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Study Questions: Virgil's Aeneid (Excerpts in handouts and in textbook):

Vocabulary: propaganda, parallelism, Roman Stoicism, meter

Introduction: Who paid (ordered?) Virgil to write The Aeneid? Why did this patron want this work written?

Lecture or Handouts: Why do some critics think The Aeneid is a propagandistic work? In what ways does it espouse typical Roman virtues?

Roman Virtues: Fortitudo (toughness), Prudentia (wisdom and planning ahead), Iustitia (Justice), Temperantia (Moderation)

Why would a Roman audience be horrified to find Aeneas falling in love with a Carthaginian or Punic queen?

Why did Rome hate Carthage so much? What was the relationship like between the old Roman Republic and the Empire of Carthage? According to legend, what did Rome do to Carthage after defeating her in the final Punic war?

What's unusual or noteworthy about Aeneas's parentage?

Why would Dido find it odd that Aeneas is setting sail in winter to leave her?

Identify the following characters:

Venus, Jove (Jupiter), Juno, Cupid, Aeneas, Creüsa. Ulysses, Iulus Ascanius [note: sometimes this character is called by the name Iulus, sometimes by the name Ascanius, but it is the same character.], Anchises, Dido, Turnus, Laocoön, Sinon, Hector, Panthus, Androgeos, Priam, Hecuba, Helen (i.e., "the Daughter of Tyndareos"), Anna, Sychaeus, Mercury, the Sibyl, Misenus, Charon, Cerberus, Minos, Sychaeus

Reading Questions:

