Lecture 15: Vergil Aeneid. 1-2.

Lecture 15,  Tuesday March 27th 2018

Virgil_mosaic_in_the_Bardo_National_Museum_(Tunis)_(12241228546).jpgMosaic depicting the poet, Vergil, sitting in the centre, holding a scroll containing a line from Aeneid Book 1. On his left, Clio, muse of history; on his right, Melpomene, muse of tragedy (holding a tragic mask). 3rd century CE. Discovered at Hadrumentum in 1896. Currently in The National Bardo Museum, Tunisia. Image: public domain.

Rotated close-up of the mosaic, showing in detail its depiction of Aeneid 1.8-9: Musa, mihi causas memora, quo numine laeso | quidve… 

 Publius Vergilius Maro (70 BCE – 19 BCE)

  • Vergil was born on 15th October 70 BCE in Mantua and died on 21st September 19 BCE in Brundisium. He was buried near Naples.
  • At the time of his death, his fortune amounted to about 10 million sesterces (which suggests the social rank of an equestrian), he owned a house in Rome and had personal contacts to Augustus.

CL 102 Spring 2018-Vergil's Works and relationships[pdf w clickable links: CL 102 Spring 2018-Vergil’s Works and relationships]

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1) Inscription of Cornelius Gallus in Hieroglyphics, Latin, and Greek detailing his achievements in Egypt (ILS 8995), erected at Philae. 16th April 29 BCE. Image: via Epigraphic Database Heidelberg. 2) Inscription of Cornelius Gallus on the Egyptian Obelisk (now in front of St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome). Augustus had moved the obelisk to Alexandria, Egypt; in 37 CE it was moved to Rome by Caligula. The inscription has been deciphered from underneath another (CIL 6.882) from traces left by nail-holes of the bronze letters. Image: EDCS. 3) The Vatican obelisk at Rome. Image: “Dabnu14” (CC-BY-SA-3.0) via wikimedia.


Aeneas: old myth, new purpose

Aeneas appears in Homeric epic (e.g. Iliad 2.819-8235.1806.77-7911.58) where he is already described as a son of Venus. In the Iliad, Poseidon says that Aeneas and his descendants are destined to rule over the Trojans (20.307-308):

“Aeneas will rule the men of Troy in power —
his sons’ sons and the sons born in future years.” (Fagles)

Storage Jar with Aeneas and Anchises
Attic 6th century BCE black-figure amphora depicting Aeneas, carrying his father, Anchises, with his son ahead of him. Escape from Troy. Aphrodite, Aeneas’ mother, stands behind him. Image: Getty villa. (We saw this in lecture 2).

Silver coin (denarius) of Julius Caesar from 47/46 BCE (RRC 458/1). Obverse (left): head of Venus, wearing a diadem. Reverse (right): Aeneas carrying the Palladium (sacred cult image of armed Athena/Minerva, referred to at Aeneid 1.167) in his right hand, Anchises on his left shoulder. Text: CAESAR. Image: American Numismatic Society. (See Zanker 1988 fig. 27b)

Wall paintings of Aeneas (left) and Romulus (right) from a house at Pompeii (IX 13.5 = so-called House of Fabius Ululitremulus) which are thought to reflect the statues erected in the Forum of Augustus (see Zanker 1988: 202). Aeneas carries his father (Anchises), and leads his son, Ascanius/Iulus, out of the destroyed city of Troy. Romulus carries the arms of an enemy defeated in single combat (spolia opima). Image: pompeiinpictures.com. Coloured replica of Aeneas (Vroma), of Romulus (Vroma).


Graffito in the wall of the same house at Pompeii (IX.13.5 = so-called House of Fabius Ululitremulus) with the paintings of Aeneas and Romulus. The inscription is a parody of the opening line of Vergil’s Aeneid 1.1. It reads: Fullones ululamque cano non arma virumq (CIL 4 9131), “I sing the fullers and the screech-owl, not arms and the man.” Some scholars have explained the owl here as a symbol of Minerva, their patron goddess. Ululitremulus’ name means “owl-fearer”. See Milnor 2014: 248-249.  


Wall painting parody of Aeneas/Anchises/Ascanius from Stabiae (1st c. CE). Paul Zanker (1988:209): “To the more perceptive observer, even then, it all became too much. He tried to find respite in irony and humor…The owner of a villa near Stabiae, for example, had painted on his wall a parody of the often copied Aeneas group in the Forum of Augustus, with the heroic ancestors of the princeps depicted as apes with dogs’ heads and huge phalloi.” Image: Vroma.

