Edited by: Christopher Francese, Meghan Reedy, et al.

Aeneas: The Wrong Man in the Right Place

By Thomas Van Nortwick, Nathan A. Greenberg Professor of Classics (emeritus), Oberlin College

What Is a Hero? | The Hero's Other Self | Aeneas's Debut as Hero | The Hero and His Mother | The Hero and His Second Self | The Hero's Past | The Death of the Second Self | Enter Roman History | The Hero's Education | Another Achilles | The Last Duel Reconsidered | Further Reading

ille, oculis postquam saevi monimenta doloris
exuviasque hausit, furiis accensus et ira
terribilis: 'tune hinc spoliis indute meorum
eripiare mihi? Pallas te hoc vulnere, Pallas
immolat et poenam scelerato ex sanguine sumit.'
hoc dicens ferrum adverso sub pectore condit
fervidus; ast illi solvuntur frigore membra
vitaque cum gemitu fugit indignata sub umbras.

After he drank in with his eyes the spoils, mementos
of savage grief, burning with madness and terrible
in his anger, he called out, "Will you, clothed in trophies
from my friend, be snatched from me? Pallas sacrifices
you with this wound, exacting payment from your criminal blood."
In a fever, he buried his sword in the upturned chest.
But that man's limbs went slack in death's chill,
and his spirit fled with a resentful groan into the gloaming.
Aeneid 12. 945-952

With this brutal stroke, Vergil's Aeneid comes to a close. Stark and abrupt as it is, this scene signals the resolution of the poem's two major themes, the emergence of Aeneas as a new kind of epic hero and the relationship of his story to the new political and social settlement imposed by Augustus. Vergil addresses the first of these through a rich and complex dialogue with earlier heroic narratives, principally Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. In working out the second, the poet brings history into the hero story in a new way. In the treatment of both, Vergil breaks new ground in the tradition of epic poetry.

What is a hero?

Epic poetry before the Aeneid is usually focused on a single heroic figure, whose life is the vehicle for articulating the poem's meaning. We must begin by discarding the modern connotations of the word, "hero," as someone whose achievements and good character we admire and would perhaps like to emulate. The heroes of ancient epic narratives before the Aeneid are exemplary, to be sure, but they rarely exemplify uncomplicated goodness. Rather, they are heroes because they stand out, go too far, crossing the boundaries of ordinary human existence and thereby drawing our attention to the characteristic shape of human experience. The hero's story is not a portrait of a life lived well, but of one lived on (or over) the edge. We may admire some aspects of such a life, but often we find it bewildering, daunting, even frightening. Gilgamesh, the Mesopotamian king whose story is told in the Epic of Gilgamesh,[1] travels across the waters of darkness to the Land of Dilmun, the story's version of a trip to the underworld, so he can consult the sage Utnapishtim about "the meaning of life and death." He and his friend Enkidu, pumped up by killing the monster of the Cedar Forest, have insulted a goddess, and Enkidu has been punished by death. Now Gilgamesh realizes for the first time that he too is going to die one day and tries to find some escape. Utnapishtim gives Gilgamesh various tests to see if he can be immortal and he fails all of them, returning to his home chastened, but wiser. We readers look on at these events and think about what it means to know that we too must die—a piece of knowledge that is distinctively human.

Achilles, the hero of Homer's Iliad,[2] is separated from ordinary humanity by his birth—his mother is a sea goddess, his father a mortal. He surpasses all other men in the Greek and Trojan armies in fighting skill, speed afoot, and beauty. These qualities, which should, we suppose, bring him success and happiness in life, in fact spur him to destructive and self-destructive acts that carry him beyond the pale of ordinary human experience. A quarrel with Agamemnon, the general in charge of the Greek army, prompts him to withdraw in a rage from the Greek camp. He asks his divine mother to arrange for the Greek army to suffer for not giving him what he wants, and many of his friends die. He remains in a self-imposed exile until Hector, the principal fighter for the Trojans, kills his dear friend Patroclus. In his subsequent rampage, Achilles’ actions symbolize someone who has left human life behind, descending to animal savagery, yet aspiring to divine transcendence. The poem closes with his seeming return to human existence through releasing the corpse of Hector, which he has been desecrating in various ways, to Hector's father Priam.

In Homer's Odyssey, Odysseus's travels from Troy back to Ithaka take him to the edges of the world as the Greeks of the Archaic period imagined it. Battling fairytale monsters and confronting seductive women, mortal and divine, the poem's hero constantly tests the limits of human civilization and civilized behavior. He declines an offer of immortality from Calypso, a nymph who has held him captive for seven years, choosing instead to keep struggling to return to his mortal wife Penelope. He resists the allure of the Sirens and the Lotus Eaters, who would have him forget ordinary human life in favor of a blissed-out, timeless existence. Nausicaa, princess of the Phaeacians, mysterious inhabitants of a remote island in the middle of the sea, wants him for her husband. Again he declines, turning his back on an easy life of dancing, warm baths, and ever-blooming orchards, and pressing on for rocky Ithaka. Through most of his adventures, Odysseus is disguised as an anonymous stranger, interacting with all he meets without the benefit of his title and reputation. As we watch him make his way across the seas we reflect on the meaning of human identity, how it is formed, and what pressures threaten it.

The Hero's Other Self

In both the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Iliad, the hero's development is articulated through his interaction with another figure, who embodies parts of the hero that he has denied or lost track of—an alter ego or second self. This figure is not what we call a "double," because he (or she, as we will see) does not have the same traits as the hero. Rather, s/he is "complementary," filling out the parts of the hero that prevent him from achieving wholeness as the poem understands it. Certain patterns recur in ancient stories that have this component. The first and second selves are not identical but complementary; the second self displays characteristics that the culture of the story sees as feminine, in contrast to the hero's masculinity; the second self always appears when the first self is most vulnerable to its influence; there is always an instant, strange, and inexplicable affinity between the two selves; whatever the feelings between the two, they are always intense; the encounter with the second self is always at least potentially therapeutic; for the first self to make contact with the parts of himself with which he has lost contact and thus to become whole, the second self must die. As we will see, the Aeneid presents a fruitful and challenging version of this relationship.