  • [Books I: Excerpts in Textbook]
  • Compare the invocation of the muse in The Aeneid to the invocation of the muse in The Odyssey. What is similar or different in each invocation?
  • What deity in the opening passage of The Aeneid is upset with Aeneas? Why is she angry?
  • What does the poet conclude about the founding of Rome in the end of the opening section (1. 40-41)?
  • [Excerpts in Xerox Handout (1. 859-1050)]:
  • Why does Dido want Aeneas to tell him the story of how he came to Troy? (I.e., what is she "not ignorant of" that causes her to feel pity for his plight?
  • While Aeneas tells his story to Dido, what trick does "the Cytherean Goddess" (Venus) use to make sure the Carthaginians will welcome the Trojan forces? What spirit or minor god does Venus have do her dirty work?
  • To whom was Dido formerly married? What vow did she make to her husband? Why or how does that vow cause her an ethical dilemma when she starts to fall in love with Aeneas?
  • Who is Ulysses in The Aeneid? I.e., what is this guy called in Greek, and in what work have we seen him before? (Hint: you might look up his name in a guide to mythology or online to find out.)
  • What ploy does Ulysses come up with to conquer the impregnable city of Troy?
  • When Laocoön states that he fears the Greeks, even when they bring gifts, what does he mean?
  • What does Laocoön suspect about the wooden horse?
  • What does Sinon do when he comes to the gates of Troy?
  • Who appears to Aeneas in a vision warning him to flee the city?
  • What dire news does Panthus have to tell when Aeneas asks him how the battle is going?
  • What mistake does Androgeos make that costs him his life?
  • What trick does Coroebus come up with after he and Aeneas and the other Trojans kill Androgeos? How does this trick allow the Trojan band to move freely about in the chaos?
  • [Excerpts in Xerox Handout from Book 2. 680-1082]
  • Why is Queen Hecuba chastising King Priam? What foolish thing is this old man trying to do?
  • Where does Pyrrhus kill King Priam and Prince Polites? (i.e., why is this blasphemous)?
  • In Book II, lines 763, Aeneas spots "the daughter of Tyndareos" (i.e., Helen of Troy). Where is Helen hiding or what building is she clinging to? [Hint: To understand why this is ironic, look up the god "Vesta" and see what her worshippers were like, and why they are very different from the sexpot Helen.] What does Aeneas plan to do to Helen, judging by his angry words?
  • What being appears to stop Aeneas from confronting Helen?
  • When Aeneas goes to his house, what does his father Anchises initially ask him to do? Where does Anchises want to go and where does he want the rest of the family to go? What is Aeneas's reaction to this?
  • When Aeneas declares he will stay in the city and fight the Greeks, how does Creüsa react?
  • What omens (plural) do the gods send to encourage Aeneas to flee rather than fight? Why do you suppose it takes more than one miraculous sign to make him leave?
  • Why does Aeneas say he can't carry the homeland gods with him?
  • How does Aeneas arrange to transport his father out of Troy? How does he transport Iulus? Why or how is the image associated with this action symbolic?
  • What happens to Creüsa as the family flees through the crowded streets?
  • What does Aeneas do when he discovers Creüsa is gone?
  • What being stops him from continuing to look for Creüsa?
  • According to Creüsa, what beings' decree keep her from accompanying her husband?
  • What happens each time Aeneas tries to touch Creüsa?
  • [Book IV Excerpts]:
  • Whom does Dido turn to for advice when she realizes she is falling in love with Anna?
  • What advice does Anna give Dido regarding her dead husband? What advice does she give Dido concerning the political situation in north Africa?
  • What proposal does the goddess Juno make to the goddess Venus concerning Aeneas's future?
  • [Excepts from Book IV in textbook]:
  • What god decides to mess up Venus and Juno's plans for Aeneas to stay in Carthage and marry Aeneas? Given what we know about Greek mythology, why does this god's decision carry more weight than the two goddesses?
  • What messenger does Jove send to Aeneas? What magical item does this messenger wear that allows him to travel quickly from place to place?
  • What is the gist of this message?
  • How does Aeneas respond to this message?
  • Why do you suppose Aeneas doesn't tell his fiancée Dido about the message?
  • Dido is no dummy. How does she figure out Aeneas is up to something?
  • Why does Dido say, "You are the reason I am hated" when she discusses with Aeneas her political situation?
  • Why does Dido claim her fame or reputation has been tarnished by Aeneas?
  • Why does Dido fear destruction of the city if Aeneas leaves her?
  • What is Aeneas's outward reaction to Dido's hurtful words? Why does he react that way?
  • How does Aeneas say he will remember Dido?
  • Where does Aeneas say he would be if he had permission to to live his life according to his own wishes?
  • What reasons does Aeneas give to justify his departure?
  • Where does Aeneas say his love lies?
  • [Xeroxed Excerpts from Book 4, 602-971]
  • When Aeneas gets ready to leave, and Dido goes to place offerings offerings before the altars to beg the gods for help, what omens appear at the altar? What do you suppose these omens mean?
  • What does Dido seem to hear at night when she tries to sleep?
  • What lie does Dido use to get her sister Anna to help her build a pyre out of Aeneas's old belongings?
  • When Dido suffers from insomnia, what are some of the options she considers while in bed? What do these options reveal about her mind set?
  • When Mercury appears to Aeneas a second time, this time in a dream, what warning does he bring that spurs Aeneas into immediate departure?
  • When the Queen sees the departing ships, what does she nearly order her guardsmen to do?
  • What horrible food does the Queen imagine serving to Aeneas as punishment for his betrayal?
  • What curses does Dido proclaim for Aeneas, his men, and his descendants? What does she proclaim her Tyrians (i.e. Carthaginians) should do to Aeneas's future sons and race as an offering to her own ashes? What two things does Dido declare will never tie her people to Rome?
  • When Dido climbs on top of the pyre, what item does she use to stab herself? Where did it come from? (Hint: look up the word Dardan in a dictionary or mythological guide if you need to.)
  • Near the conclusion of Dido's death scene, the narrative voice comments upon her death. Does the narrating voice think Dido deserved this fate? Why or why not?
  • Book VI: Excerpts in Textbook
  • What is the name or title for the dreadful priestess of Apollo who watches over Diana's grove?
  • What are some of the images carved on the temple walls?
  • What happens to the Sibyl when she is possessed by Apollo and prophesies?
  • Why does Aeneas consult the Sibyl? What does he want to find out? (i.e., where does he want to go so he can find out information about the location of Italy?)
  • What, according to the Sibyl, is the difference between going down to Dis (Hell) and coming back to life?
  • What magical plant, sacred to Proserpine, does the Sibyl guard in the grove? What power does this plant have?
  • What is one religious task the Sibyl says the crew has left undone for their crewman Misenus?
  • What omen appears before Aeneas to guide him to the sacred grove of Avernus?
  • The entrance to the underworld is called Avernus. According to Virgil, what is the original etymology of this word and what does it mean?
  • When Aeneas and the Sibyl begin their descent into the underworld, what frightening apparitions appear to confront them? List one or two examples. What does Aeneas discover when he draws his sword to attack these monsters?
  • Who is Charon and what is his job in the afterlife?
  • What is the river Styx and what sort of being wants to cross this river? Why are some of these beings unable to cross over?
  • What comfort does Aeneas provide to the dead Palinurus, even though he is unable to bury Palinurus's body?
  • Why is Charon unwilling initially to let Aeneas onto his boat? What bribe does the Sibyl offer him to change his mind?
  • Who or what is Cerberus?
  • How do the Sibyl and Aeneas get past Cerberus?
  • Who or what is Minos? (Check out a mythological guide online if you need to.)
  • What sort of spirits inhabit the Fields of Mourning?
  • Who does Aeneas encounter in the afterlife that really surprises and upsets him?
  • Who does Dido turn to for comfort in the afterlife?
  • How is Aeneas's goodbye to Dido in the underworld a reversal from his good-bye to her when he left her in Carthage?
  • How do the ghosts of the dead Greeks react when they see their enemy Aeneas?
  • When Aeneas overhears the sobbing and groaning of the damned, the Sibyl explains at length what monsters and villains are imprisoned there behind the adamantine gates. What does she finally tell Aeneas to quell his curiosity about this part of hell?
  • In what part or region of the Underworld does Aeneas finally find the ghost of his father, Anchises?
  • When the Sibyl asks one of the blessed dead where Anchises' house is located in the underworld, how do the local spirits correct her?
  • What happens when Aeneas tries to embrace Anchises? How does this connect to an earlier part of the story?
  • What do the dead souls do when they want to forget their pains and miseries before being reborn in new bodies?
  • Anchises shows Aeneas a long procession of souls waiting to be born. Who (in general) are all these spirits? Name one or two specifically who become famous in history. Why do you suppose Anchises wants to show his son these unborn Roman souls before Aeneas continues his journey to Italy?
  • Near the end of the long list of heroes yet unborn, Anchises makes one of the most famous statements in literature concerning Roman national character. Though he declares that other races will be better craftsmen and artists, better orators and philosophical debaters, better astronomers and scientists, he asserts that Rome will have its own talents or "fine arts." What are these fine arts that will be Rome's "forever"?
  • When Aeneas and the Sibyl end their tour of the underworld, they find two exits or "twin gates." What sort of spirit or vision exits through the gate made of polished horn? What sort of dream or vision exits through the white gate made of ivory? Which one do Aeneas and the Sibyl take? What does this suggest about the vision Aeneas has just had?
  • [Xeroxed Excerpts from final battle scene in Book XII, lines 1178 onward]
  • [From Lecture:] What are Turnus and Aeneas fighting over?
  • When Aeneas accuses Turnus of being a coward, what does Turnus say is the only thing he is frightened of?
  • What happens when Turnus picks up a boundary stone like Superman and hurls it at Aeneas? Why do you suppose it's a boundary stone and not just a boulder or an oak? (i.e., how might this be symbolic?)
  • When Turnus lies helpless before Aeneas after Aeneas's spear penetrates his thigh, Aeneas hesitates. What does Turnus say or that causes Aeneas to hesitate (i.e., what or whom does he evoke in Aeneas's memory?)
  • What does Aeneas do with Turnus after capturing him? Why does this conclusion seem especially disturbing or especially appropriate as a concluding point for a glorious national epic celebrating Roman virtue?

