Vergil’s Aeneid:
Rome’s National Epic
Who Was Vergil?
• Publius Vergilius Maro lived from 70-19 BC.
• He was probably the son of a wealthy farmer
and was born near Mantua, Italy.
• Vergil received a good education.
• He is most famous for 3 poetic works:
– The Ecologues: pastoral poetry
– The Bucolics: poems about farming
– The Aeneid: the national epic of Rome
Who Was Vergil?
• Around 29 BC Vergil was commissioned by
Augustus to write a poem about Rome’s
• The Aeneid details the adventures of Aeneas,
a Trojan warrior who sailed to Italy and
founded the Roman race.
• The Aeneid is similar to the Odyssey and the
Iliad of Homer.
Opening Lines of the Aeneid
• Arma virumque cano, Troiae qui primus ab oris
Italiam, fato profugus, Laviniaque venit
• I sing of arms and the man, he who, exiled by
first came from the coast of Troy to Italy, and to
the Lavinian shores…
I sing of arms and the man, he who, exiled by fate,
first came from the coast of Troy to Italy, and to
Lavinian shores – hurled about endlessly by land and sea,
by the will of the gods, by cruel Juno’s remorseless anger,
long suffering also in war, until he founded a city
and brought his gods to Latium: from that the Latin people
came, the lords of Alba Longa, the walls of noble Rome.
Muse, tell me the cause: how was she offended in her
how was she grieved, the Queen of Heaven, to drive a
noted for virtue, to endure such dangers, to face so many
trials? Can there be such anger in the minds of the gods?
Arma virumque cano, Troiae qui primus ab oris
Italiam, fato profugus, Laviniaque venit
litora, multum ille et terris iactatus et alto
vi superum saevae memorem Iunonis ob iram;
multa quoque et bello passus, dum conderet
inferretque deos Latio, genus unde Latinum,
Albanique patres, atque altae moenia Romae.
Musa, mihi causas memora, quo numine laeso,
quidve dolens, regina deum tot volvere casus
insignem pietate virum, tot adire
impulerit. Tantaene animis caelestibus irae?
The Aeneid
• The Aeneid is divided into 12 books, or sections.
• It is written entirely in a meter called dactylic
hexameter: 6 measures of long-short-short.
• It was still unfinished when Vergil died. Some
lines are incomplete (missing beats).
• He asked his friends to burn it, but Augustus
ordered it to be published instead.
• It is one of the most important literary works in
Western literature.
Aeneas, the Roman Hero
• According to mythology, Aeneas was the son of
the Trojan Anchises and the goddess Venus.
• He was a valiant warrior and cousin of King Priam
of Troy.
When the Greeks invade
Troy using the trick of the
Trojan horse, the ghost of
Hector appears to Aeneas
and warns him to flee
the city.
Aeneas (continued)
• After trying to fight, Aeneas finally flees the
city with his family.
• He carries his crippled father Anchises.
• His wife Creusa (daughter of King Priam and
Queen Hecuba) and son Ascanius (also called
Iulus) follow behind.
• They take their Trojan household gods, the
Lares and Penates, with them. (statues)
“ergo age, care pater, ceruici imponere nostrae;
ipse subibo umeris nec me labor iste gravabit…”
“…mihi paruus
sit comes, et
longe servet
Aeneas (continued)
• In the chaos of battle, Creusa falls behind and is
killed. Aeneas goes back to find her but her
ghost appears to him and explains he has to leave
without her.
• She also prophesies that he will sail to Hesperia
(Italy) and marry another.
• Aeneas gathers a band of survivors and they sail
west to find a new land to settle in.
• The goddess Juno is Aeneas’ enemy and tries to
derail him from his fate to found a “new Troy.”
Aeneas’ Adventures
• Aeneas and his followers have many adventures
during their wanderings.
• Several times they think they’ve found the right
place to settle, only to be told “no” by the gods.
• His father Anchises dies on Sicily.
• After 6 years, a violent storm wrecks them on the
shores of north Africa, near Carthage.
• Aeneas and Queen Dido of Carthage have a yearlong love affair.
speluncam Dido dux et Troianus eandem
Aeneas’ Adventures (continued)
• The gods call Aeneas
back to his duty.
• Queen Dido commits
suicide and curses
Carthage and Rome
to be enemies.
Aeneas’ Adventures (continued)
• Aeneas visits the Sybil, a prophetess, and makes a
trip to the Underworld where he sees the shades
of his father and Queen Dido (who refuses to
speak to him!)
• The Trojans eventually reach the shores of Italy
near Latium.
• King Latinus of the Latins receives Aeneas and
allows the exiled Trojans to live in Latium.
• The king’s daughter, Lavinia, is given to Aeneas as
his wife.
Aeneas’ Adventures (continued)
• Lavinia’s first promised husband, King Turnus
of the Rutilians, declares war.
• The Aeneid’s cliffhanger ending: Aeneas kills
Turnus in battle. The end!
• Roman historians later wrote that yes, Aeneas’
forces won the war, though King Latinus died.
• Aeneas married Lavinia, founded the city of
Lavinium, and became the ancestor of
Romulus and Remus.
Aeneas’ Heroic Traits
• Aeneas was known as pius Aeneas for his
piety/devotion toward his gods, family, and
• He was a strong warrior.
• He put his duty before his personal
wishes (ex.: leaving Dido in Carthage).
• The Julian family traced their ancestry back to
Aeneas’ son Ascanius Iulus, and thus to the
goddess Venus.
• Vergil included prophetic scenes of Augustus’
family members in parts of the poem.
• Vergil’s poem the Aeneid was excellent
propaganda for the Emperor Augustus since it
tied his family into the legends and
mythologies of Troy and Rome.