Aeneid of Virgil

Course No. 303
Professor Elizabeth Vandiver, Ph.D.
Whitman College
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Course No. 303
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Course Overview

The Aeneid is the great national epic of ancient Rome, and one of the most important works of literature ever written. It was basic to the education of generations of Romans, and has stirred the imaginations of such writers and artists as St. Augustine, Dante, Milton, and countless others. The Aeneid represents both Virgil's tribute to Homer and his attempt to re-imagine and surpass the Homeric model. With Professor Vandiver's help and instruction, you enter fully into the gripping tale that Virgil tells.

You join Aeneas on his long journey west from ruined Troy to the founding of a new nation in Italy, and see how he weaves a rich network of compelling human themes. His poem is an examination of leadership, a study of the conflict between duty and desire, a meditation on the relationship of the individual to society and of art to life, and a Roman's reflection on the dangers—and the allure—of Hellenistic culture.

A Stand-Alone Course

Although this course makes an excellent complement to Professor Vandiver's lectures on the Iliad and the Odyssey, it is designed to stand on its own. Your encounter with the Aeneid focuses on careful, detailed examinations of the epic's background, main themes, and significant episodes. Although it is impossible to discuss every episode of Virgil's sprawling work in a course this size, with Professor Vandiver you consider all the highlights.

The first lecture provides an introduction to Virgil's Latin epic and to the plan of the course, while the second lecture covers both the mythic and literary background with which Virgil was working. Here you find an insightful summary of the legends of the Trojan War and of Romulus and Remus as well as a discussion of what scholarship can tell us about the Aeneid 's literary antecedents.

Lecture 3 provides you with a vital understanding of the historical context in which Virgil wrote, including accounts of his larger literary career, his relationship to the regime of Augustus, and his view of Roman history generally.

In Lectures 4 through 12, Professor Vandiver discusses the poem itself with clarity, economy, and enthusiasm that you are sure to find illuminating and thoroughly engaging. Throughout it all, the figure of Aeneas is never far from center stage—as fighter and lover, father and son, refugee and ruler, wanderer and founder, spellbinding storyteller, and sword-wielding man of action.

An Unforgettable Story; A Master Teacher

Whether you read the narrative of his adventures as a paean to the glories of Rome or a cautionary tale about the human costs of empire, you come to understand precisely why Tennyson called Virgil a lord of language, and lauded his special gift for golden phrase.

This course makes an excellent complement not only to Professor Vandiver's lectures on Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, but also to our 48-lecture History of Ancient Rome by Professor Garrett G. Fagan of Pennsylvania State University.

