The Aeneid | Study Guide


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The Aeneid | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


In Book 4 of The Aeneid how do Aeneas's choices between duty and emotion contrast with Dido's choices?

In Book 4 both Aeneas and Dido make choices between their duties and their emotions. Both characters are leaders with responsibilities to their people. Their duties come into conflict because Aeneas's fate and the fate of his people lie in Italy, whereas Dido's responsibilities lie with Carthage. Dido also feels a duty to be faithful to her dead first husband. When Aeneas is forced to choose, his duty wins over his love for Dido. In contrast, Dido chooses emotion, abandoning her commitment to her first husband to be with Aeneas and abandoning her duty to her city by committing suicide. Her character is faithful to the Roman perception that men are best ruled by reason, whereas women are ruled by passion and emotion. The fact that Dido was influenced by Venus and Juno not only increases the pathos of her suffering, but supports the prevailing Roman notion that women lack fidelity to duty.

In Book 4 of The Aeneid what is the significance of the simile of the oak tree?

Virgil compares Aeneas's reaction to Dido's appeals to stay to the north wind blowing off the mountains and shaking a sturdy oak tree. Despite being bent and shaken by the wind, the tree stands strong, just as Dido's appeals and all of Aeneas's "love and suffering" cannot move him from following his fate. The roots of the tree that extend "deep into the dark world below," or the Underworld, bring to mind Aeneas's future trip there to visit his father's spirit and see his Roman descendants, connecting him to his duty to family and his inevitable fate. The top of the tree extends into the heavens, where the gods live, recalling his divine heritage and the fate the gods have set for him.

How is the will of the gods in conflict in Book 4 of The Aeneid?

The goddess Juno works against most of the other gods to try to prevent Aeneas's fate, which is set by the three goddesses of Fate and enforced by the god Jupiter. The goddess Venus makes Dido fall in love with Aeneas to help protect him from Juno and help him achieve his fate. Ironically, Juno thinks she can use Venus's intervention to her own ends and even tries to enlist Venus's help to "marry" Dido and Aeneas. Venus knows it won't work in the end but plays along with Juno. Juno does succeed in keeping Aeneas in Carthage long enough for Jupiter to become concerned and intervene, sending his messenger Mercury to remind Aeneas of his fate.

In Book 5 of The Aeneid what is the meaning of the snake at Anchises's tomb?

The appearance of the snake at Anchises's tomb can be interpreted in a number of ways. Throughout The Aeneid, snakes tend to cause or represent death and destruction, so some interpret the snake as Dido's spirit and the vengeance she promises Carthage will take on Aeneas's descendants. Aeneas himself wonders if the snake is a manifestation of his father's spirit. It clearly seems to represent death and probably even comes from the Underworld since it emerges and disappears back into the tomb. However, it behaves peacefully, simply tasting the funeral offerings before disappearing again, and its seven "rolling coils" call to mind the seven hills of Rome, perhaps making it a symbol of Aeneas's fate as the father of Rome.

Compare the opening lines of The Aeneid to the opening lines of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey.

Virgil follows the formula set by Homer in The Iliad and The Odyssey of speaking in the first person to "sing" the subject of the poem. The opening of The Aeneid is more similar to the opening of The Odyssey in content. Virgil first introduces the subject of the poem, Aeneas, and his fate, then summarizes some of the challenges he will face. He begins with "Arms I sing and a man, the first to come from the shores of Troy." Virgil also follows Homer in appealing to the Muses, goddesses of art and history, to tell his story. "Muse, tell me why the Queen of Heaven was so aggrieved." However, the placement and focus are somewhat different. Virgil's appeal to the Muses does not appear until almost 10 lines into The Aeneid whereas in Homer's Iliad and Odyssey it appears within the first few words. Virgil seems to want to focus on Aeneas and his fate first and the gods second in his epic poem.

How does the god Apollo support Aeneas and the Trojans in Book 6 of The Aeneid?

The Sybil, who prophesies Aeneas's destiny in Italy and guides him through the Underworld, is a priestess of Apollo and Diana. The prophecies she speaks, which will help the Trojans prepare for the coming war, are given to her by Apollo, who is the god of prophecy. In his prayer to Apollo, Aeneas references an incident from the Trojan War in which Apollo, also the god of archery, guided the arrow of Paris to hit the Greek enemy Achilles. The god has supported Troy in the past and continues to do so.

Why doesn't Virgil call on the Muses to help him tell of the Underworld in Book 6 of The Aeneid?

In every other place in his epic poem, Virgil invokes divine help to tell the story. In The Aeneid he calls on one or all of the Muses. However, in Book 6, to tell of the Underworld he calls on "voiceless shades" (ghosts who have gone to the Underworld); Chaos, god of the Underworld or the Underworld itself; and other "gods who govern the realm of ghosts." He also calls on the River of Fire, one of the rivers of the Underworld, and "you far-flung regions hushed in night," or regions of the Underworld. The Muses are goddesses of art and history, but they have no knowledge of the Underworld, so Virgil must instead call on the souls of the Underworld to authoritatively tell about it.

In Book 6 of The Aeneid how do the images of light and dark apply to the Underworld?

Throughout The Aeneid light often stands for life, and darkness represents death. Nowhere is this comparison more so than in the Underworld. Right from the entrance, the Underworld is gloomy and dark. In an epic simile, Virgil describes death's "ghostly realm" as like the deceptive light of the moon when "the black night drains all color from the world." Aeneas sees suicides who, "despising the light, ... threw their lives away." Dido's spirit is "a dim, misty figure." Most of the lands of the Underworld are dark and gloomy. The Elysian Fields, where Aeneas finds Anchises, is the only area of the Underworld with "their own sun, their own stars." When Anchises sees Aeneas coming to speak with him, he is reviewing the souls of their descendants "on their way to the world of light above." The episode is designed to point toward the glorious future of Rome, and suggests that the Underworld is not only a repository of memory and the past, but also a place of generation for the future.

What effect do the similes describing the crowd of dead souls have in Book 6 of The Aeneid?

In two related similes, Virgil compares the crowd of dead souls gathered at the bank of the Acheron River in the Underworld to leaves after the first frost of autumn and flocks of birds gathering before winter. These references to autumn and winter, when the natural world is dying rather than growing, emphasize the lack of life in the Underworld. Virgil's vivid images of frost and winter's chill evoke the chill of death. The overall effect is a cold and somber mood appropriate to the land of the dead.

In The Aeneid, how do accounts of the prophecy that the Trojans will eat their platters differ?

The prophecy that the Trojans will eat their platters first appears in Book 3 and is given by the Harpy Celaeno on the Strophades. She makes it sound quite dire—Trojans will suffer such a hunger that they will eat their platters. Aeneas's father, Anchises, prays to ward off the threat, and Apollo's prophecy in Buthrotum says it will not be as bad as it sounds. However, when the prophecy is fulfilled when they reach Italy in Book 7, Aeneas seems to forget about the Harpies and remembers that Anchises told him it was a secret sign that they were at their new home.

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