Review 2017: The Aeneid

When I choose books for my Classics Club list, I try to pick some from very early times. This time I realized that although I knew of many of the stories of Achilles and Odysseus before reading The Iliad and The Odyssey, I knew nothing about that other great classic hero, Aeneus. So, I put The Aeneid on my list.

Regarding the translation, I had heard good things about the Fagles translations of several of these epics, and that was the one described on the library web page when I reserved the book. The translation I got, however, was by Sarah Ruden. Apparently, whoever picked this book off the shelves sees no difference (assuming they actually had the Fagles translation), which is odd for a librarian. I didn’t look into the reviews of this translator’s works, just read it, so I have no idea how that might have affected my enjoyment of the book. Suffice it to say that this version was easy to read and went relatively quickly.

Aeneus and his men are refugees from the fall of Troy who are looking for a place to settle. Prophecies have informed him that he will settle on the west coast of what is now Italy and found a great empire (Rome), but he is a long time getting there. Seven years is mentioned at one point.

In the beginning of the book, the Trojans’ ships are blown off course in a violent storm. Aeneus’s ship is separated from his father’s, but they all end up in Carthage. There Aeneus dabbles with Queen Dido and seriously considers staying, but a seer tells him to go to Italy, so he does, leaving some of his people behind. Poor Queen Dido stabs herself from sorrow. I don’t think he even bothers to say goodbye. What a guy!

I found the first half of the book fairly entertaining. There is a really creepy description of a visit to an oracle, maddened by her visions (and hydrogen sulfide gas, I presume), and not too much tedious listing. That changes with the departure for Italy, as Virgil names each man who comes along, including for some a brief history of their deeds. I envisioned Virgil making sure he has included the names of the ancestors of his potential patrons.

After that, as my husband and I say about ancient stories, “There’s a whole lot of smiting going on” as Aeneus and his men arrive in Italy and proceed to evict the inhabitants. And lots of it is gory. The gore didn’t bother me but the tedium of those described battles did.

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