Enkidu is a wild man in the Epic of Gilgamesh and begins his life living among animals, drinking at the waterhole with antelopes. He is said to have long hair, "like a woman." He presents to Gilgamesh the part of himself that has lost track of his place in the larger order of nature while pursuing glory, which can only be conferred within the structures of civilization. Enkidu's death causes a crisis for Gilgamesh because it forces him to confront the brute fact of his own mortality, the thing that connects him to all living things. Patroclus in the Iliad embodies the parts of Achilles that would allow him to feel compassion and empathy with others—traits the Greeks considered feminine—which his anger, pride, and arrogance have scorched away. Patroclus is killed by the Trojan warrior Hector when Patroclus borrows Achilles' armor and tries to frighten the Trojans by masquerading as Achilles, who still refuses to fight to save his comrades. In retaliation, Achilles stalks and kills Hector in a particularly chilling scene. Only when he is able to show compassion to Priam, the father of Hector, by returning his son's body, is Achilles able to reconnect with his essential humanity.

Aeneas's debut as hero

Arma virumque cano, Troiae qui primus ob oris
Italiam fato profugus Laviniaque venit
litora, multum ille et terris iactatus et alto
vi superum, saevae memorem Iunonis ob iram
multa quoque et bello passus, dum conderet urbem
inferretque deos Latio; genus unde Latinum
Albanique patres atque altae moenia Romae.

I sing of warfare and a man, who came first
from the coast of Troy to Italy and Lavinian shores,
a fugitive much tossed on land and sea
by the force of the gods, the unforgetting rage
of savage Juno, and suffered much in war, until he
could found Rome and carry his gods to Latium,
home of the Latin race and the high walls of Rome.
Aeneid 1.1–7

The proem of the Aeneid makes it clear at the outset that Vergil is thinking about Homeric epic as he tells his story. Arma echoes the Iliad, while virum and the subsequent relative clause recall Odysseus's struggle to return home. The poem's opening scene then establishes important parameters within which we are to assess Aeneas as hero. Juno, we learn, has hated the Trojans ever since Paris chose Aphrodite over her in the contest to see who was the most beautiful goddess. Juno’s rage is renewed at hearing that the Trojans are now headed for Italy, and she decides to cause a shipwreck (the antecedent for Juno’s rage is Poseidon's anger at Odysseus in the Odyssey)—Juno approaches Aeolus, the god in charge of winds, to arrange for a destructive storm to strike the Trojan fleet at sea. Ships sink and men die before Neptune, who is a rung above Aeolus in the divine pantheon, chastises his subordinate and calms the winds. We see one more level in the divine male hierarchy later in Book 1, when Jupiter, responding to Venus's complaints about the storm that has fallen on her son's fleet. There is nothing to fear, he says; the fate of the Trojans is assured. He then reveals the future successes of Aeneas and his descendants, from Aeneas's conquering of the native Italians, events which take place partly in the epic itself, right up to the accession of Augustus in the present of Vergil’s first audience.

These first three hundred lines of the poem establish an important and recurring pattern: disorder will come as the result of unchecked female emotions, and male authority will eventually restore order. Aeneas speaks twice in this part of the poem, the first time in the midst of the destructive storm, calling the Trojans who died at Troy "three and four-times blessed" (1.94–101), then again to some of the survivors of the storm after they come to shore near Carthage. In the second speech, he tries to buck up his men. Have they not endured evils before this? The gods will bring relief from these, too (1.198–207). Both passages echo, at times very closely, the words of Odysseus in the Odyssey: the first recalls Odysseus’ words when Poseidon wrecks his raft in the sea on the way to the land of the Phaeacians (Od. 5. 299–312), and the second recalls Odysseus’ words when he and his men are heading into the clutches of the twin monsters, Skylla and Charybdis (Od. 12.208–221). In both instances, the Greek hero is finally undaunted by the challenges he faces, confident that he will find a way out of trouble.

Not so Aeneas. By the time Poseidon smashes Odysseus's raft, he has already triumphed over many obstacles. He regrets that an anonymous death at sea will rob him of glory, because no one will know how his life ended. Aeneas's speech is, by contrast, his first appearance in the poem, so he makes his debut wishing he were dead. When Odysseus urges his men to persevere amid the dangers ahead, he reminds them of all the times he has led them out of danger to safety. The Roman hero's words echo Odysseus's—even the famous line, forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit ("perhaps one day it will be pleasing to remember even these things," 1.203; cf. Od. 12. 212). But Vergil then undercuts his hero:

Talia voce refert curisque ingentibus aeger
spem vultu simulat, premit altum corde dolorem.

He spoke thus. Sick with monstrous cares
he feigned hope, and pushed sorrow down in his heart.
(Aeneid 1.208–209)

This split between outward confidence and inner doubt is not characteristic of Homeric heroes. They may show anger, fear, or doubt, but always outwardly; their determination and confidence are genuine and unequivocal. To feign positive emotion in this way is new in the epic tradition. When Aeneas presses his anguish deep down in his heart, his efforts recall the control that Neptune exerts over the storms. Aeneas has grasped what is required of him as a masculine hero, but is clearly acting contrary to his true nature. He is, we might say, the wrong man in the right place.

The hero and his mother

Aeneas’s struggles continue as he and his friend Achates go scouting in the woods near Carthage. They come upon Venus, disguised as a young maiden with loose flowing hair and bare knees, wearing a tunic, equipped with bow and quiver. The ingénue asks innocently if they have seen any of her sisters out hunting in the forest. In his reply, Aeneas again echoes Odysseus:

O quam te memorem, virgo? Namque haud tibi vultus
mortalis, nec vox hominem sonat; o dea certe
(an Phoebi soror? An Nympharum sanguinis una?)

How should I address you, maiden? You neither look
nor sound mortal. Surely you are a goddess!
(sister of Apollo? One of the family of nymphs?)
(Aeneid 1. 327–329)

The source for this passage is Odysseus speaking to Nausicaa, the nubile young princess of the Phaeacians (Od. 6.149–152). With characteristic élan, Odysseus sweet-talks the young virgin in order to get on the good side of her parents, who can give him a ride back to Ithaka, masterfully playing on her obvious interest in men and marriage. Aeneas, whose masculine authority rests on his ability to control female forces, does not even know he is speaking to his own mother. After they talk and she reveals herself as his mother, she wafts away, leaving him sputtering:

Quid natum totiens, crudelis tu quoque, falsis
ludis imaginibus? Cur dextrae iungere dextram
non datur ac veras audire et reddere voces?

