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Introduction (by Christian Garcia)Edit

There are many common themes that exist in The Aeneid by Vergil. These themes can be found in a variety of ways and each way has their own strengths and weaknesses. In "Epic Violence, Epic Order: Killings, Catalogues, and the Role of the Reader in Aeneid 10” by Denis Feeney, the process of identifying epic "norms" in Book 11 and their significance is discussed. In identifying "epic savagery", Feeney discusses the recurring gory images that are present in the poem. He suggests that the repeated violent scenes suggest that this is a reference to a common theme in other epics. Through various examples, Feeney is able to support his argument by showing how he made his conclusions. Yet, this idea of recurring words and phrases to identify themes in The Aeneid is not uncommon. This idea is present in Joseph Farell's, Benard Knox's, and even Georgia Nugent's articles. Farell suggests that the use of "father" in Book 5 indicates a theme of father's and sons. Knox examines the significance of snakes in Book 2 using the repetition of "serpens." Finally, Georgia Nugent takes a different approach of examining the significance of women in the poem by finding similar descriptions of women throughout the poem.

All of these authors explain that recurring words and phrases may indicate a theme within the poem. Using this technique can definitely enhance a readers understanding of the poem. Themes are not easy to find in literature but constant references to certain things will allow the reader to understand the text more deeply. Another strength that this technique provides is the ability to look outside the poem. Once you identify the theme in the poem, based on your own knowledge, you might be able to make a connection to either another poem or even to another author/poet. This is particularly present in Feeney's article, where the main point of identifying a theme is identifying its connection other epics as well.

Despite all of its strengths, there are a few weaknesses to not only Feeney's technique, but other authors as well. Feeney's techniques requires previous knowlege of other epics while reading Vergil's poem. He examines the existence of all of these "epic norms", but if you do not know much about other epics, it will be difficult to establish whether something you found exists in other epics. As per other authors, it is important not to abuse the technique to find themes because the poet might also be using recurring words as simply a style of writing or description. Nevertheless, these techniques are great to use while reading poems like The Aeneid.

Following Patterns and Themes in Epic PoetryEdit


In the article “Epic Violence, Epic Order: Killings, Catalogues, and the Role of the Reader in Aeneid 10”, Denis Feeney analyzes Vergil’s poetry and style. Denis Feeney has an interesting interpretation of the themes and motifs found in the Aeneid. Feeney argues that there are three main themes found in book X of the Aeneid: epic savagery, divine council, and epic cataloguing. Feeney calls these “epic norms”, because he believes that they are found and repeated in all epics. Finding specific examples of these norms in the Aeneid, he compares the similarity of verse, words, and ideas to previous works (Iliad, Odyssey, Metamorphoses). By using this method of comparison, he attempts to determine whether Vergil simply mimics epic poems of the past, or brings a new element to the age-old genre.

II: Violent descriptions of warEdit

The technique that Feeney uses to explain his main idea is identifying and describing the three main “epic norms”. The first theme he discusses in this article is Vergil’s use of “epic savagery.” This is when the author has excessive descriptions of violence and gore in various scenes. To explain this, Feeney shows the death of Dryops: “he casts his stiff lance, striking Dryops with full force underneath the chin, piercing his throat: he robs him, even as he speaks, of life and voice; and Dryops’ forehead hits the earth; he vomits thick gore from his mouth (Feeney, 180).” Feeney includes theses lines to illustrate that Vergil creates violent descriptions of death to portray the realities of war. However, Vergil is not the only author to utilize this style of writing. These gory scenes are found throughout almost any epic like the Iliad, and Odyssey.

Nonetheless, Feeney wonders, why do all epics have this violence and gore? He argues, “The colossal violence of this genre is regularly explained away as being the inheritance of tradition (Feeney, 180).” So, is Vergil following traditional epic styles, or creating something new? An intriguing point that Feeney brings up is Vergil’s distinct writing style. Unlike authors Homer and Ovid, Vergil has the ability to bring scenes to life in a beautiful and poetic way. He utilizes his haunting speech and imagery to engage the audience. Feeney argues, “If Vergil is famous for anything it is for the beautiful artistry of his verse, and that beauty does not disappear when the verse starts dealing with vile subject matter (Feeney, 180).” In the example of Dryops’ death, he points out the sounds of “guttorial clusters” in Vergil’s word choice. Sounds like “ore”, “gutt”, etc. allows us to imagine Dryops’ being pierced in the throat, and slowly dying, as he vomits out his life blood. Vergil is remarkable amongst other poets because he is able to make “war seem painful but beautiful (Feeney, 180).” Vergil uses various types of poetic elements in his writing, like alliteration, to emphasize the sheer horror of these scenes. Although his themes may imitate those of the epic genre, I think Vergil’s style of writing alone sets him apart from others.

Another interesting technique that Feeney uses to describe Vergil is his involvement of the audience in the story. Feeney argues that through his writing, Vergil makes the reader realize that we want to read about violence. Vergil is simply creating what the audience demands; Feeney justly argues that the reader would probably not be satisfied with a happy ending. He describes this as a “self-referential narrative”, in which Vergil’s narrative writing allows the reader to feel like part of the story. Therefore, it is this narrative technique that compels us to endure these violent scenes!

