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This Author: Virgil
This Narrator: Justin Brett, Lars Rolander
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The Aeneid by Virgil

The Aeneid

by Virgil

Title Details

Unabridged Edition
Running Time
13 Hrs. 38 Min.

With the Aeneid, the Roman poet Virgil provides his home country with a nationalistic origin grounded squarely in Homeric myth. The poem follows Aeneas, one of the few survivors of Troy’s destruction, as he leads the last of his men through a series of trials as they make their way to Italian shores. Once they reach their sacred Latium, the Roman Goddess Juno incites a war between the incoming Trojans and the local chieftains led by the Achilles-esque Turnus. A fight for national destiny ensues, and Rome is given a birth that befits its self-identified greatness.

The basic storyline gives you everything you need in an epic poem, especially if you are coming in with a background knowledge of Homer’s classics. As a primary figure, Virgil recasts the Iliad’s Hector in a new mold. As a later stand-in for the ill-fated Trojan hero, Aeneas gets a much happier ending and through his eventual victory, Hector’s bloodline is permanently embedded in what was then the most powerful nation in history. Virgil’s efforts to tie Rome with Troy don’t end there: The Aeneid's plot swaps and smashes together the Odyssey and the Iliad into something more compact and consequently, a little more propulsive. Like Odysseus, Aeneas and his men are put through a sea of obstacles on their wayward journey home, and after a mid-point journey through the underworld, they are thrust into the kind of siege warfare that mimics the give and take plot dynamics that were a hallmark of the Iliad.

On the surface you might conclude the Virgil has simply taken Homer and rewritten him 800 odd years later for a contemporary Roman audience hungry to hear an illustrious origin story. In lesser hands, yes, this story shouldn’t hold a candle to the older works. But, thankfully, Virgil is every bit the poet Homer was, and the poem’s success lies chiefly in how he overlays a familiar story with constant innovations. In contrast to the glory-hound Achilles, or the crafty Odysseus, Aeneas stands as a more dutiful figurehead swept up in fate. Though he sometimes wavers, his overwhelming sense of duty (or guilt) will invariably pull him back to the Rome-focused task at hand. The obstacles I mentioned earlier are sometimes familiar (mostly they hearken back to the Odyssey, such as when Polyphemus the blinded Cyclops comes back to wreak havoc), but when Virgil tells of Troy’s apocalyptic final hours, or introduces us to Dido and her sad love, or guides us through a pagan draft of Dante’s Hell -- this is where we see how the Aeneid stands up to its predecessor as work of sheer imaginative power.

With the case of Virgil, we see that even in antiquity, it was permissible for a writer to take cues from his literary hero in order to create a new narrative that spoke to the needs, fears and sensibilities of his audience. In this way, the Aeneid utilizes the cultural credibility of a previous story to help a new culture identify it’s own story, and it is precisely through the mechanism of storytelling that we still put the mirror up to ourselves today. Another talented Italian would use elements of the Aeneid (and even include Virgil himself as a character) to create the Divine Comedy. And we see again in Dante’s case that history’s greatest stories can be taken up continually by new authors and re-contextualized to help us understand ourselves, our country and our era.

This free audio book is available to download from Librivox.org and is translated John Dryden.

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