Are you cruel, too?
Why tease your own son so often with disguises?
Why not join hands and speak the truth?
(Aeneid 1.402–409)

The hero's mother in the epic tradition is usually expected to provide unconditional support and love for her son. In order to grow up, the hero must separate from the nurture of his mother and come to terms with some hard wisdom associated with his father's world. Achilles' mother Thetis will do anything to help her son, calling in old debts from Zeus to ensure that the Greek army suffers for not giving Achilles what he wants, or supplying divine armor so that he can wreak vengeance on Hector for killing Patroclus. Only when Zeus summons her to Olympus at the end of the poem and orders her to step back does Thetis let go of her son. Achilles then learns the hard truth of his own mortality through his interaction with Priam, whom he comes to see as surrogate for his own father, Peleus. As this interlude in the woods shows, Aeneas has a major problem separating from his mother, who is the divine embodiment of boundary-blurring desire, and might even be seen as flirting with her own son in her disguise as a young maiden.

The hero and his second self

Following Venus's instructions, Aeneas and Achates proceed to Carthage. Venus covers them in mist so they can slip into town without being detected. They view a mural depicting the fall of Troy and are present for Dido's initial entrance into the poem:

Haec dum Dardanio Aeneae miranda videntur,
dum stupet obtutuque haeret defixus in uno,
regina ad templum, forma pulcherrima Dido,
incessit magna iuvenum stipante caterva.
Qualis in Eurotae ripis aut per iuga Cynthi
exercet Diana choros, quam mille secutae
hinc atque hinc glomerantur Oreades; illa pharetram
fert umero gradiensque deas supereminet omnes
(Latonae tacitum pertemptant gaudia pectus):
Talis erat Dido, talem se laeta ferebat
Per medios instans opera regnisque futuris.

While Aeneas stared at these wonders,
and, struck dumb, took them in with one gaze,
the queen, most beautiful Dido, strode toward
the temple, surrounded by a crowd of youths.
As on the banks of Eurotas or the cliffs of Cynthus
Diana trains her dancers, and here and there myriad

mountain nymphs are gathered behind her. She carries
a quiver on her shoulder, striding taller than the rest,
(and joy pervades the tranquil heart of Leto):
such was Dido, happy as she made her way
among them, urging on the work of her new kingdom.
(Aeneid 1.494-504)

Dido is Vergil's most compelling character, created from multiple models, Homer's Nausicaa, Circe, and Arete, plus (Greek) Artemis/(Roman) Diana, (Greek) Aphrodite/(Roman) Venus, and Medea from Apollonius Rhodius's Hellenistic poem, the Argonautica. Because the references to most of these characters appear in the poem before Dido does, the effect is to create expectations. Will she maintain an air of regal command, like Homer's Arete, queen of the Phaeacians, or give in to coquettish yearnings, channeling Nausicaa? Will she exhibit virginal modesty or seductive eroticism? Will she be heroic or witchy?

In the end, Dido subsumes all of these paradigms and more. From Venus's report to Aeneas, we learn that Dido is the leader of a band of exiles, forced from their homeland by enemies, now settled in a new city that is flourishing under her guidance. She had, through no fault of her own, lost a spouse she loved dearly, and his ghost came to her in a dream to urge flight. The similarities to Aeneas's story are striking—Book 2 will fill in more details—and we wonder what Vergil's purpose is in presenting to the hero what is essentially a finished version of his own mission. Dido is what she is because we are meant to compare her story to Aeneas's and then to ponder the differences. She is to be a second self for Aeneas, representing parts of himself unrealized, holding out the prospect of a richer, more complete life. Like Enkidu and Patroclus, she will die as result of her contact with the hero.

The hero's past

After revealing himself to Dido and receiving a generous welcome, Aeneas repairs with his men to the queen's palace. When they finish dinner, Dido urges Aeneas to tell the story of how he and his men came from Troy to Carthage. The next two books, narrated by Aeneas, fill in the background, the fall of Troy in Book 2, then the wanderings that brought the Trojans to Carthage in Book 3. The immediate model for this section of the poem is Books 9–12 of the Odyssey, where Odysseus tells the Phaeacians of his adventures while struggling to return home from Troy. Aeneid Book 2, however, covers a part of the Trojan saga that does not appear in Homeric epic, and other possible sources for the story are now lost to us. But more important than the earlier sources, for our purposes here, is the portrait of Aeneas that emerges from these lines, markedly different in some ways from the figure we encounter in Book 1, and crucial for our understanding of the rest of the poem.

In Book 2 we hear of Aeneas's fierce desire to save his city from the nefarious Greeks, who play on the trusting Trojans with their tricky wooden horse. In place of the discouraged, tentative man we have seen so far, the hero who emerges in Aeneas's words is passionate, even reckless, a natural leader who plunges into the flaming city three times, driven by a kind of madness and fury, seeking to die a noble death in a hopeless cause. He is pulled back by the ghost of Hector, his mother Venus, and finally his wife Creusa, all of whom urge him to flee the city, leading his fellow Trojans to safety. The qualities we see in Aeneas here will eventually return, but in a new context that complicates their meaning for our understanding of his character and of the entire poem. For now, we compare this figure to the man we know from Book 1 and wonder what happened to effect such a profound change.

Book 3 is not the most engaging part of the poem. Vergil's gestures to his Homeric antecedent, Odyssey 9, 10, and 12, produce adventures with some rather grotesque monsters. Two aspects of the book are important to us here: a general air of misapprehension, with false starts at founding a new Troy and the misreading of prophecies (as we will see, part of Aeneas’s struggle to become a new kind of hero is his inability to understand what he sees before him); and the prominence of Aeneas's father Anchises. Aeneas, lonely and uncertain after the fall of Troy and the loss of his wife, leans heavily on his father for advice on how to complete the mission he never sought. Though Aeneas is the nominal leader of the expedition, Anchises makes many of the critical decisions and intercedes with the gods when trouble arises. This behavior reflects, to be sure, the strongly patriarchal nature of Roman society. Likewise, we can hear echoes of the typical heroic maturation process, as Aeneas struggles to cope with the world of responsibilities embodied in his father. (Separation from his mother, as we have seen, will not be easy either.) But beyond that the portrait helps us to understand how the passionate young warrior we meet in Book 2 became the tentative, disheartened leader of Book 1. Anchises dies at the end of Book 3. As he goes to meet Dido, the hero is at his most vulnerable.