Making choices, Divine Council, and Tedious Cataloging:Edit

This brings us to the next “epic norm” that Feeney explores, which is the idea of divine council and intervention. He introduces this idea by discussing the involvement of the gods in the mortal character’s lives. Feeney chose lines 758-59 to illustrate his point: “di Iovis in tectis iram miserantur inanem amborum et tantos mortalibus”, “The gods inside Jove’s palace take pity on both armies’ pointless anger; they sorrow at the trials of mortal men (Feeney, 189).” These lines show the pity and struggle that the gods feel towards mortal life. They are often involved in human affairs, but can only manipulate them to a certain extent. Juno reminds Jupiter that “he cannot overturn fate without ruinous consequences for the future order (Feeney, 186).” Although many gods will intervene, they ultimately cannot change the predetermined course of fate.

Overall, the theme of divine council is seen in every epic novel. Whether the gods are interacting in battles in the Iliad, or deciding whether to destroy the entire human race in the Metamorphoses, they are always present. The point that Feeney is trying to make when describing this norm is that Vergil allows the reader to listen to the gods contemplating their options and possible outcomes. Feeney argues that hearing these options makes us accept the ultimate fate of the characters in the Aeneid. Also, he says that the narrative used by Vergil “keeps involving us as readers in being self-aware about our choices and preferences (Feeney, 183).” The idea of decision making and delay keeps the reader interested until the final struggle of Aeneas and Turnus.

The last epic norm and technique that Feeney mentions is the “epic catalogue”. This is described as when the author spends hundreds of lines listing and cataloging important facts, people, objects, etc. Since this is such a monotonous portion of epic poetry, Feeney wonders why they decide to include it at all. When Vergil catalogues the Etruscans in book 7, Feeney believes that he is not doing so due to tradition, but to illustrate historical facts. The point of Vergil’s cataloguing is to show how this epic is a reflection of the blending of different people to become the Roman race. This exemplifies how Vergil’s epic poetry is different from the rest, because of his style and historical evidence.

III: Other Epic Themes Found Throughout the AeneidEdit

Using the same technique, there are a few “norms” that I believe Feeney left out. He highlighted the overused motifs of epic savagery, divine council, and epic cataloging. However, one major component that Feeney did not mention is the similarities in characters. In the epics like the Aeneid, Iliad, and Odyssey, many of the characters have the same actions and emotions. I think that Vergil mimics Homer when it comes to certain characteristics of Aeneas, and the particular events he encounters. One repeated scene we have is when Aeneas visits the underworld in book VI. This book of the Aeneid resembles book XI of the Odyssey. In the underworld, both Aeneas and Odysseus come across people from their past. Among others, Odysseus memorably sees Achilles, who proclaims that he would rather be a slave than king of the dead. Aeneas, on the other hand, encounters his father Anchises, who tells him about Rome and his destiny. In lines 788-789 Anchises exclaims “Huic geminas nunc flecte acies, hanc aspice gentem Romanosque tuos”, ‘Turn here now your two-eyed gaze, and behold this nation, the Romans that are yours’. These similar scenes show how Vergil mimics Homeric ideals. Nevertheless, these encounters are important for each character, acting as a catalyst to their journeys. Odysseus learns the importance of life from Achilles, and that he must return home; Aeneas learns that he is destined to found the Roman race in Italy. This is one comparative component that Feeney left out, and it shows the importance of death and fate in the ancient world.

Another similarity between Vergil and Homer is in the descriptions of Aeneas and Achilles after the deaths of their beloved comrades. In Book 21 of the Iliad, Achilles reacts irrationally after Hector accidently slays Patroclus. Here, Achilles definitely transgresses from typical heroic norms and becomes a crazed killer. Homer shows his rage by stating, “When Achilles’ hands were sore from killing, he culled twelve boys live from the river to pay for the blood of dead Patroclus (Homer, lines 32-34).” Achilles was killing everyone and anything that crossed his path, and was turning the flowing river Xanthus red with blood.

Likewise, we see this exact same scene of vengeance with Aeneas. After the untimely death of Aeneas’s comrade Pallas, he goes on a murderous rampage to find Turnus. Vergil describes this in lines 513-515, “Proxima quaeque metit gladio latumque per agmen ardens limitem agit ferro, te, Turne, superbum caede nova quaerens.” Here Aeneas, ‘with the sword he mows down all the nearest ranks, and fiercely drives a broad path through the host with steel, seeking you, Turnus, still flushed with fresh slaughter (Loeb, 209).’ I think that Vergil is definitely using the style of Homer to illustrate the pain and anguish Aeneas feels. Feeney did not mention this similarity, but I think it is another important aspect to the epic genre. Character emotions, as well as development, show that even though these people are fictional, they still possess human qualities. We continuously read about how magnificent and heroic these characters are, yet they make mistakes and act on their emotions. The arguments and techniques presented by Feeney show that the Aeneid, as a whole, reflects common themes found in epic poetry. Even though all of these epics reflect one another in themes of violence, gods, and catalogues, they have distinct qualities that set them apart. Epics do have one idea in common, and that is heroism. Hector, Achilles, Odysseus, and Aeneas are all heroes who face impossible odds to fulfill their destinies. By comparing these stories and themes, Feeney presented interesting new perspectives to the words of Vergil in the Aeneid!

Katie Smith 16:01, February 11, 2011 (UTC)

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