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Analysis: Setting

Where It All Goes Down

The Ancient Mediterranean

After setting out from Troy, in modern Turkey, Aeneas's fleet ricochets like a pinball off the major landmarks of the Ancient Mediterranean: Thrace, the Greek islands, Crete, Epirus, Sicily, North Africa, and finally Italy. (Who's operating the paddles of this pinball machine? The gods, of course.) It's important to remember, though, that the time in which Aeneas's adventures takes place isn't just ancient from our perspective – it was also way, way, way lost in the mists of time for Virgil. This gave him the freedom to mix things up a bit, and include mythological elements in his geography. For example, in Virgil's day, Eastern Sicily was not inhabited by a race of Cyclopes. Similarly, the straits of Messina (between the toe of Italy and Sicily) were not guarded by the horrible creatures, Scylla and Charybdis.

In reading the Aeneid, one thing you might want to think about is whether Virgil means for all these details to be taken seriously – or does he want the reader to realize that he is creating a fictional account of Rome's origins? How might your answer to this question influence your interpretation of the poem overall?

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