The death of the second self

Book 4 belongs to Dido. Though Aeneas is the hero of the poem, Dido dominates these scenes, because she is crucial to his evolution into a new kind of hero. The story of her destruction by the gods to serve the greater agenda of Rome's founding is among the most noble and poignant in all of ancient literature. Noble, in the dignity with which she faces her death, in her proud defiance and refusal to be humiliated; poignant, in the picture of such nobility destroyed, almost casually, to suit the jealous machinations of Juno and Venus. At the end of Book 1, the hero's mother sabotages the queen by having her son Cupid masquerade as Aeneas's son Ascanius, sitting in Dido's lap and filling her with desire at the banquet where Aeneas tells the story of his adventures. Dido is immediately seized with a passion for Aeneas. The two goddesses then contrive to have the two take shelter in a cave during a storm the next day. They consummate their love and spend the winter together in Carthage.

Rumors of the royal couple's liaison fly through Carthage and beyond, reaching Iarbas, Dido's jealous African suitor. Through him the news finally reaches Jupiter, who is not pleased. Aeneas's mission is to begin the process by which Rome will eventually be founded, not to dally in Carthage with a foreign queen. Through Jupiter’s eyes, Dido plays the role of the detaining woman, a common figure in ancient hero stories, one who wants to keep the hero with her and thus prevent him from completing his heroic tasks. She is also, of course, the unwitting tool of Venus and Juno, the divine versions of this character type. Circe and Calypso in the Odyssey play this role for Odysseus, as does Penelope for her son Telemachus. Now the earlier allusions to both of these Homeric figures in the characterization of Dido bear fruit. In particular, we can see Vergil invoking the mission of Hermes (the Greek antecedent for Mercury) in Odyssey 5, where he orders Calypso to release Aeneas from her island (Od. 5.29–148), and again in Odyssey 10, where he protects Odysseus from the witchy magic of Circe ( Od. 10.275–306). The noble queen we have seen struggling with her passions becomes, in the eyes of Jupiter and the long view of Roman history, a seductively dangerous, supernatural creature.

Jupiter sends Mercury down to rouse Aeneas and send him on his way:

Ut primum alatis tetigit magalia plantis,
Aenean fundantem arces ac tecta novantem
conspicit . Atque illi stellatus iaspide fulva
ensis erat Tyrioque ardebat myrice laena
demissa ex umeris, dives quae munera Dido
fecerat, et tenui telas discreverat auro.

When first he landed on the huts with winged feet,
he spied Aeneas laying foundation for towers
and homes. That man wore a sword bejeweled with
yellow jasper and from his shoulders hung a cloak
that glowed purple dye, gifts from wealthy Dido,
who had woven through it threads of gold.
(Aeneid 4.259–264)

Here is yet a different Aeneas, confidently directing the building of Carthage, arrayed in splendid clothes. The key to this version is the clothing, the kind of finery that would have been viewed as vaguely suspicious by Roman males, exuding the fragrance of an exotic Easterner. Vergil is careful to tell us that the decorated sword and cloak are gifts from Dido, suggesting that the transformation of Aeneas reflects his winter with her. Here, we might say, is a glimpse of the Aeneas who might have been, vigorous, confident, his outward appearance reflecting perhaps, an inner richness that seems to have a feminine component. Spending time with a second self has begun, we suppose, to bring Aeneas closer to a version of himself that has been submerged under the weight of his sorrow and responsibilities.

The new Aeneas is crushed immediately by Mercury, whose sudden epiphany terrifies the hero. He is ordered to depart at once and hastens to comply. Dido hears rumors of his intentions and confronts him with a magnificently angry and powerful speech, baring her soul to him, begging him to stay at least until the weather is better for sailing. His reply marks the low point in his portrait, a feeble attempt to defend his decision, tricked out with rhetorical flourishes and legal jargon. Dido dismisses his self-defense in another powerful rebuke, which begins with a crucial allusion to Homer:

Nec tibi diva parens generis nec Dardanus auctor,
perfide, sed duris genuit te cautibus horrens
Caucasus Hyrcanaeque admorunt ubera tigres.

Liar! Dardanus did not found your race, nor was
your mother divine. Caucasus, rugged with cliffs
bore you and Hycanean tigers suckled you.
(Aeneid 4.365–367)

Her words echo the anguished Patroclus in Book 16 of the Iliad, when Achilles refuses to return to battle to save his comrades (Il. 16.33–35). As Dido's death approaches, Vergil reminds us that she, like Patroclus, will soon be sacrificed to the hero’s blindness to his true nature. She will die because he cannot make contact with the parts of himself that she embodies.

Dido's suicide ends Book 4. Aeneas has sailed away toward Italy, driven by the imperatives of Jupiter and fate, leaving her to choose her own death in the way of traditional Greek heroes. She falls on a sword, reminding us of Sophocles’ Ajax, an association that will be confirmed later in the Underworld. That the sword is Aeneas's reinforces the pattern we have seen earlier, female emotion brought under control by masculine force, though Vergil makes it clear that it is finally Dido's own choice to die and Jupiter's force, not Aeneas's, that kills her. The confident, inwardly rich version of Aeneas that we see fleetingly as he surveys the rising towers of Carthage will apparently not fit the requirements for the new kind of Roman hero. We begin to see why Aeneas might have been chosen by the gods as the candidate for this new paradigm. While traditional heroes like Achilles or Gilgamesh are marked by their tenacious defiance of larger forces—divine will, orfate—Aeneas is famous for his pietas, or loyalty, defined by Cicero sixty years before the composition of the Aeneid as a tripartite loyalty, to the family, the state, and the gods (Cic. De inventione 2.22.66). Yet in spite of his pietas, he has not yet fully absorbed the lessons required by his mission. That moment will come in the very last scene of the poem.

Enter Roman History

There are various ways to look at the structure of the Aeneid. Most prominent among these are a two-part scheme, with Books 1–6 being the "Odyssean" Aeneid, 7–12 the Iliadic part, or a tripartite model, with major divisions at Books 5 and 9. The second of these is most relevant to our purposes here. Books 1–4 have shown us Aeneas struggling mainly with issues from his past as they inform his heroic mission. Beginning in Book 5, we see two major changes: Vergil begins to weave into his story anachronistic references to Roman history (the future from Aeneas's perspective, the past from the perspective of his first Roman audience); and the second-self motif surfaces again, as Achilles joins Odysseus as a Homeric model for Aeneas.