Sample Passage Identifications:

A. Arms and the man I sing, the first who came,
Compelled by fate, an exile out of Troy,
To Italy and the Lavinian coast,
Much buffeted on land and on the deep
By violence of the gods, through that long rage,
That lasting hate, of Juno's. And he suffered
Much, also, in war, till he should build his town
And bring his gods to Latium, whence, in time,
The Latin race, the Alban fathers, rose,
And the great walls of everlasting Troy.

B. Are you crazy, wretched people?
Do you think they have gone, the foe? Do you think that any
Gifts of the Greeks lack treachery? Ulysses,--
What was his reputation? Let me tell you,
Either the Greeks are hiding in this monster,
Or it's some trick of war, a spy or engine,
To come down on the city. Tricky business
Is hiding in it Do not trust it, Trojans,
Do not believe this horse. Whatever it may be,
I fear the Greeks, even when bringing presents.

C. Speaker One: "How goes it, Panthus? What stronghold still is ours?"
Speaker Two: "It has come, this day
Will be our last, and we cannot escape it.
Trojans we have been, Troy has been, and glory
Is ours no more. Fierce Jupiter has taken
Everything off to Argos, and Greeks lord it
In a town on fire. The horse, high in the city,
Pours out armed men, and Sinon, arrogant victor,
Lights up more fires."

