The Aeneid

Pious Aeneas goes from minor character in the Trojan War to founder of Rome, the city that conquered the world, meetin' ladies and experiencing major duty-induced guilt trips along the way. We wonder what Virgil could have done for Robin, Batman's perpetual sidekick...

AuthorVirgil - Virgil
FormPoem
LanguageEnglish Language
Literary FormsPoetry
LiteratureWorld Literature
ThemesDuty
Family
Fate and Free Will
Love
Memory and the Past
Mortality
Power
Primitivity
Religion
War and Warfare

Transcript

00:16

Here’s the opening line of the Aeneid:

00:18

I sing of arms and of a man.

00:22

So which is it? What exactly is the Aeneid about? Arms, or a man?

00:25

First, let's make one thing clear. We're not talking about arms… we're talking about

00:29

arms.

00:29

Like… more weapons than we can count.

00:32

So you could definitely argue that the Aeneid is about arms.

00:39

After all, this is a bloody story of war. In that way, it takes after Homer's Iliad.

00:50

For comparison, the opening line of Homer's Iliad is:

00:53

Sing, goddess, the anger of Peleus' <<peel-ee-us>>[2] son Achilles.

00:56

The anger in this case being, you guessed it… war.

00:59

Blood. Guts. Dismemberment. All the juiciest details of conflict.

01:01

But Virgil wasn’t inspired by the Iliad alone.

01:04

Ever heard of the Odyssey?

01:07

Just as the Odyssey was about Odysseus… The Aeneid is about Aeneas <<uh-NEE-iss>>.

01:14

A man.

01:14

In case you’ve misplaced your copy of the Odyssey, we’ll remind you of its first line,

01:22

too:

01:23

Tell me, Muse, of the man of many ways, who was driven.

01:26

That’s right… the man.

01:27

The Aeneid follows in these footsteps and tells the story of a dude on a quest who ends

01:35

up in some seriously sticky situations. But maybe the first line is deceiving. Is

01:41

it possible that the Aeneid is about neither arms nor a particular man?

01:47

It might just be about the whims of the gods and the founding of Rome.

01:55

And those gods are fickle. [3]

01:57

They’re just as likely to turn you into a sheep as they are to bless you with a bountiful

02:02

harvest.

02:03

You don’t ever want to be on their bad side.

02:09

Is the Aeneid about arms?

02:11

Is it about a man?

02:12

Is it just an origin story about the chosen city of the gods?[4]

02:18

Or is it all of the above? Shmoop amongst yourselves.

02:24

[1]This is utterly and completely not true. The epic was not sung. It was recited.

02:27

The only reason that the epic starts with "I sing" is because he was copying Homer.

02:32

There was really no singing in Rome. [2]This is wrong. It's PEEL-ee-us

02:35

[3]I mean…it really is about all of them…so, the question posed at the end doesn't really

02:38

have a lot of substance. [4]This is really only part of the story.

02:42

Because Aeneas is the son of a goddess, and Augustus, the first emperor, is supposedly

02:47

descended from the goddess and is therefore divine. So, although you could say that the

02:52

gods are fickle, the gods are actually pretty authoritative. And the whole point is that

03:00

the founding of Rome was divinely determined—it was fate—and so the city is basically the

03:08

chosen city of the gods.