Book 5 opens with Aeneas sailing away from Carthage, puzzled by the flames from Dido's funeral pyre that he sees receding on the horizon. As we have seen in Book 3, it is characteristic of this hero that he is unable to decipher the meaning of the fire (quae tantum accenderit ignem / causa latet 5.4–5). Loyal and responsible, Aeneas picks up the burdens imposed on him without being able to fully understand what is before his eyes. He cannot recognize his own mother in the forest until she chooses to reveal herself. Now the suicide of Dido, the last stage in her destruction, remains mysterious to him. In previous realizations of the second-self motif, the death of the second self prompts anguished grief in the hero, which leads eventually to a confronting of hard truths that he must absorb in order to reintegrate into himself what the second self represents. Here Aeneas does not know that Dido has died, so the grieving—and the resulting self-knowledge—are blocked by his incomprehension. It is a pattern that will be repeated later in the poem.

Blocked by unfavorable winds, Aeneas and his men cannot proceed directly north to Italy. Instead, they return to Sicily, where Anchises died at the end of Book 3. Aeneas takes the opportunity to hold memorial games in honor of his father. The model for this episode is the funeral games that Achilles holds in Book 23 of the Iliad for Patroclus, Dido's counterpart in the second-self motif. That these games are not for Dido only emphasizes again Aeneas's inability to understand fully the implications of his own actions. In the course of his description of the various contests, Vergil refers to several Roman clans prominent in late Republican Rome, creating distinguished lineages for them. An equestrian performance, with boys on horseback led by Ascanius, provides the climax to the games. There the boys perform intricate maneuvers that are usually thought to be Vergil's way of providing a prestigious, pre-Roman origin for an old ceremony reinstituted by Augustus, called the lusus Troiae, "Trojan Games." Such anachronism may well have been part of the genealogies and ceremonials in the Iliad, but we do not have written information about the period apart from the poem to identify it. We have gotten used to reading the Homeric poems—and the Gilgamesh epic, apart from some speculation about a historical king named Gilgamesh—as purely self-contained literary documents, drawing on mythical patterns observed elsewhere but divorced from the dynastic history of, for example, the eighth century BCE in Chios. Not so the Aeneid, because we know more about Roman history, but also because Vergil reads that history back into the Aeneas legends, making it a part of the fabric of the poem.

We may wonder what the impact of this new historical perspective is on the meaning of Vergil's poem. First, it enlarges the context within which we view Aeneas's mission. Now everything he does appears against the long view of Roman destiny, so that his personal struggles are diminished in their import. His happiness or unhappiness, his losses, now take their place alongside those of myriad Trojans, Italians, and finally Romans across the millennia. On the other hand, the implied relationship between him and Augustus—itself not without ambiguities, as we will see—gives his character fresh contemporary relevance, and urges us to think about how the Augustan settlement, the gradual imposition of a veiled monarchy beginning in 27 BCE, might be reflected in the triumph of Aeneas at the end of the poem.

The Hero's Education

In the middle third of the poem, Aeneas twice finds himself in circumstances that seem to offer guidance as he tries to discern the course that the gods and fate have laid out for him. Both are based on episodes from the Odyssey and contain visions of the future for him to contemplate. In Book 6, having arrived in Italy with his comrades, he embarks on a trip to the Underworld to consult with the ghost of his father Anchises. In his trip to Hades in Book 11 of the Odyssey, Odysseus too consults a prophet, Teiresias, who foretells the circumstances of the hero's death. While Vergil's underworld is partly Homeric, with sections devoted to the torments of exemplary sinners, it also contains elements of Orphic mythology about the recycling of souls. Anchises tells Aeneas that after his own death, once he passes through a preliminary initiation, his ghost will be required to drink from the waters of Lethe, causing a complete obliteration of his memories and the return of his soul to the world above. Anchises's prophecy concludes with a long catalogue of Roman history, the founding of the city, and the triumphs and struggles of famous men who led the city through the Republican period. It ends with a poignant reference to Marcellus, the nephew of Augustus, whose death in 23 BCE was the occasion of great sadness to his uncle.

The trip to the Underworld is a prime example of a paradigm that recurs everywhere in hero stories. The hero separates or is driven from his accustomed place in the world and embarks on some kind of significant adventure, which takes him to places where ordinary mortals cannot go. He confronts there some deep truth about himself and his world, which he may then bring back to his fellow mortals for their benefit. The Iliad and Odyssey are both informed by this pattern. The trip to the Underworld, also called a katabasis, the ancient Greek word for a "journey downward," is perhaps the most common version of the pattern. There the hero directly confronts death, the experience that defines us as humans, and is able to return to tell of his adventures. Aeneas's experience and especially his predicted path after death illustrate poignantly how his own life and destiny are to be sacrificed for the founding of Rome. In place of the deep personal knowledge usually afforded the hero during his katabasis, Aeneas may expect personal oblivion, his life and deeds erased and his soul returned to serve the greater needs of the state.

Returning from the Underworld, Aeneas sails north to the mouth of the Tiber, then sends emissaries out to see if he can arrange treaties with the native Italians and avoid fighting. The prophecy uttered by Apollo's oracle, the Sybil, before leading him into Hades had ominous references to future wars and the rise of "another Achilles" in Italy. Ilioneus, his representative to Latinus, king of the Latin people, offers a peaceful alliance. The king is welcoming, but has a problem, in that he has no male heir and must find a husband for his daughter Lavinia. Turnus, a young Italian warrior, has been the leading candidate, but an oracle has convinced Latinus to avoid any alliance with his Latin neighbors, and to look instead for a marriage with a foreign suitor. Aeneas, then, seems to be the obvious candidate.

Given her persistent determination to derail the Trojans' mission, we might expect Juno to weigh in here, and she does not disappoint. She last entered the story in Book 5, when she sent an envoy to Sicily to goad the Trojan wives into setting fire to the Trojan ships so as to strand the expedition before it ever reached Italy. Ascanius, newly matured from his role as a young boy in Book 1, arrived on horseback and quelled the flames, repeating the pattern of female disorder tamed by male authority. This time, Juno sends Allecto, her personal monster, to infest both Amata, the wife of Latinus and Turnus, the disappointed suitor of Lavinia, with a maddened thirst for war. The treaty blows up, and the Italians, under Turnus's leadership, prepare for war. Book 7 ends with a catalogue of the native Italian forces, modeled on the catalogue of Greek forces in Book 2 of the Iliad. Now we wonder, who will play the role of male enforcer?