D. And now that I am left alone, I see
the daughter of Tyndareos clinging
to Vesta's thresholds, crouching silently
within a secret corner of the shrine. . . .
. . . In my mind a fire
is burning; anger spurs me to avenge
my falling land, to exact the debt of crime.
"Is she to have it so: to leave unharmed,
see Sparta and her home Mycenae? . . .
. . . . No, / For though there is memorable name
in punishing a woman and no gain
of honor in such a victory, yet I
shall have my praise for blotting out a thing
of evil, for my punishing of one
who merits penalties; and it will be
a joy to fill my soul with vengeful fire,
to satisfy the ashes of my people.

D: This said, I spread a tawny lion skin
across my bent neck, over my broad shoulders,
and then take up Anchises; small Iulus
now clutches my right hand; his steps uneven,
he is following his father, and my wife
moves on behind.

E: "What are you doing,
Forgetful of your kingdom and your fortunes,
Building for Carthage? Woman-crazy fellow,
The ruler of the gods, the great compeller
Of heaven and earth, has sent me from Olympus
With no more word than this: what are you doing,
With what ambition wasting time in Libya?
If you own fame and fortune count as nothing,
Think of [your son] at least, whose Kingdom
In Italy, whose Roman land, are waiting,
As promise justly due."

F. "Never, O Queen, will I deny you merit
Whatever you have strength to claim; I will not
Regret remembering [you], while I have
Breath in my body, or consciousness of spirit.
. . . If I had fate's permission
To live my life my way, to settle my troubles
At my own will, I would be watching over
The city of Troy, and caring for my people.
. . . But now
It is Italy I must seek, great Italy,
Apollo orders, and his oracles
Call me to Italy. There is my love,
There is my country."

G. "In secret
build up a pyre within the inner courtyard
beneath the open air, and lay upon it
the weapons of the hero. He, the traitor,
has left them hanging in my wedding chamber.
Take all his apparel and the bridal
bed where I was undone. You must destroy
all relics of the cursed man, for so
would I, and so the priestess has commanded."

H. "Let him suffer war and struggles with audacious
nations, and then--when banished. . . let him
beg aid and watch his people's shameful slaughter. . . .
These things I plead; these final words I pour
out of my blood. Then, Tyrians, hunt down
with hatred all his sons and race to come;
send this as offering unto my ashes.
Do not let love or treaty tie our peoples.
May an avenger rise up from my bones,
one who will track with firebrand and sword
the Dardan settlers, now and in the future,
at any time that ways present themselves.
I call your shores to war against their shores,
your waves against their waves, arms with their arms.
Let them and their sons' sons learn what is war."

I. "Unhappy Dido, so they told me truly
That your own hand had brought you death. Was I--
Alas!--the cause? I swear by all the stars,
By the world above, by everything held sacred
Here under the earth, unwillingly, O queen,
I left your kingdom. But the gods' commands,
. . . compelled me on. I could not
Believe my loss would cause so great a sorrow.
Linger a moment, do not leave me; whither,
Whom, are you fleeing? I am permitted only
This last word with you.

J. But the queen,
Unmoving as flint or marble, turned away, her eyes
Fixed on the ground: the tears were vain, the words,
Meant to be soothing, foolish; she turned away,
His enemy forever, to the shadows
Where Sychaeus, her former husband, took her
With love for love, and sorrow for her sorrow.
And still Aeneas wept for her, being troubled
By the injustice of her doom; his pity
Followed her going.

K. "Others, no doubt, will better mould the bronze
To the semblance of soft breathing, draw from marble
The living countenance; and others plead
With greater eloquence; or learn to measure,
Better than we, the pathways of the heavens,
The rising of the stars; remember, Roman,
To rule the people under law, to establish
The way of peace, to battle down the haughty,
To spare the meek. Our fine arts, these, forever."

L. Aflame with rage--his wrath was terrible--
[he] cried: "How can you who wear the spoils of my
dear comrade now escape me? It is Pallas
who strikes, who sacrifices you, who takes
this payment from your shameless blood." Relentless,
he sinks his sword into the chest of [the prisoner].
His limbs fell slack with chill; and with a moan
his life, resentful, fled to Shades below.


 

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