The Epic of Aeneas: Virgil's Artistic Genius and Innovation

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He fleshes out the story of the Trojan horse in book 3: the subsequent assault on Troy by the Greeks, the defeat of the Trojans, and Aeneas’ escape with his comrades and family, ending with their departure by ship for their destined new nation.

Book 3 serves to narrate the travels of Aeneas and his heroes through thick and thin against all odds, ultimately arriving in Sicily where his father Anchises dies. After the funeral games, Aeneas sent his people by ship to Italy only to be driven in the opposite direction to Carthage by Juno’s storm. There she wishes to unite our Trojan hero with Queen Dido to prevent him from reaching his destiny.

Having told the entire tale all night long to Dido and her nobles, Aeneas ends his story at the end of book 3, a perfect segue to book 4 where the tale of Dido’s tragic love is told by Vergil with exceptional ingenuity. Using the medea figure of Euripides as his model, Vergil spins a tale of intense emotion to sympathetically depict the madness of love. He is truly in his element with the topic as he portrays the cruelty endured by this tragic heroine. This is the climax of his genius in this book because of the intensity of emotion combined with the challenge faced by our hero so realistically depicted. The reader needs time to recover from the emotional intensity of book 4, thus book 5 blandly depicts the transition from Africa to Italy of the Trojans.

Book 5 explains how Aeneas reaches Italy and sets up the next master piece that is Book 6. Virgil must finish this first half of the epic with a climax and it does not fail to ascend. Book 6 allows the author to locate his reason for writing the entire epic, the glory of Augustus. Again Virgil shows his artistic skill by weaving into the catabasis of Homer. The first half of the epic ends up with a eulogy to the achievements of the Princeps.

The remaining 6 books, however impressive, they are somehow like the Iliad and the Odyssey in that it falls short of the same artistic genius of the first 6 books, probably because of the dreadful subject material of war. The burden Vergil carries in the 6 books is perhaps a lot heavier for this reason. It is always very difficult to make war scenes interesting for an entirety of 6 books. Virgil deserves credit for setting up the premise for the last of 6 the six books by introducing the rivalry over Lavinia, daughter of King Latinus because this proves to be the reason for the war. Furthermore, he has the great opportunity in Book 12 to evoke Iliad 22 when he portrays the death of Turnus at the hands of Aeneas. Turnus previously killed the young hero Pallas (also known as Patroclus in the Iliad) out of revenge. Thus Vergil ends his Iliad in the same tone and script off Homer.

Virgil's’ genius lies in his innovation of the Homeric themes in the context of the hero, Aeneas. Despite his imitation of Homer, he exhibits phenomenal innovation that even Homer didn’t think of. When you compare the two authors, one can see how Vergil’s artistry deserves the title of greatness in the annals of literature as well as the title of Rome’s greatest poet.

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