Aeneas's education continues in Book 8, as he goes to Pallanteum, the future site of Rome, to seek an alliance with Evander, who some years before has brought a group of Greeks from Arcadia to Italy and founded a city. Aeneas arrives during a sacrifice to Hercules, who while passing through sometime before defeated Cacus, a dangerous fire-breathing creature who was besieging them. Vergil's Homeric model is Books 3 and 4 of the Odyssey, where Telemachus, the son of Odysseus, travels to Pylos (where he interrupts a sacrifice to Poseidon) and Sparta to learn more about his missing father. Telemachus’s purpose is to learn about Odysseus, to see if Odysseus is alive and on his way home to rout the suitors of Penelope, but his journey also helps him grow to manhood. Aeneas too, the paradigm suggests, has some growing up to do, in his case from the irresponsible lover of Dido, arrayed in exotic finery, into the new Roman hero. The principal vehicle for learning here is the story of Hercules, another hero hated by Juno, who saves the citizens of Pallanteum by defeating Cacus, the fire monster. If Hercules is to be a model for Aeneas, then who will be the Roman hero's fire monster? The leading candidate would seem at this point to be Turnus, who is described at the end of the catalogue in Book 7 as having a helmet with an image of Chimaera, another fire-breathing monster, on top (cui triplici crinita iuba galea alta Chimaeram / sustinet Aetnaeos efflantem faucibus ignem 7.785–786).

Book 8 concludes with another scene based in Homeric epic. Venus presents Aeneas with a special shield made by the god Vulcan, the counterpart to the divine shield Achilles' mother Thetis gives him in Book 19 of the Iliad so he can reenter the fighting and kill Hector. Achilles' shield is richly decorated with scenes from various parts of human life, marriage, dancing, cattle raids, war. The rim of the shield replicates the ocean, surrounding the known world. Aeneas's shield has scenes from the future history of Rome, paralleling the visions of Jupiter's in Book 1 and Anchises in Book 6. Romulus and Remus appear, along with heroes from early Roman history, advancing the spread of the city's power. Cataline and Cato the Younger represent the later Republic down through the civil wars of the First Century BCE. Finally, in a prominent position in the middle of the shield, are scenes from the Battle of Actium, where Augustus routed the navies of Antony and Cleopatra in 31 BCE, effectively ending the civil wars and giving him control of the Roman state. The book ends with these telling lines:

Talia per clipeum Volcani, dona parentis,
miratur rerumque ignarus imagine gaudet
attolens umero famamque et fama nepotum.

Aeneas wondered at such images
on the shield of Vulcan, Venus's gift.
He rejoiced at the art, ignorant of the events,
shouldering the glory and deeds of his descendants.
(Aeneid 8.729-731)

Aeneas's uncertain grasp of what lies before him continues. Though ignorant of its meaning, he will nevertheless dutifully shoulder the burden of history.

Another Achilles

The episode in Pallanteum raises again the question of Aeneas's connection with Augustus. The new Roman ruler was sometimes compared by Vergil’s contemporaries to Hercules, whose legends had been included by Roman writers in stories about the founding of Rome for centuries before Augustus took power.[3] The Ara Maxima, dedicated to Hercules in the Forum Boarium in Rome, was often thought to memorialize Hercules's visit to the future site of the city. It would seem that not only is Aeneas to emulate Hercules, but also perhaps to prefigure Augustus. Dido might well have reminded Vergil's contemporaries of Cleopatra, the dangerous foreign queen who led Antony astray, casting Aeneas in the role of gullible, uxorious traitor. The correction offered by Jupiter in Book 4 puts Aeneas back on the path toward true Roman heroism, bringing his deeds into phase with the destined founding of Rome and the rise of Augustus. With this prospect, we enter the final third of the poem, where the identity of the other Achilles predicted by the Sybil becomes a crucial part of the meaning of Aeneas's mission.

Vergil's purposes are not without ambiguity here. As it happens, Augustus himself is represented on the shield as having twin flames shooting from his helmet (8.678–681). And earlier in Book 2 Ascanius's hair suddenly and mysteriously catches fire, which Anchises interprets as a sign that he should leave Troy with his son. Finally, in Book 7, Lavinia's hair also seems to catch fire, another portent:

visa (nefas) longis comprendere crinibus ignem
atque omnem ornatum flamma crepitante cremari,
regalisque accensa comas, accensa coronam
insignem gemmis; tum fumida lumine fulvo
involvi ac totis Volcanum spargere tectis.
id vero horrendum ac visu mirabile ferri:
namque fore inlustrem fama fatisque canebant
ipsam, sed populo magnum portendere bellum.

Her (Lavinia’s) long hair seemed to catch fire
and her head-dress crackled with flames;
all her tresses burned, with her bejeweled crown,
then wreathed in smoke and tawny light,
she scattered Vulcan’s light throughout the house.
This was truly a hair-raising sight to behold,
and seers sang that she herself would be renowned
in days to come, but also brought great war upon her people.
(Aeneid 7.73-80)

The last two lines might sound to a Roman of Vergil’s time like one way to describe Augustus, the new Princeps: In 27 BCE he closed the doors of war and brought peace after a century of civil war in Italy, but before then, as Octavian, he was a bloodthirsty opponent for Antony and other aristocrats in the civil wars of the late First Century. The trade-off between peace and the loss of freedom will be reflected in Aeneas’s final act.

Books 9–12 follow in their main outlines the last six books of the Iliad, with Aeneas playing the role of Achilles and Turnus that of Hector. Homer's Trojans now become from this perspective the native Italians that Aeneas must finally defeat, and his Greeks become Vergil's Trojans. The alter Achilles, "other Achilles," that the Sybil foresaw would seem to be Aeneas himself. When Aeneas kills Turnus at the end of the poem, the scene is modeled on Hector's death at Achilles' hands in Iliad 22. The Roman hero's rage is in response to Turnus's killing of Pallas, the young son of Evander entrusted to him by the king in Book 10, the counterpart to Patroclus in the Iliad. Vergil's reworking of Homer is, however, not as straightforward as it might seem. It is in fact Turnus who most resembles Achilles in various ways in Book 9, where Iris, sent by Juno, urges Turnus to attack the Trojan camp while Aeneas is absent in Pallanteum, a clear reference to Iliad 18, where Iris rouses Achilles to drive the Trojans away from the Greek camp. Turnus himself claims the mantle of Achilles later in Book 9 while fighting a Trojan:

Incipe, si qua animo virtus, et consere dextram,
hic etiam inventum Priamo narrabis Achillem.

