Jamelah Reads the Classics: The Aeneid

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.

16 Responses

  1. Literary BroccoliEven though
    Literary Broccoli

    Even though I happen to like broccoli an awful lot, there’s no need for me to pick up The Aeneid now, because you’ve taken one for the team. And I thank you.

  2. Just one little thing&
    Just one little thing

    & i’d like to harp on your harp.
    It wasn’t actually Virgil’s fault that the Trojans accepted that horse and then went off and drank themselves silly.

    It wasn’t a plot point so much as a fluke of history. What could Virgil do but be loyal to the facts?

    I quote:

    The Trojan Horse

    Still seeking to gain entrance into Troy, clever Odysseus (some say with the aid of Athena) ordered a large wooden horse to be built. Its insides were to be hollow so that soldiers could hide within it.

    Once the statue had been built by the artist Epeius, a number of the Greek warriors, along with Odysseus, climbed inside. The rest of the Greek fleet sailed away, so as to deceive the Trojans.

    One man, Sinon, was left behind. When the Trojans came to marvel at the huge creation, Sinon pretended to be angry with the Greeks, stating that they had deserted him. He assured the Trojans that the wooden horse was safe and would bring luck to the Trojans.

    Only two people, Laocoon and Cassandra, spoke out against the horse, but they were ignored. The Trojans celebrated what they thought was their victory, and dragged the wooden horse into Troy.

    That night, after most of Troy was asleep or in a drunken stupor, Sinon let the Greek warriors out from the horse, and they slaughtered the Trojans. Priam was killed as he huddled by Zeus’ altar and Cassandra was pulled from the statue of Athena and raped.

    from the link above.

  3. I like broccoli too. Sort
    I like broccoli too. Sort of. Sometimes. I have to be in the right sort of mood for it, or it’s very unsatisfactory.

    The next one I plan to take for the team is Dante’s Inferno. I wonder if it will be like literary spinach…

  4. This is true. Yet, it is
    This is true. Yet, it is Virgil’s fault that Aeneas tells the story of the fall of Troy like there was no way that the Trojans could’ve guessed that the Greeks were up to something. Of course, I know there were other factors at play, too — those wacky gods had to have their way, after all. And of course, who’s going to listen to Laocoon? He said not to take the horse inside, and ended up getting killed by a couple of giant sea snakes. Heck of a way to go, really.

  5. even though I happen to love
    even though I happen to love spinach, Dante’s Inferno is more like literary tea: not only is it good for you, it’s damn enjoyable at the same time.

  6. Some comments:(1)Sinon
    Some comments:
    (1)Sinon “assured the Trojans that the wooden horse was safe”? That makes the story sound even sillier. But I’m not harping on you Judih, because I know you are quoting another source. It just sounded funny. “Damn Greeks deserted me! Left me here with this horse, which, by the way, is perfectly harmless…you want it? Be my guest.”

    (2) Jamelah, I think the reason the horse story is hard to accept is that we have heard it, and so many variations of it, for such a long time. I’m thinking that back in those days, no one had ever thought of it before. Like false bottoms in suitcases or trap doors on stages, people used to be fooled by these things. A lot of magician tricks, like sawing a person in half while they are in a box, are obvious now but there was a time when you could scare the devil out of a hick audience.
    Ahh, those were the days…

    (3) Speaking of harping, does the Aeneid have any of those bat-winged flying harpies that pester the blind man in that Jason and the Argonauts movie?

  7. trench coat profI like the
    trench coat prof

    I like the way you describe that professor.

    Also, I appreciate your honest review of the Aeneid. I hope you will continue reviewing works of literature for us – it’s a great feature for LitKicks.

  8. I read “Inferno” not too long
    I read “Inferno” not too long ago. Actually spinach is a very apt comparison, because Dante was a Florentine.

    I liked “Inferno” well enough, so I’d compare it to a good, flaky-crusted spinach pie with feta cheese. Which sounds good right now, in fact.

  9. Sounds like you’ve never had
    Sounds like you’ve never had a really good spinach pie …

  10. Good God, you people are
    Good God, you people are making me hungry.

    Levi, I’m curious about Dante’s Inferno. Could you give us a brief synopsis or review of it?

  11. Sorry Bill, but under the
    Sorry Bill, but under the review clause we have with Dante, you’ll have to wait for … (cue music) when Jamelah Reads the Classics.

  12. He was a cool teacher. Made
    He was a cool teacher. Made classical literature riotously funny, which is a skill not to be underestimated.

    Next up in my review queue is Dante’s Inferno. Abandon all hope…

  13. Yep, harpies galore.Well, not
    Yep, harpies galore.

    Well, not galore, per se… but they’re there.


  14. WhooHoo! Dante.All I can
    WhooHoo! Dante.

    All I can picture is a Hieronymus Bosch painting when I think about Dante’s Inferno, and I don’t even know if the two are related.

  15. Monty Python said it bestIt’s
    Monty Python said it best

    It’s good to know I’m not the only one who felt that way about the Trojan horse.

    Other than the brilliant minds behind Monty Python. Anytime the Trojan Horse is mentioned I can’t help thinking about that scene in The Holy Grail…

    “They’ve taken the rabbit into the castle, what happens next.”

    “Well, when nighttime comes, Sir Robin and I jump out of the rabbit and kill them all.”


    “I said…Sir Robin and I…come out…of the rabbit…”

    “Run away!”

    (Or something along those lines. It’s been awhile 🙂

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