.E.] Book I

        Book I of Virgil's Aeneid, should send you scrambling for your copy of Homer's Odyssey.  Virgil intends his readers to notice his borrowings and transformations of his predecessor poet(s).  Aeneas was well-known to the Greek world in the Homeric literature and in art, where a single iconic scene most often is portrayed, his escape from Troy with his crippled father on his back.  Later images add layers of detail, including his wife, Creusa, who walks separately, his son, Ascanius, whom he leads by the hand, and his household gods, which he is said to have carried along with his father from the burning city.  Though Aeneas makes no appearance in the Odyssey, his deeds and things he witnesses often correspond to things Odysseus does or witnesses.  The Iliad contains many passages in which Aeneas plays a role, though for the first nineteen books, he is usually a minor warrior the poet uses to send messages, to save a fallen Trojan's armor, etc.  By far the most significant thing Aeneas does in the Iliad is in Book XX, when he fights Achilles and almost is killed by him.  Neptune's speech, before the god saves Aeneas, is the most important link Homer and Virgil:

        "Aeneas would then have struck Achilles as he was springing towards him, either on the helmet, or on the shield that covered him, and Achilles would have closed with him and despatched him with his sword, had not Neptune lord of the earthquake been quick to mark, and said forthwith to the immortals, "Alas, I am sorry for great Aeneas, who will now go down to the house of Hades, vanquished by the son of Peleus. Fool that he was to give ear to the counsel of Apollo. Apollo will never save him from destruction. Why should this man suffer when he is guiltless, to no purpose, and in another's quarrel? Has he not at all times offered acceptable sacrifice to the gods that dwell in heaven? Let us then snatch him from death's jaws, lest the son of Saturn be angry should Achilles slay him. It is fated, moreover, that he should escape, and that the race of Dardanus, whom Jove loved above all the sons born to him of mortal women, shall not perish utterly without seed or sign. For now indeed has Jove hated the blood of Priam, while Aeneas shall reign over the Trojans, he and his children's children that shall be born hereafter." (Click here to read the whole bookClick here to see a Web page that excerpts and links to this and other scattered passages Virgil would have known in which Aeneas plays a role in the Iliad.)

        As you read, notice Virgil's combative engagement with the Greek ethos or social/ethical context of the Homeric poems.  He does not merely borrow material because he cannot imagine his own.  Previously he has published several collections of poems (the Eclogues and Bucolics) that owe little or nothing to Greek originals.  By tradition, composing under Caesar Augustus' command, he has openly criticized the foundational values which the Homeric poets praised, and he elevates a new set of Roman values with which he replaces them.  Many of the actions are the same: ships sail, storms destroy them, men and women make love and quarrel, men (and women!) fight wars, and above all, gods intervene in mortal affairs.  But the reasons why these things happen, in almost all cases, are significantly different in Virgil, and the difference is intended to show readers what Virgil (and Augustus, apparently) believe to be a Roman world view.  This text has, for scholars of Roman culture, some of the same disputed but anchoring character of the Torah for Jewish culture, the Bible for Christian culture, the Qu'ran for Islamic culture, and (of course) the Iliad and Odyssey were for Greek culture.

Study Questions

1)  How does Virgil's invocation of the muse differ from the   Homeric singer's invocation in The Odyssey?  Pay close attention to the speaker's verbs, and to what he's asking the Muse.

2)  How does Rome's historic relationship with Carthage before Virgil's day color his representation of Carthage's abilities in   warfare?  Any reasonably accurate, "encyclopedia"-type resource will tell the same basic story of the two cities' competition for dominance of the Mediterranean region.

3)  How does Virgil's attitude toward the gods differ from that  of  the Homeric singer‑of‑tales in the opening of his work?

4)  How does Virgil use Aeneas' lament in the storm to establish   Virgil's authority to control the Homeric material?  For a start,  who expresses similar sentiments in The Odyssey, and how do their  attitudes toward heroism situate Aeneas as the kind of hero he is?

5)  How does Virgil's extended simile when Poseidon stops the   storm reflect his audience's day‑to‑day reality, much as the   Homeric poet used his audience's knowledge of the world in his   comparison of Odysseus in the leaves to an ember in the ashes of   a traveler's fire at nearly the same place in that narrative?

6)  How would you compare Aeneas' special skills as a commander with those of Odysseus? 

7)  Virgil's hero also has a goddess who intervenes on his behalf  in the councils of the gods‑‑who is she, and how does her  intervention differ symbolically from the divine intervention  which frees Odysseus from Kalypso?  How does Virgil use the gods'  omniscience to mingle the Roman present and future with the  Homeric Trojan past?  What other ways does Virgil manipulate time  to enforce comparisons, apparent cause and effect, etc.?  As a "hider" or "delayer" of the hero, Kalypso might also be compared with Dido for their relative status, power, attractiveness to the hero's motivations, and other qualities.  Think about Virgil's Dido as an attempt to solve a thorny problem the poet had encountered in the mythos that he apparently did not think he could, or should, change.

8)  What is the last thing Aeneas sees before he sees Dido, in   what context does he see it, and why did Virgil plan it that way?   

9)  To what scenes in The Odyssey is Virgil specifically  referring  in the scene when Aeneas first speaks to Dido?  How do  the scenes'  outcomes differ and why? 

10)  How would you express Venus' strategy for seducing Dido in   psychological terms?

11)  How do the songs of Iopas differ from those of Phemios and   Demodokos, and whose song does his resemble?