Places: Aeneid

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First transcribed: c. 29-19 b.c.e. (English translation, 1553)

Type of work: Poetry

Type of plot: Epic

Time of work: After the Trojan War

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Troy

*Troy. AeneidSite of the Trojan War, located in Turkey, in northwestern Asia Minor. Homer sets the Iliad (c. 800 b.c.e.; English translation, 1616), the Greek epic that directly influenced the Aeneid, in the last days before the city’s defeat at the hands of the Greek forces. Vergil chooses to have Aeneas describe Troy’s destruction through the ruse of the Trojan horse. This element establishes an ethnic connection between the Trojans, who fled the dying city to establish what Vergil calls a “New Troy” in Italy, and the Romans. Southern Italy was called Magna Graecia by the Romans because of its extensive Greek colonization, and Vergil establishes the Roman race as comprising other groups, including Greeks, Anatolians, Etruscans, and native Latin peoples. Connecting Augustus’s Rome to Troy thus establishes what the emperor most desired for his city: a noble antiquity that could account for Imperial Rome’s preeminence.


*Carthage. Ancient North African city in what is now Tunisia. The same storm that sends Homer’s Odysseus and his crew to Circe’s island also strikes Aeneas and the Trojans, who successfully escape from burning Troy. The storm, recorded in the Aeneid, brings the Trojans to Carthage, a city particularly noteworthy in Roman history. Located in Tunisia, Carthage was, in Vergil’s time, in the Roman province known as Numidia Proconsularis. Vergil emphasizes the longstanding connections between Rome and Carthage. For Aeneas, Carthage is where he is granted the chance to rest and recuperate by two goddesses, themselves enemies: Juno, who wishes to delay the founding of a new Troy, and Venus, Aeneas’s mother, who wants some respite for her hero son. The casualty of this episode is Dido, Carthage’s brave, widowed queen, who has founded Carthage after the overthrow of Tyre, in Phoenicia, and the murder of her husband Sychaeus. The divinely contrived love affair between Dido and Aeneas results in the queen’s suicide and her curse, which results in the three Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage. Vergil has Jupiter specifically refer to Hannibal’s invasion of Italy in the Aeneid. By doing so, he continues to provide plausible mythic links to Roman history through indisputably real sites, which would have been known to readers of his time.


*Cumae. Ancient site of Apollo’s temple and of the Sybil, its priestess. The town is located near Pozzuoli just north of Naples. The soft tufaceous rock and its seismically active topography made this site appear to be a point of access to the realm of the dead. Indeed, in the Aeneid it is Apollo’s Sybil who guides Aeneas to the underworld to consult the shade of his mortal father Anchises on what fate holds in store for the Trojan people. Anchises warns his son that he will have to fight what is in effect a second Trojan War, this one in Italy, to marry the princess Lavinia and establish Lavinium.

The temple of Apollo described by Vergil would have been familiar to Imperial Roman visitors to Cumae. Here again he ties Roman prehistory to a place that would have been familiar to Romans of his time. By the time of Augustus, Cumae was more a resort than a place of pilgrimage, another of the sulfur-bath towns frequented by wealthy Romans. However, the shrine and the sibylline priesthood continued to be maintained until the early Christian church decreed destruction of the Sibylline Books. Augustus used many of the caves that dotted the Bay of Naples as storage facilities for his legions.


*Latium. Roughly equivalent to the region of Lazio, the region of Italy that includes the city of Rome. Latium in the Aeneid also incorporates Lavinium, the city of King Latinus, father of Lavinia, the future bride of Aeneas. Lavinium thus becomes the site of a second Trojan War for a second contested bride. In 1975 archaeologists determined that the modern Prattica di Mare, a small farming community south of Rome, contains the citadel of Lavinium. They have unearthed thirteen ancient altars used for farm offerings as well as several late Mycenaean grave sites, one given the appellation “Grave of Aeneas” based on a problematic inscription.


*Pallanteum. Vergil’s name for the Etruscan settlement on the Palatine Hill at the future site of Rome. Aeneas tours this site with King Evander, his new ally in the battle to overcome the native Latin tribes living near Rome. All the details of topography that would have been familiar to Imperial Romans are present in Vergil’s description. There was, in fact, an Etruscan settlement on the site of Rome.

BibliographyCairns, Francis. Virgil’s Augustan Epic. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1989. An outstanding piece of criticism that opens the poem to the reader. Explains the role of games in the narrative, the significance of numerous characters, and geographical and mythological references. Accessible and pleasantly written.Gransden, K. W. Virgil: The “Aeneid.” Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1990. Stresses the character of Aeneas, his moral burdens, his ambition, and his suffering. Also useful in understanding Vergil’s epic ambition and the political goals of his poem within the context of Augustan Rome.Johnson, W. R. Darkness Visible. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976. Reassesses the temper of the poem, seeing it not as imperial and stately but pessimistic and skeptical. Controversial among Vergil scholars, but probably the most important book on the Aeneid published in the last quarter of the twentieth century.Henry, Elisabeth. The Vigour of Prophecy: A Study of Virgil’s Aeneid. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1990. An examination of the various temporal perspectives of Vergil’s Aeneid, this book illustrataes how recollection of past events and prophetic knowledge of the future create a philosophical vision of fate and divine will which determines heroic action in the epic.Lyne, R. O. A. M. Words and the Poet: Characteristic Techniques of Style in Vergil’s “Aeneid.” Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1989. Occasionally difficult, but excellent stylistic analysis of the Aeneid. Especially provocative in its discussion of the technique of epic simile and the way in which epic simile helps the poem define itself as a narrative.Ross, David O. Virgil’s Aeneid: A Reader’s Guide. Boston: Blackwell, 2007. An accessible guide toAeneid that also discusses Virgil’s life and times, and Homer’s influence on his writing. There are six chapters, an appendix and indexes.Slavitt, David. Virgil. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1991. Pays particular attention to the craft of the poem and the personal sensibility of the poet. Comments on and critiques the quality of various English translations of the Aeneid.
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