Study Guide for Vergil's Aeneid

by Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Temple University, with sections adapted from Jim O'Hara, UNC Chapel Hill

As you read Vergil, try to notice which scenes or characters have been adapted from which part of Homer, and similarly for Apollonius' influence.
Your Mandelbaum trans. has more verses than the original; the numbers atthe side of the page are his verses; at the top of the page are the line numbers in the Latin. On this sheet I use M's numbers.

The Aeneid tells the story of how a band of refugees from Troy found a new civilization in Italy which leads to the Roman empire. Vergil, a highly learned poet, draws on the full range of mythological and literary traditions to represent this process. Books 1-6 recall (and transform) the Odyssey, while 7-12 the Iliad.

Concentrate on Books 1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 12.

Books 1-3:


In Book 1, what "is" Juno? What is her role; with what principles/ideas is she associated? Are these gods "real"? Notice anything in Book 1 that involves control of anger/violence/disorder.

Cf. Aeneas' speech at 1.276ff with Jupiter's at 1.357ff. What is the purpose of each speech? Who is the audience?
What is Aeneas like? What kind of hero? What is he doing when you first see him? Vergil invites us to see Aeneas as Odysseus, often in situations but in profoundly different ways. Aeneas has a mission stated in the proem and announced by Jupiter to Venus. Fighting against this mission is Juno, still angry at the Trojans. Is Aeneas up to the challenge?

After meeting his mother, Aeneas arrives at Carthage to find, like Odysseus, that he has become a legend, represented here in heroic murals. What odyssean characters does Dido resemble?

What themes and images are prominent in Book 2 (the Fall of Troy)? Why does Troy fall?
Note the Greek treachery, Trojan gullibility and the fate of Laocoon.
What does Aeneas want to do as Troy falls? Why can't he?
How is Aeneas' wife Creusa lost? Note his devotion to his family. How is A. like Hector?
What does Aeneas want to do in Book 3? Why does Vergil have him visit the "Toy Troy" at 3.446ff.?

Books 4-6:

Book 4 is one section where Apollonius is an important influence. If this section is somehow modeled on Book 3 of the Argononautica, then how does this knowledge affect your reading of Aeneas?

Be prepared to discuss the following views of Dido at some length.

What evidence in the text or what arguments can be used to support the following views of what's going on in Aeneid 4?

  • Dido is responsible for her own misfortune. She is too emotional, and lacks self-control; her death, though regrettable, is a warning against the dangers of excessive passion.
  • Dido is a helpless victim of divine interference, poisoned by Cupid, conspired against by Juno and Venus, ignored by Jupiter.
  • Vergil's depiction of Aeneas' mission as incompatible with personal happiness for him and personal happiness (and perhaps life) for Dido implies criticism of the values of Augustan Rome.
  • Aeneas is a jerk. Book 4 is designed to decrease the reader's sympathy for him.
  • Aeneas' actions in Book 4 are a model for men of his time to serve the state (or the community) rather than personal goals (cf. Sallust). For Aeneas to leave Dido is his greatest act of heroism, or pietas.
  • Vergil sees women as a threat to the male's proper devotion to the political (cf. Carol Gilligan, In a Different Voice).
  • Vergil sees women as victims and views them and other powerless or defeated characters with a sympathy that outweighs his admiration for the strong and powerful
  • Vergil does not depict the departure of Aeneas as a choice; rather he depicts a world where misunderstanding, confusion, and betrayal are unavoidable.
  • Aeneas should have stayed.
  • We should not encourage young men to read Aeneid 4 because of its implication that women are mainly an obstacle to men doing what they should.
  • Arguments about the ideas and value behind Book 4 miss the point: it's basically a tragic love story that's exciting and pleasurable to read.

4.274ff How does Iarbas, Dido's rejected suitor, characterize Aeneas when he prays to Jupiter? Why does Vergil have him say this?
Compare Dido's curse for Aeneas to Jupiter's prophecy in Book 1, and what Anchises says in the underworld in Book 6.
The funeral games in Book 5 may seem a little slow; it's OK to skim the boat race.

Book 6:

What does Aeneas learn about the future in the underworld.
How is Aeneas' katabasis similar to and different from Odysseus'
What impact does Dido's snub of Aeneas have on you and him? Does it remind you of anything?
What is Anchises' message for Aeneas? How does history "work" for Rome? What does Anchises say are Rome's "arts"?
The Marcellus whose death is lamented near the end of Book 6 is the nephew and heir of Augustus, Vergil's patron. What is the impact of the lamentation for his death here?
At the end of the book, why does Aeneas exit throught the gate of false dream or false shades?

Books 7-9:

How does the war in Italy start, and who's at fault?
What is Turnus like? How is he introduced? Is he admirable, sympathetic? What happens to him in the Allecto scene, and will he be responsible for his own actions? What is Italy like before the arrival of Aeneas? Look both at what Vergil says, and what characters (Latinus, Evander) say. How is Italy's past like its future? What do Latinus and Evander say about the age of Saturn, and what came after it?
The end of Book 7 is a longish list, in which only the first couple and last couple of figures will be significant. Pay attention when Aeneas or Turnus interprets omens. What is Vergil doing?
When Aeneas visits Evander, he's on the future site of what?
What is the point of the story about Hercules and Cacus in Book 8?
Book 8 will end with a description of Aeneas' shield, on which is depicted another version of the Roman future. How easy is it to tell the good guys from bad guys in 1) the Hercules-Cacus story 2) the shield 3) the rest of the poem?
What is the reader's reaction to the Nisus and Euryalus story in the middle of Book 9?
What is the point of Numanus' speech at 9.798ff.(M's numbers)? What does he think of the Trojans, and why does Vergil have him say this?

Books 10-12:

In Books 7-12, drawing upon both your extensive knowledge of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, and what the characters themselves say, try to figure out what characters in this war are reprising roles from Homer: Who plays the role of Greeks, Trojans, Paris, Helen, Priam, Hector, Patroclus, Achilles? Do the roles ever change?
In Book 10, notice how and why Turnus kills Pallas, and how Aeneas reacts, and how Aeneas kills Lausus. How are Aeneas and Turnus alike or different?

What happens in this poem to characters about your age? Why?

What's carved on Pallas' belt? In what two scenes is this mentioned?
What does Aeneas say to his son Ascanius in Book 12 lines 586ff. (his only direct words to him quoted in the poem)?
What are we to think of what happens to Mezentius at the end of Book 10 and Camilla at the end of 11? Are these sympathetic characters, or not?
What takes place in the agreement between Jupiter and Juno near the end of Book 12? Is this what we expected? Compare this conversation to that between Jupiter and Venus in 1. Who will be the ancestors of the Roman readers of the poem? In what proportion? How might this be a good thing, or a bad thing?

What is happening to the main characters during this book?
What function does Juturna serve?
End of the poem: how does Aeneas respond to Turnus' final request? Why does he then do what he does? Should he? Think about:what Anchises said in the underworld,

  • what kind of person Turnus is,
  • what Turnus did to Pallas,
  • what Evander wants,
  • whether Aeneas is supposed to be a different type of hero,
  • whether this will put an end to the violence, or bring more,
  • what Juno would want him to do,
  • what this means for Vergil's day.

What does Vergil think of his society, of its history, of its strengths and weaknesses?