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The Aeneid

Virgil
Main Ideas

Key Facts

Main Ideas Key Facts

full title  The Aeneid

author  Virgil

type of work  Epic poem

genre  Heroic epic; mythological story

language  Latin

time and place written  Around 20 B.C., probably in Rome and in the north of Italy, and perhaps in Greece

date of first publication  Virgil died in 19 B.C., before he finished revising the Aeneid; it was published after his death.

narrator  The poet Virgil, although Aeneas himself assumes the narration in Books II and III, when he gives a retrospective account of his adventures

point of view  When Virgil controls the narration, the point of view includes the actions of the gods as well as the human story; Aeneas, in his storytelling, does not have this access to the gods’ perspective and relates events only from his own perspective.

tone  When treating the glory of Rome, the epic is solemn and honorific. When Virgil depicts the victims of history—those who suffered in the course of the founding of Rome, like Dido—his tone is tragic and sympathetic.

tense  Usually past, sometimes switching to present to increase the immediacy of a scene. Virgil also uses the future tense, for prophecy and prediction.

setting (time)  In the aftermath of the Trojan War, about 1000 B.C.

setting (place)  The Mediterranean, including the north coast of Asia Minor, Carthage, and Italy

protagonist  Aeneas

major conflict  Aeneas is fated to travel from the ruins of Troy to Italy, where he will establish a race that will lead to the founding of Rome. Juno, harboring feelings of vengeance against the Trojans, impedes Aeneas’s mission by inciting a romance between Aeneas and Dido and then a war between the Trojans and the Latins, causing suffering for the hero, his fleet, and many whom they encounter on the way.

rising action  The epic has two parts: Aeneas’s wanderings in Books I–VI, and his struggle to establish himself in Latium in Books VII–XII. In the first half of the epic, Aeneas tells the story of the siege of Troy and his escape, causing Dido to love him. In the second half of the epic, King Latinus offers the hand of his daughter, Lavinia, to Aeneas in marriage, and Juno responds by inciting rage in the hearts of Queen Amata and Turnus and then opening the Gates of War.

climax  In the first half of the epic, Venus and Juno contrive to isolate Dido and Aeneas in a cave during a hunting trip, and there the two lovers consummate their affair. In the second half of the epic, Turnus kills Pallas, inciting the lethal vengeance of Aeneas.

falling action  In the first half of the epic, Aeneas leaves Carthage for Italy at Mercury’s prodding, causing the heartbroken Dido to kill herself. In the second half, the war between the Trojans and the Latins comes down to a duel between Aeneas and Turnus. Aeneas wins, and, after considering sparing his enemy’s life, he decides to kill Turnus to avenge Pallas’s death.

themes  The primacy of fate; the suffering of wanderers; the glory of Rome

motifs  Prophecies and predictions; founding a new city; vengeance

symbols  Flames; the golden bough; the Gates of War; the Trojan hearth gods; weather

foreshadowing  The events of the epic narrative are already history to the Roman audience. The many dreams and prophecies of various characters reveal a veiled future to mortals and are the epic’s strongest form of foreshadowing. Also, when Turnus kills Pallas, Virgil foreshadows Turnus’s own death.