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12 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Who was Virgil? Why and how did he write this poem? Why does the Aeneid continue to demand—and reward—our attention? What was the Roman attitude in general, and Virgil's in particular, toward the tremendously influential model that Greek culture held out to the Roman world in the age of Augustus? x
  • 2
    From Aeneas to Romulus
    How does the Aeneid relate to the mythological background of the Trojan War and the story of Rome's foundation by Romulus? How does Virgil handle the problem of integrating these two strands of legendary material? What are the Aeneid's key literary antecedents, both Greek and Latin? x
  • 3
    Rome, Augustus, and Virgil
    No understanding of the Aeneid is complete without considering its historical context. We briefly examine Roman history, especially the crucial events of the late 1st century B.C.E., than the lecture reviews the political and social reforms made by Augustus and discusses his role as a patron of poets. Finally, we discuss Virgil himself, his method of composition, and the task that he conceived for himself in writing the Aeneid. x
  • 4
    The Opening of the Aeneid
    The Aeneid's preface stresses its debt to and its difference from Homer. Which crucial concepts and characters are introduced in Book I? How do these opening scenes highlight Virgil's overarching themes, including the "fated" character of Rome, the concepts of pietas (duty) and furor (passion); and the gap that separates Aeneas the public man from Aeneas the private individual? x
  • 5
    From Troy to Carthage
    In Book II, Aeneas tells of the Fall of Troy. His words are the fullest extant account of this legendary event in all of ancient literature. Next we learn how he escaped the burning city at the head of a band of survivors, and began his voyage west. Virgil continues to both imitate and depart from the Homeric model. We note especially his handling of the gods' role in the Sack of Troy and of the prophecies that Aeneas hears concerning his destiny as the founder of the Roman people. x
  • 6
    Unhappy Dido
    In Book IV, Virgil recounts one of history's most famous love affairs: the ill-fated liaison between Aeneas and Dido, the queen of Carthage. We consider the structure of the book, Virgil's presentation of the two characters involved, and the great (and unresolved) critical question of how we are supposed to interpret Aeneas's actions in this portion of the epic. x
  • 7
    Funeral Games and a Journey to the Dead
    Book V recalls The Iliad with its description of the funeral games that Aeneas stages in memory of Anchises. In Book VI, parallels with (and differences from) Odysseus move to the fore as Aeneas embarks on his journey to the land of the dead. x
  • 8
    Italy and the Future
    In Virgil's version of the Underworld, Aeneas encounters the shades of Dido, the Trojan prince Deiphobus, and most importantly, Anchises. The abode of the dead becomes a window on the future as father and son witness a pageant of Roman heroes yet to come. Book VIII reiterates Aeneas's divine mission, and closes with Virgil's description of the mighty shield of Aeneas, forged for him by the god Vulcan. x
  • 9
    Virgil's Iliad
    We examine Books IX and X, the most "Iliadic" section of the Aeneid, paying close attention to the scenes depicting the deaths of Nisus and Euryalus. Then we consider Turnus's aristeia (scene of special valor), which culminates in his slaying of Pallas—a death that in turn inspires Aeneas with furor. Finally, we consider Aeneas's killing of Lausus and his father Mezentius. x
  • 10
    The Inevitable Doom of Turnus
    We analyze the last two books of the Aeneid, in which the narrative builds inexorably to the death of Turnus at the hands of Aeneas. Finally, the lecture considers how the characters of the two warrior-maidens, Camilla and Juturna, underline and highlight both the inevitability of Turnus's death and several aspects of his character. x
  • 11
    The Gods and Fate
    What role do the Olympian deities (as opposed to the household gods or Penates) play in the action of the Aeneid? What is the role of fatum (fate), and how does it relate to the actions of the Olympians? The lecture concludes with a consideration of the character of Juno and her crucial role in the epic. x
  • 12
    The End of the Aeneid and Beyond
    The most widely discussed critical question raised by the Aeneid asks: How should we interpret the epic's conclusion? Is Aeneas justified in killing Turnus, or should he have been merciful? We review some of the arguments on both sides, and whether the final scene as we have it is how Virgil actually intended his poem to end. We then turn to considering the Aeneid's influence on later Western culture. x

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  • 80-page printed course guidebook
  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider
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Your professor

