Virgil, Aeneid Books II & III

        Aeneid Books II and III, begin to play the "Homer vs. NOT-Homer" game very seriously.  As Aeneas narrates Troy's fall and his first book of wanderings, he combines two types of critique: scenes Homer alludes to or describes, but retold from the Trojan point of view; and scenes Homer does not mention, often scenes that make the Greeks look immoral and savage, again seen from the Trojan point of view.  All the while, Virgil is reshaping the Greek textual tradition as it represents Aeneas' flight from Troy to answer, or at least to make un-answerable, questions you raised when reading Book I (Is Aeneas married?; What happened to his wife?; Will Dido actually become Aeneas' wife?; How can Aeneas separate himself from Dido if fate decrees that Rome and Carthage must be enemies?).  Try to keep track of the answers Virgil's text proposes, and pay close attention to circumstances in which he allows room for doubt.  Remember he seems to be in a position to control destiny, itself, because he describes events that are intended to make the Rome he inhabits come into being as the center of a world empire.  When he does not seize that full control, perhaps there are reasons he does not do so.

Click 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.)

Book II‑‑

1)  How does Sinon's lie reflect his kinship with Odysseus in an  unflattering way? 

2)  What are the key abstract qualities Laocoon represents, and how might his death be interpreted by an audience who knew what the Horse really was

3)  Why is Aeneas first aware that the Greeks have entered Troy, and why does Virgil use this method of notification?

4)  Why is Deiphobos' house the first to be consumed in flames?  (Remember your Odyssey or wait until Book 6.)  This scene provides Geoffrey Chaucer with one of his most poignant allusions to Virgil in the Troilus, where the dinner party at which Troilus first speaks to his beloved Criseide is held at Deiphobos' palace (Book II: ll. 1393 ff.).

5)  What is Aeneas' first response to the realization that the city is doomed, and how does he describe the emotions felt by him and those with him?  What does Virgil want you to feel as a result of this comparison?

6)  What role do the gods play in the night's events, as far as Aeneas has described them (e.g., re: Cassandra and the others who die at Pallas Athena's altar)?

7)  The death‑scene of Polites (Priam's youngest son) and Priam  is the first instance of a theme in the Aeneid which we have  encountered before in Greek drama.  What does Priam say to  Pyrrhus as Polites bleeds to death between them, and how does  Pyrrhus' reply suggest yet another view of warrior‑heroes (also  see Book I, #4)?  How does this sight affect Aeneas?  With Priam's death scene fresh in your mind, try rereading Percy Bysshe Shelley's, "Ozymandias."  There are many ways to read a poem, and when you are a rebellious English Romantic poet opposed to all forms of monarchical government, even Priam might not seem so sympathetic, but so does Virgil inspire even when he inspires rebels.

8)  What prompts Venus to speak to Aeneas, and how might you interpret that event allegorically?

9)  When Venus speaks to Aeneas during Troy's fall in order to  clarify his mortal vision, what does she enable him to see and  what does that mean?  That is, what is it to see with an immortal's vision, and how might this relate to what Virgil is trying to do for you?  Compare Ovid's project in Metamorphoses.

10)  How does Aeneas attempt to persuade Anchises to leave Troy, and to what previous event does he refer with particular horror?  What convinces Anchises to heed his son's plea to leave Troy,  and where else in Western culture have such signs been taken to  signify someone's great destiny?

11)  Aeneas' departure from Troy requires him to bear an unusual  burden, and to dispose the rest of his family and goods about him  in a very specific order.  What does this tableau mean,  symbolically?  (Compare Book II, #2 above.)

12)  How do you interpret Creusa's loss and Virgil's ambiguous  explanation of what happened to her?  (Also, what scenes from Greek literature is Virgil transforming here?)

Book III‑‑

1)  What does the story of Polydorus do for the political message  of this poem? 

2)  When Aeneas founds Pergamea, what does he exclaim and how does that relate to the events described in Book II?  Some thematic issues become apparent at about this time.

3)  Why is Crete the wrong place for the Trojans to settle and  how does that fit a thematic structure in this text?  (Hint: Who  ruled Crete, and what happened to him?  A comparison with Agamemnon's behavior at Aulis is possible‑‑check Hamilton or  Graves.)  How does Aeneas learn of this?

4)  What Odyssey theme might be connected to the encounter with Celaeno and the Harpies, and how does this event compare with Odysseus' behavior with similar creatures?  Why?

5)  Numerous critics have commented on the "apocalyptic" structure of The Aeneid.  See, for instance, Frank Kermode's The Sense of an Ending (N.Y.: Oxford UP, 1967), a reading of the epic that sees its action as everywhere determined by its inevitable conclusion, a position that has influenced later writers such as Anne Rehill in The Apocalypse Is Everywhere: A Popular History of America's Favorite Nightmare (N.Y.: Greenwood, 2009) 73.  (See also Michael Putnam's nuanced reply to Kermode in  Virgil's Aeneid: Interpretation and Influence [Charlotte, NC.: U North Carolina P, 1995] 25.)  That is, Virgil salts the text with predictions (supposedly made in the deep past) about things to come, things which (by the time Virgil is writing) already have come to pass.  Another apocalyptic device is allusion by means of a significant place reference to important events which later will happen there ("and Marsha forgave John at the little colonial hamlet of Appomatox").  At Leucate, Aeneas erects a shield and an inscription that has extraordinary significance when viewed from the perspective of Caesar Augustus (Octavian).  What will happen at Leucate in the years before the The Aeneid is written and how was Octavian involved?

6)  Note the meeting of Aeneas and Andromache, when she wonders  if he is a spirit.  What has she been doing just before he arrives, and how might this situate our hero?  How many times and on what sorts of occasions  do characters in The Aeneid meet entities who are not really  there?  What effect does Virgil attain by this thematic  technique?

7)  How do the predictions of Helenus differ from the implied prophecy in #5 above re: Leucate?  How do both work in The Aeneid's "apocalyptic" structure?

8)  What is the function of Achaemenides' story and upon what  model has Virgil constructed it? 

9)  What happens at Drepanum, and why does Virgil devote so little time to something which (believe me) is of such enormous consequence?