Join battle, if you have the courage;
you'll tell Priam another Achilles has been found here.
(Aeneid 9.742–743)

Later in Book 10, Juno fashions a phantom Turnus to lure Aeneas away from a showdown with his antagonist (10.632–679). The Homeric model here is Apollo, who creates a phantom soldier to draw Achilles away from the city of Troy at Iliad 21.595–611. Turnus, like Aeneas, Vergil seems to suggest, shares some qualities with Homer's Achilles. This blurring of the boundaries between the two Vergilian heroes will come to fruition in the poem's final moments.

From his first appearance in the poem, Turnus is presented as intense and emotional. Furor, "madness" and ira, "anger," are primary elements in his portrayal, as they are in the characterization of other young warriors, both Trojan and Italian, in the poem: Pallas, Euryalus, Camilla, and most conspicuously, the young Aeneas at Troy. After Juno's agent Allecto visits him, Turnus is seized by rage:

Arma amens fremit, arma toro tectisque requirit;
saevit amor ferri et scelerata insania belli
ira super…

Maddened, he calls for arms, looks for arms at his bedside and in his house;
lust for weapons seethes, the wicked insanity of war
and rage above all…
(Aeneid 7.460-462)

The echoes of Aeneas's suicidal bloodlust at Troy are compelling:

Arma amens capio, nec sat rationis in armis,
sed glomerare manum in bello et concurrere in arcem
cum sociis ardent animi; furor iraque mentem
praecipitat, pulchrumque mori succurit in armis.

Maddened, I take up arms, though arms had no chance.
But I burned to gather men for war and rush for some citadel
with my comrades; madness and rage drove my mind
and it seemed beautiful to die in battle.
(Aeneid 2.314–317)

And again, when Turnus besieges the Trojan camp:

Sed furor ardentem caedisque insana cupido
egit in adversos…

Madness and insane desire for slaughter drove him
burning against his enemies…
(Aeneid 9.760–761)

Books 10–12 describe the battle for Italy between Aeneas's forces and allies and the native Italians who oppose them, led by Turnus. The Homeric model is Books 19–22 of the Iliad, where Achilles cuts a gory swath through the Trojan forces to reach Hector, whom he kills at the end of Book 22 in a memorable scene. This part of the Aeneid is crowded with incident, but for our purposes four episodes are significant: the doomed night raid of two young Trojans, Nisus and Euryalus, on the Italian camp in Book 9; the death of Pallas at the hands of Turnus, and the killing of Lausus, another naïve young warrior, by Aeneas, both in Book 10; and the death of Camilla, virgin warrior and ally of Turnus in Book 11. The common thread that connects these episodes is the portrait of a certain kind of naïve and doomed heroism, condemned to be sacrificed to the march of Roman destiny. All of these young warriors, Trojans and Italians, are also connected to both Dido and Turnus, though a series of allusions and verbal echoes. The net effect of these scenes is to underscore the costs to both sides of Rome's destiny and to freight the final duel between Aeneas and Turnus with enormous symbolic significance, well beyond the personal fates of the two principal antagonists.

The Last Duel Reconsidered

ille, oculis postquam saevi monimenta doloris
exuviasque hausit, furiis accensus et ira
terribilis: 'tune hinc spoliis indute meorum
eripiare mihi? Pallas te hoc vulnere, Pallas
immolat et poenam scelerato ex sanguine sumit.'
hoc dicens ferrum adverso sub pectore condit
fervidus; ast illi solvuntur frigore membra
vitaque cum gemitu fugit indignata sub umbras.

After he drank in with his eyes the spoils, mementos
of savage grief, burning with madness and terrible
in his anger, he called out, "Will you, clothed in trophies
from my friend, be snatched from me? Pallas sacrifices
you with this wound, exacting payment from your criminal blood."
In a fever, he buried his sword in the upturned chest.
But that man's limbs went slack in death's chill,
and his spirit fled with a resentful groan into the gloaming.
(Aeneid 12.945–952)

We have said that this act by Aeneas dramatizes the resolution of two of Vergil's major themes, the nature of Aeneas's heroism, and the connection between Aeneas's final victory and the accession of Augustus in 27 BCE. As we have seen, the use of Homeric models for Vergilian characters and situations is not straightforward. In particular, the question of who the "other Achilles" is complicated by allusions to the Homeric hero in the portraits of both Aeneas and Turnus. This ambiguity is at the heart of Vergil's subtle depiction of Aeneas's progress toward a new kind of heroism. Leaving Dido would seem to have purged him of the dangerous tendency to see his life as his to live. The lessons from prophecy in Books 6 and 8 point toward a more self-sacrificing persona, putting the imperatives of Roman destiny before his own desires. The Hercules-Cacus story suggests the need to kill the fire monster, embodied by Turnus. Augustus's identification with Hercules, meanwhile, perhaps adds another layer to Aeneas's character, bringing the quelling of fire into phase with Augustus's triumph over Antony and establishing of a new political and social order. But that fire imagery, as we have seen, is also ambiguous in its import.

Aeneas’s furor and ira in these last moments place him, as we have said, in a long line of characters fired by their passions, Nisus, Euryalus, Pallas, Laursus, Camilla, and most particularly Dido, Turnus, and the young Aeneas at Troy. The question arises: how is his anger different from theirs? Can we make a clear distinction between it and the youthful, individualistic fervor of those sacrificed to the march of Roman destiny? When he plunges the sword into Turnus’s chest, we see replayed the death of Hector at Achilles’ hands. Because Hector is wearing Achilles’ armor, which he stripped from the dead body of Patroclus, Homer seems to be suggesting that Achilles is killing something in himself there. Likewise, because Turnus carries the fury and unbridled individualism of the young Aeneas, we can see a similar kind of spiritual suicide in this final act. Turnus, with his connections to both Aeneas and Dido, becomes in this moment another second self for Aeneas. Who or what is dying? What version of Aeneas is being sacrificed to serve the birth of a new hero (or a new political order)?

Gender adds a further dimension to the scene. The links between Turnus and Dido are clear enough. The final sword thrust, with Turnus kneeling in supplication before Aeneas, contains faint overtones of sexual domination, as the young Italian warrior is penetrated by his conqueror. The killing aligns, then, with the dominant theme in the poem of feminine disorder quelled by masculine authority. Maleness is associated in the poem with the imposition of order, and we have seen that Aeneas fell short of the requisite manliness in the first few books. In this sense, Aeneas seems to have learned his lesson and become a different kind of hero, one suited to the coming establishment of Roman order and Augustan order in particular. And yet, it is precisely those characters who are most associated with disorderly passions who succumb to furor as Aeneas does here. So, we might ask, is this final killing an imposition of control or a loss of control? Vergil does not choose for us.