Elizabeth Vandiver

About Your Professor

Elizabeth Vandiver, Ph.D.
Whitman College
Dr. Elizabeth Vandiver is Professor of Classics and Clement Biddle Penrose Professor of Latin at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. She was formerly Director of the Honors Humanities program at the University of Maryland at College Park, where she also taught in the Department of Classics. She completed her undergraduate work at Shimer College and went on to earn her M.A. and Ph.D. from The University of Texas at...
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Aeneid of Virgil is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 96.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Excellent Guide to the Aeneid This is another excellent set of Classics lectures by one of The Teaching Company's best presenters. As in her other courses, Professor Vandiver is well organized, very articulate, highly informative. I listened to these having already read Homer, but not yet the Aeneid itself. Vandiver does a very good job of comparing and contrasting Homer and Virgil, and how Virgil takes the Homeric framework and adapts it to his own very different purposes in writing a foundational epic for Rome. Especially interesting are the final two lectures on 1) the role of the gods in the Aeneid, and 2) the long-running debate over how we should interpret the conclusion of the poem. Brava!
Date published: 2020-09-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding overview of an essential text. The rewards of this course are many. I have read and taught the Aeneid many times but I learned quite a lot from Dr. Vandiver. She provides many insights and subtle interpretations of the poem. She is alert to its historical as well as its humane meanings. Some people think of the Aeneid as a cold poem, lacking in the thrills of the Homeric epics, but this course shows that charge to be false. The initial lectures on the historical and literary background are useful and well-organized, and the subsequent overview of the poem is a fine balance between summary and analysis. Dr. Vandiver is particularly strong on the Roman gods, but I would have liked more attention to Virgil's ideas, particularly about the underworld, but you can't have everything. I enjoyed this so much that I purchased some of the instructor's other courses and I look forward to hearing them.
Date published: 2020-08-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved it! I studied the Aeneid in High School (they made me!) so I knew the story more or less. I have always been fascinated by Greco-Roman mythology and history, so now, as an adult I wanted to revisit it. I enjoyed the lectures completely and now with a good frame work am ready to tackle the entire epic. I did not remember all the historical references and nuances.
Date published: 2020-07-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Get educated about the great antiquity! This course is a very good way to get educated about a masterpiece of the antiquity - how many of us would read the poem itself? and if we did, how much would we understand without guidance? The explanations of the historic and social context of that time are essential, and they are delivered well, as are the plots and the insights into the psychology of the heroes. After this course I felt like I plugged a fundamental hole in my knowledge about history and literature. I have to ask however, why is the professor pronouncing "regina" with "gi" like in Gilbert, when it should be "ji" like in Jim. And why referring repeatedly to Italy without a disclaimer; Italy as a state has come to be only in the 19th century. The Italic peninsula, a geographical entity is a more appropriate reference.
Date published: 2020-06-19
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Needs more This course is a very good overview and helpful in reading the Aeneid. However it is superficial, not in a bad way just an incomplete way. For someone at home with essentially unlimited time, expanding these lectures to an hour instead of 30 minutes would allow so much more in depth information to be conveyed that even the author herself laments not being able to give. Please have her redo the lectures to explain all the character nuances and sub themes and at even double the price I would purchase it.
Date published: 2020-02-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very useful as a supplement I have taken a "live" course on the Odyssey, and am currently taking The Aeneid. I expect to take The Iliad the fall. I have already downloaded all three by Dr. Vandiver. I particularly appreciate the way she discusses the main topics of the text with examples, not necessarily a close reading of the text. The workbook is excellent! She has inspired me to go back to my high school Latin and download the Latin text. A real challenge!
Date published: 2019-05-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Mind Bending! I had read parts of The Aeneid in college but concentrating on it was special. Dr. Vandiver gives historical background that brings the work to life. The last lecture just floored me: her conclusions brought a whole new dimension to this classic. I'd listen to ANYTHING she taught! Great great great stuff.
Date published: 2019-04-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Of Arms and the Man and the Book Interest in Virgil’s Aeneid isn’t what it used to be in the Middle Ages and early modern era, partly because schoolboys are no longer forced to learn Latin and partly it is now easy or even required to read the earlier Greek works that inspired Virgil, the Iliad and Odyssey. Professor Vandiver makes the case, however, that the Aeneid is still a valuable work. It is a homage to Homer. It uses the same gods, albeit under their Roman rather than Greek names. It copies significant incidents like visits to the underworld and motifs like elderly parents grieving for their lost sons or rage over the slaying of a beloved comrade. Virgil even arranged his epic in the same meter as Homer—dactylic hexameter. Yet the differences are important too. Homer’s works were long in oral form only, but Virgil wrote his down immediately. There is a lot of fighting as in the Iliad and a lot of travel as in the Odyssey, but they happen in reverse order—traveling and then fighting. Achilles’ chief characteristic is wrath, while Odysseus’s is cunning. Aeneas has some wrath, but his main quality is pietas, a sense of duty toward gods, father, son and country. While the Homeric books celebrated the Greeks’ legendary warriors, the Aeneid celebrated the inevitable rise of the Roman Republic and the new regime of Augustus as the result of its hero’s long journey from fallen Troy to Latium. Together with Lavinia, daughter of Latinus, Aeneas will establish Lavinium, and then his son Ascanius a/k/a Julus by his first wife Creusa will found Alba Longa, whence will come Rhea Silva, mother of Romulus and Remus, founders of Rome. Visiting his dead father Anchises in the underworld Aeneas sees a procession of souls—the men still to be born who will carry Rome to greatness. But that greatness will come with a heavy cost in blood and sorrow, and so does Aeneas’s ultimate success. First there is the fall of Troy and the death of Creusa. Then there is his doomed affair in Carthage with Queen Dido, whose angry suicide and curse foreshadow the Punic Wars and echo the end of Cleopatra. Finally, he and his followers must fight the Rutulians in central Italy because their leader Turnus refuses to give up his betrothal to Lavinia. Turnus’s death at Aeneas’s hand is literally the epic’s last stroke. Despite the relative obscurity the Aeneid has fallen into today, the book is still important. Without it we wouldn’t have the motif of the Trojan Horse or, in the case of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the Trojan Bunny. I’m embarrassed to say I still haven’t read it myself, but one day I will. I have, however, participated as a singer in a college production of Henry Purcell’s short opera, Dido and Aeneas, so in a sense I have already “done” Virgil. As for Professor Vandiver’s lectures, they are fine. The guidebook confesses to an error in Lecture 7 regarding the minor character Palinurus (he is murdered, not drowned), but that is all. You know it’s an old course because the guidebook also refers to “tapes” rather than CDs, but the Aeneid itself can’t get any older; it’s a classic.
Date published: 2019-04-07
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