Aeneid of Virgil

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

Aeneid of Virgil is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 87.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course I studied the Aeneid a long time ago in high-school Latin class. It was a lot of fun and interested to hear the whole story presented in that way, rather than in trying the translate the first 5 or 6 books.
Date published: 2018-08-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Aeneid Great classic story. Love the translation and the narrator
Date published: 2018-08-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful course--Professor Vandiver is excellent Professor Vandiver is one of the best professors at The Great Courses. Her lectures are close to what you'd get in a real college course: there's some summary of the reading--yes! she assumes you've read the material or will read it--but her main focus is on cultural and literary context. I really wish she could be hired to record more courses in the Classics. For example, I'd love to hear her take on Greek comedy and Roman tragedy, not to mention the writings of Horace and Ovid.
Date published: 2017-10-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another Success Professor Vandiver always does a wonderful job presenting information in an academic manner. She doesn't assume the reader has any prior knowledge of the subject and provides background information as necessary. Her presentation does a great job explaining the story itself and providing the historical context (both before and during Vergil's time) necessary for analyzing the text the understanding it's importance to the Romans. I like how she presents not just her viewpoint, but also viewpoints which differ from her own in a way that lets the listener draw there own conclusions.
Date published: 2017-07-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Really enjoyed this course I really enjoyed this course. I bought the audio book of the course as well and listened to it while listening to this course. I enjoyed the manner in which the instructor gave a context of the time the Aeneid was written, how that influence the telling of the story, and if there were differences from the time that the story took place. I very much enjoyed how the instructor would describe the scene and how people of the day would interpret those descriptions. It added a dimension to the story that I did not pick-up on while listening to the audio book. I was impressed with the instructors knowledge and how easily she communicated the information and the parallels she was able to draw upon to illustrate her points. The only compliant I have is that this course is too short to cover the entire Aeneid ... it's a epic story in every way and the course could easily have been another 8 lectures longer ... and I would have still listened to it all. I listened to this course in audio format. In some parts I wondered if the video would lend more to it, but not enough to purchase the video version.
Date published: 2017-06-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Good Overview I really liked how this one gave you a good idea of the overall arc of the Aeneid while contrasting the story with the Romans vs the Greeks.
Date published: 2017-02-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great Professor and a Well Done Course A good solid study of the Aeneid and the events of the plots even if I was left hoping for a little more analysis on the book itself than plot summaries but this was a short course to fit alot in. Pluses: • A great book-by-book summary of the events of the Aeneid • The analysis on the ending to the book was engaging • The professor was easy to listen to (almost every sentence was easy to understand and follow) Minuses: • The professor tended to explain the same point multiple times and seemed to repeat sentences (the point could’ve been made in less sentences) • A little more literary analysis on the book rather than plot summaries would’ve been a nice touch
Date published: 2017-02-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Made me want to read the book I haven't read the Aeneid yet, but the course made me want to do so. I'm also interested in Prof. Vandiver's courses on the Iliad and Odyssey, which I have read. No doubt there's more to notice in them.
Date published: 2016-12-31
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