In order to get an English degree at my alma mater, students were required to take two of the following three courses: American Literature I, British Literature I, or Greek and Roman Literature. I’d knocked out Brit Lit I relatively early on, and since not reading Moby-Dick makes me happy, I decided I would take Greek and Roman Lit to fulfill my requirement. Little did I know that sitting in a class taught by the professor I’d seen walking around campus in a trench coat with an upturned collar, smoking cigarettes in a manner of cool unseen since Humphrey Bogart would be one of my favorite college experiences, but it was. So now I have to say, Dr. Crupi, I’m sorry. I didn’t finish The Aeneid.
But it’s never too late to make amends, so I read the whole book and here it is. The Aeneid. My review.
Alrighty then. The Aeneid is the story of Aeneas, cousin of Hector (who was last seen being killed by Achilles in The Iliad), son of Venus, and Trojan hero extraordinaire. Aeneas has been fated to leave his homeland of Ilium/Troy (which is good, since it was destroyed by the Greeks) to take a cruise to Italy and begin a settlement on the Tiber River which will become the seat of everybody’s favorite empire: Rome. Along the way, he gets it on with Dido (the Carthaginian queen, not the singer), his father dies, he takes a little trip to the underworld, and he fights a war. Virgil died before finishing The Aeneid, so even though the entire epic talks about the ultimate importance of Aeneas founding Rome, Aeneas never actually gets around to founding Rome, which makes it just a teeny bit anti-climactic. But on the upside, Aeneas kills a lot of people, so there’s that.
Before I talk about what I think of the book as a cohesive whole, I would like to take a moment to harp on a couple of plot points.
1. I’ve already mentioned the fact that I think the whole business with the Trojan Horse is silly, but let me reiterate the fact that I think the whole business with the Trojan Horse is silly. Seriously. Say you’d been defending your city from a bunch of Greeks who are pissed off enough about the fact that one of your people stole the wife of one of their people that they’d go to war with you. Say also that you’ve been defending your city for ten years. One day, you notice that hey, all the Greeks are gone! But they left a present! A giant horse made out of wood! (Ooooh. Pretty.) No matter what anybody tells you, do you really think that wheeling it inside your beloved city walls is absolutely the best thing to do? If so, then you deserve to die in a fiery inferno, and that is that.
Actually, that was the only plot point I wanted to harp on for a minute. The rest of the plot points don’t really deserve harping.
So, moving right along, what do I think about this particular classic work of literature now that I have read the entire thing from cover to cover? Let’s see. People in epic poetry pontificate too much. War scenes get pretty tedious. (Though the image of the guy getting stabbed in his yelling, open mouth with a javelin will stick with me for awhile. Ouch.) Ancient people will go to war for love (I’ve been fought over before, but now I’m kind of sorry that there weren’t any swords and torches involved).
Reading The Aeneid is kind of like eating a great big plate of steamed broccoli sans embellishment. It tastes okay, but really, you just do it because it’s healthy and you can use the fact that you ate a plate of broccoli to justify eating a bowl of ice cream later. I didn’t find it quite as entertaining as the Homeric epics, but despite the fact that The Aeneid is literary broccoli, I mostly found myself enjoying it a lot. The poetry is good, the story is great (despite the slight letdown ending), and it’s impossible not to picture it being turned into a really bad movie someday. Important points, all.
In the end, I think The Aeneid definitely deserves its place in the literary canon, and since my opinion is very important to these kinds of things, it’s good that I feel the way I do.