Look out for the following motifs/symbols: FLAME/FIRE, FURY, GOLD, WOUND, SNAKE. How do these motifs signal the dark side of empire?

Synopsis of Vergil’s Aeneid Books 1-3 from Williams (1996: xvi-xvii):

“Book 1. The poem begins as the Trojans, after seven years of wanderings, are leaving Sicily for Italy, the place of their promised city. But Juno arouses a storm and they are driven off course to Carthage. Here they are hospitably welcomed by the queen Dido. Through the scheming of Venus Dido falls in love with Aeneas and at a banquet asks to hear the story of his wanderings.

“Books 2 and 3. These books are a flash-back in which Aeneas tells to Dido the story of his fortunes prior to the action of Book 1. The second book is intense and tragic, concerned with the events of one single night, the night of Troy’s destruction. The third book is slow-moving, conveying the weary endurance of years of voyaging to reach the ‘ever-receding shores’ of Italy.”


Aeneid Book 1:

1.1-33: Proem. ARMA VIRUMQUE CANO (1.1)

1.91-101: Aeneas’ first appearance.

1.197-109: Aeneas’ false hope.

1.229-295: Venus, Jupiter, and the Book of Fate.

1.370-410: Venus disguised. Aeneas’ recognition.

1.450-495: The Temple of Juno at Carthage. EkphrasisSUNT LACRIMAE RERUM (1.462)

1.657-756: Cupid disguised as Iulus. Dido poisoned.


Aeneid Book 2:

2.15-234: The Trojan Horse. Sinon the deceiver.

2.199-233: Laocoön and the snakes.

2.270-317: Ghost of Hector. Pastor simile. Beauty in death.

2.506-555: Death of Priam.

2.567-588: Aeneas wants to kill Helen.

2.589-623: Venus and Aeneas.

2.634-672: Anchises won’t leave. Aeneas still wants to fight.

2.673-679: Creusa reminds Aeneas of Iulus.

2.680-694: Iulus’ portent in flame. Thunder on the left, and a comet.

2.707: “Dear father, let them set you on my shoulders.”

2.738-794: Creusa is lost. Creusa’s ghost.

2.781: Creusa tells Aeneas exactly where to go. He will immediately forget.


Trojan_horse_MAN_Napoli_Inv120176Roman wall paintings from a house at Pompeii (IX.7.16). depicting the Trojans bringing the Horse into the city of Troy (as told by Vergil Aeneid Book 2). The Trojans dance happily and drag the wooden horse to the walls of Troy. They ignore the warnings of Cassandra who is seen withdrawing, carrying lighted torches. Image: Sailko (CC BY-SA 3.0) via wikimedia.

Laocoon_and_His_SonsStatue group of Laocoön and his sons being eaten by snakes (as told by Vergil Aeneid Book 2). Discovered in 1506 on the Esquiline Hill at Rome. Pliny the Elder (NH 36.37) describe a statue of a man and his sons eaten by snakes which he saw in the palace of Emperor Titus, identifying its sculptors as Athanadoros, Hagesandros, and Polydoros of Rhodes. He also describes it as made from one block of marble (which it isn’t…). Currently in the Vatican Museum. Debate about its date is vigorous and ongoing. Image: “LivioAndronico” (CC BY-SA 4.0) via wikimedia.



Further Reading:

  • R. D. Williams’ commentary on Aeneid I-VI [Mugar: PA6802.A1 W5 1996].
  • Paul Zanker, The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus (1988/1889) [Mugar: N5760 .Z36 1988]
  • On the graffiti of Vergil at Pompeii: Kristina Milnor, Graffiti & the Literary Landscape in Roman Pompeii (2014), available online thro’ BU library, esp. chapter 5: “A Culture of Quotation: Virgil, Education, and Literary Ownership.” (p233-272).
  • On Aeneas, see: Karl Galinksy, Aeneas, Sicily, and Rome (1969) [Mugar: BL 820 A34 F69b]

One thought on “Lecture 15: Vergil Aeneid. 1-2.

  1. Pingback: Lecture 17: Vergil Aeneid. 6-9. | CL 102 — World of Rome —Spring 2018

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