Discussion Topics and Questions for Vergil`s Aeneid

Discussion Topics and Questions for Vergil’s Aeneid Books 7-9
1. The second “half” of our epic draws parallels between the Aeneid and Iliad. In what
ways does it do so (give examples)? What is the significance of these parallels for
ideas about Rome’s past, one the one hand, and for the Aeneid as a piece of literature,
on the other?
2. One way in which Vergil explicitly references the Iliad is through Turnus' selfdescription as Achilles (Book IX, lines741-742). At the same time one can see Turnus
as representative of Menelaus’ predicament, in which a bride (or bride to be) has been
stolen by a Trojan. Discuss the influence that this has on our understanding of the
3. In Books VII-IX, Vergil invokes the Muses four separate times: 7.37-45 (Erato); 7.641646 (the goddesses of Mt. Helicon, i.e. the Muses); 9.77 (“The Muses”); 9.525-528
Why does he seem to use such repetition and remind the audience of his inspiration
much more so than he does in the first half of the epic?
In each case Vergil varies his wording and the specific goddess(es) whom he invokes.
How are the differences significant? For example, who is Erato? Who is Calliope?
4. At the end of Book VII Virgil praises the prowess of the maiden warrior Camilla. Does
this change our perception of the attitudes expressed about women expressed thus far?
If so, how?
5. Through Evander and his people (in Book VIII), Vergil portrays the humble
beginnings of the Roman citadel. How might this affect our understanding of the Aeneid
or of Rome’s founding?
6. Discuss the significance of the ecphrasis at the end of Book VIII (lines 626-728).
How does it compare to other ecphrases in the work (Temple of Juno book I or Temple
of Apollo Book VI). How does it compare to the catalogue of future heroes in the
underworld scene of Book VI? How do the specific images on the shield relate to larger
context of the narrative at this point in the Aeneid?
7. Discuss the role of the ill-fated journey by Nisus and Euryalus in Book IX. How does it
contribute to the Aeneid?
8. The underlying causes and motivations for war are a major theme of the Aeneid and,
in fact, of any epic poem. At 9.184-5 Nisus says to Euryalus: ‘Is it the gods who put this
ardour into our minds or does every man’s irresistible desire become his god?’ [NB: we
could also translate: “Do the gods attach this passion to our designs, Euryalus, or does
each man’s dire appetite become a god to him?” The Latin is: dine hunc ardorem
mentibus addunt,/Euryale, an sua cuique deus fit dira cupido?].
The episode of the death of Nisus and Euryalus are among the most famous and most
debated of the work. As one commentator (P. Hardie) has remarked: “As with the death
of Turnus at the end of the last book, such contradictory judgments are provoked by
Virgil’s practice of constructing complex moral, and even metaphysical, problems, easy
answers to which are deliberately withheld: this episode opens with questions by Nisus
about the roots of human psychology (184-5) which are never clearly resolved in the
First of all, what “ardour” is being talked about here? For what or for whom is this
passion? If it is not clear (i.e. ambiguous), does that ambiguity seem to be on purpose
or coincidental? If it is designed ambiguity, how does it require us to reflect on the
relationship between “passion” and “war”?
Do the gods play a larger or significantly different role in the destiny of individuals in the
second half of the epic as compared to in the first half?
9. In Book IX Turnus attempts to set fire to the Trojan ships, which metamorphosize into
sea nymphs in order to escape. Turnus notes that the outcome for the Trojans is the
same as if the ships had been burned: the Trojans cannot escape. Why does Vergil
include this section, and why does only now tell us of Jupiter's promise to Cybele when
the ships were being made?
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