Finally, the second self motif, as it appears elsewhere in ancient literature, leads us to look, after the destruction of the second self, for a period of deep exploration by the hero, leading to his or her reintegrating of the qualities the second self embodied. We have seen that no such thing happens in the case of Dido. When Aeneas finally meets her in the underworld in Book 6, she turns away coldly when he tries to speak to her, in a scene modeled on Odysseus’s encounter with Ajax in the Underworld. In the case of Turnus, the Homeric model offers a glimpse of the healing that reintegration might afford, in the funeral games for Patroclus in Book 23 and especially in the scenes between Achilles and Priam in Book 24, ending in the sublimely tranquil burial of Hector by the Trojans that closes the poem. No such healing occurs here. The sword descends and Turnus’s soul flitters resentfully into Hades. Aeneas, by killing off the parts of himself that flourished in his youth, becomes just another sacrificial victim. We should note here that Vergil is at pains to make us see this final stroke as Aeneas’s choice. All through the story, we have seen Aeneas’s preferences swamped by divine imperatives in the service of Rome’s destiny. Now, at the end of all his suffering, we see Aeneas hesitate over the supplicating Turnus, then choose to kill him, mirroring on one level Dido’s choice to commit suicide. Has he finally internalized the lessons of the gods, or simply given way to his furor?

That we are to see Aeneas’s final act as the first stage in the glorious march of destiny, bringing to pass the founding of both the city of Rome and the accession of Augustus, is confirmed in a telling verbal echo that frames the poem. In the opening prologue, Aeneas’s wanderings are connected to the founding (conderet) of Rome:

…dum conderet urbem
inferretque deos Latio; genus unde Latinum
Albanique patres atque altae moenia Romae.

until he
could found Rome and carry his gods to Latium,
home of the Latin race and the high walls of Rome.
(Aeneid 1.5–7)

So here, when Aeneas buries the sword in Turnus’s chest, the Latin word is condit (12.950). The Latin condo, condere has the basic meaning of putting something underneath, burying a sword, laying the foundations for a city. St. Peter’s basilica in Rome is built over the grave of the Christian martyr. So too, Vergil seems to suggest, the city of Rome is built on the body of its greatest mythical hero.

If so, and if, as we often claim, modern civilizations are themselves founded on the view of human experience first articulated by Classical antiquity, then what have we to learn from the Aeneid as a representation of that experience? If the Iliad can show us the price of elevating glory and personal power over the responsibility to care for others, if the Odyssey helps to illuminate the riddling interplay of celebrity and human identity, then what of Aeneas’ journey? Seen against the background of earlier epic and the emergence of the Roman Empire, his struggle to fulfill a mission he did not seek and cannot forsake tells us something about the trade-off between personal autonomy and the imperatives of larger forces. In the stark and brutal ending of Vergil’s poem there lurks a question: were all the sacrifices worth it? The poet declines to answer for us.

Further Reading

The bibliography on the Aeneid is vast. Here are just a few works that I think readers of this commentary might find helpful in thinking about the poem as a whole. Brooks Otis, Virgil: A Study in Civilized Poetry (Oxford, 1963) offers a discussion of all of Vergil’s poetry, with extensive analysis of the structure and themes. It would be particularly useful to anyone who would like to know how Vergil’s earlier poetry introduces major ideas that come to full flower in the Aeneid, and how Vergil worked with Homeric epic to produce his poem. J. W. Hunt, Forms of Glory: Structure and Sense in Virgil’s Aeneid (Carbondale, IL, 1973) is another intelligent and well-written study of the structure of the Aeneid. Darkness Visible: A Study of Vergil’s Aeneid (Berkeley, 1976 ), by W.R. Johnson, is a brilliant study of Vergil’s style and voice in the Aeneid, and also has valuable discussions of specific passages from the Aeneid that allude to Homeric epic. Michael Putnam, The Poetry of the Aeneid: Four Studies in Imaginative Unity and Design (Cambridge, MA, 1965) is a thoughtful and well-written study of four different parts of the poem, with close attention to the use of repeated structures and themes. Putnam’s later collection of articles, Virgil’s Aeneid: Interpretation and Influence (Chapel Hill, NC, 1995), is also excellent as a guide to the literary form of the Aeneid. For a fuller comparison of the Aeneid to The Epic of Gilgamesh and Homer’s Iliad, in particular how Vergil’s portrait of Aeneas as epic hero reflects themes from those two works, see Thomas Van Nortwick, Somewhere I Have Never Travelled: The Second Self and the Hero’s Journey in Ancient Epic (Oxford, 1992).

Scholarly journal articles on the Aeneid can offer more in-depth studies of particular features of the poem, but can be hard to track down if you are not familiar with the journals. Why Vergil? A Collection of Interpretations (Wauconda, IL, 2000), edited by Stephanie Quinn, offers an extensive collection of journal articles and book chapters, published by various scholars, on a wide array of topics. From that collection, I would especially recommend two articles: Adam Parry, “The Two Voices of Virgil’s Aeneid,” an evocative and beautifully written discussion of the undercurrent of sadness and pessimism that runs through the poem in opposition to the triumph of Aeneas at the end of the poem, and Bernard Knox “The Serpent and the Flame: The Imagery of the Second Book of the Aeneid,” perhaps the best detailed study of how Vergil used repeated imagery as a device for conveying meaning in his poetry. 


[1] Sumerian stories about Gilgamesh can be dated as early as 2100 BCE. The most complete narrative called The Epic of Gilgamesh, to which I refer here, is called the “Standard Babylonian” version. It was composed in Akkadian sometime between 1600 and 1100 BCE. An excellent annotated English translation, by Maureen Gallery Kovacs, was published by Stanford University Press in 1989.
[2] The Iliad, the earliest known literary work to be composed in Greek, is usually dated to around 750-725 BCE. The poem was well known all across the ancient Greek world, from the coast of what is now Turkey to the mainland of Greece, and continued to influence Greek and Roman writers until the disappearance of Classical literature in the early Middle Ages. There are many good modern English translations. Richmond Lattimore’s version (The Iliad of Homer. Chicago, University of Chicago Press 1951, 2011), has just been reissued in a new edition, with an excellent introduction by Richard Martin. Robert Fagles’s version (The Iliad: Homer, New York: Viking Penguin, 1990) is also excellent.
[3] See Karl Galinsky, The Herakles Theme (London: Blackwells, 1972) 126-152.
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