Challenges & Opportunities
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Sample of Challenges & Opportunities
You don't have to go far to figure out the challenges of teaching the Aeneid. Simply log on to Facebook and type in "Aeneid." The most popular page has 2,635 people who claim to "like" Virgil's epic poem. In reality, this page can read like a gripe-fest for Latin III students all over the world. The problem is not the poem itself. The problem is this: students do not like to analyze the poem. If translating from the Latin, they may feel that they are already doing enough work. If Virgil comes to them in translation, it can be very easy to let the lines simply wash over them. Student apathy can be benign: "Can't we just enjoy the poetry? Why do we have to talk about things like ekphrasis and nation-building?" At its worst, apathy can turn into revulsion.
"Go take a leap, Aeneid…you're not my problem anymore."
Readers generally have very strong feelings for this poem – for better or worse. Why is that? Quite frankly, just reading Virgil can be difficult. Poetic language can stump some students, as can the mythology of a civilization long past. But generation after generation, we keep coming back to this poem. And for good reason. The Aeneid has a little of everything: adventure, sex, gore, sports, competition, warrior-girls, and lots of masculine chest pounding – not to mention poetic beauty and universal truth.
We at Shmoop cannot be too over-the-top in our enthusiasm for this work of literature… and neither can you. The best way to combat Classical Lit Fatigue is with your personal enthusiasm for the work. Pick something Virgilian that you love: the wildly changing narrative, the mystical elements, the fantastic and puzzling epic similes, the mastery of technical elements. Share what you like and encourage students to bring their favorite things (and not so favorite) to the class every day. Talking about the personal experience of reading this poem gives everyone the opportunity to speak the language of literary criticism from a safe place: personal preference.