Virgil's Aeneid is one of the most studied texts at the high school level. It is certainly a mainstay among my students and so it seems natural to include it on this website. The following is a breakdown of Book I as well as a sample of the type of commentary which in my experience is most useful to the student. It is particularly aimed at meeting the difficulties my experience has shown me are most common. This commentary is also aimed at the 'middle of the road' student, who finds the challenge of "real" Latin to be considerable.
SYNOPSIS of Book 1 (by line numbers)
1-7: The theme of the poem (in a single sentence)
8-11: Invocation of the Muse
12-33: The reasons for the anger of Juno
34-49: Aeneas and the Trojans leave Sicily while Juno complains about her inability to prevent the Trojans from reaching Italy
50-80: Juno persuades Aeolus to send forth the winds to create a storm against the Trojans
81-123: The storm attacks the Trojans, destroying some ships and scattering the rest; we are introduced to the hero of the story, Aeneas
124-156: Neptune intervenes and calms the seas
157-207: Aeneas with 7 surviving ships lands on the North African coast; he kills 7 stags which he divides among his men while he encourages them
208-222: The Trojans feast and lament their lost comrades
223-296: Venus complains to Jupiter of the Trojans unfair treatment; Jupiter consoles her and tells her of Rome's future
297-304: Mercury is sent to Dido to prepare the way for Aeneas
305-417: As Aeneas explores where he has landed he meets Venus (his mother) in disguise who tells him where he is, gives him the history of Carthage and Dido and lets him know that his other ships are safe
418-436: Aeneas and Achates, made invisible by Venus, enter Carthage and admire its construction
437-493: Aeneas visits the temple of Juno and sees scenes from the Trojan War depicted
494-508: Dido visits the temple and gives audience to her subjects
509-560: A deputation from the other Trojan ships complains about their treatment at the hands of the Carthaginians and then laments the loss of Aeneas
561-578: Dido consoles the Trojans and offers to help them and send messangers in search of Aeneas
579-594: Aeneas surprises everyone by his sudden appearance
594-612: Aeneas thanks Dido for her kindness
613-630: Dido welcomes Aeneas, telling him she knows of his fame
631-642: Dido takes Aeneas and his man back to the palace and perpares a banquet for them
643-656: Aeneas sends Achates to bring Ascanius as well as some precious gifts
657-698: Venus substitutes Cupid for Ascanius so that Dido will fall in love with Aeneas
699-747: The banquet at Dido's palace
748-756: Dido falls in love with Aeneas and asks him to tell of his adventures starting with the fall of Troy
Arma virumque cano, (Troiae qui primus ab oris
verb subject direct object (subordinate clause)
I sing of weapons and a man, who first came, a refugee by fate, from the shores of Troy to Italy and the Lavinian beaches; he was much tossed on land and the deep sea by the power of the gods above because of cruel Juno's anger which never forgets; and he also suffered many things in war, while he founded a city and introduced gods to Latium, whence the Latin race and the Alban fathers and the walls of lofty Rome.
Here is a fairly detailed analysis of the first 7 lines of Virgil's Aeneid. There is so much just here, that it is tempting to say that everything that can be said about the Aeneid can be said in the first 7 lines.
Grammar & Vocabulary
Literature & Culture
cano - means 'I sing of' as well as 'I sing'. In English, the verb 'to sing' only takes a direct object when you are talking about the form (e.g., to sing a song). When you are talking about the subject of the song, you use a prepositional phrase (e.g., I sing about love). In Latin the verb 'cano' always uses a direct object, whether you are talking about form or subject.
qui - relative pronoun, referring to virum. Note how it is second word in the clause.
The theme of the poem is given much in the same way as it is given in the Iliad (the rage of Achilles) and the Odyssey (long-sufffering, wily Odysseus).
The first word of the poem is arma, which emphasizes the main theme - war.
virum refers to the hero of the poem, Aeneas. Aeneas will not be mentioned by name until line 92, when he is weak in the knees from the cold and groaning.
The word Troiae is rather cleverly placed so that reader associates it with three different nouns. Grammatically it goes with 'shores'., but two other words quite close to it are 'virum' and 'cano'. Subconsciously, the reader hears 'man of Troy' and 'I sing of Troy'.
Watch the endings carefully! The word order is nothing like what you would expect in prose, which would look more like 'ad Italiam Laviniaque litora'.
profugus - traditionally translated as fugitive, a nice modern English rendering would be refugee.
Lavinaque - Elision for Laviniaque. The 'i' is dropped for the sake of the metre.
Fate is a major theme in the Aeneid; it has been fated for the Romans to rule the world and this is where is begins. It was their version of manifest destiny.
Lavinia was the daughter of King Latinus and will become Aeneas' wife once the Trojans settle in Italy. Their marriage symbolizes the union of the Trojans and the native Italians. Already there is a reference to the end of the story.
multum - adverbial; therefore 'much'
iactatus - this is technically a participial phrase, agreeing with the subject of the relative clause. In English it is best to treat the participle as a main verb (i.e., iactatus est and passus est) and begin a new sentence. Even Virgil felt compelled to add ille, which is not strictly necessary, but does remind the reader of the subject.
multum with the following multa in line 5 is an example of Anaphora, when successive clauses begin with the same word. The purpose of this repetition is to highlight the two different types of struggles Aeneas' endured; wanderings like Odysseus and wars like Achilles.
In the iactatus clause, you might also say that the word order is 'tossed' to reflect how the hero of the story was tossed.Alto - literally 'deep', here the deep sea. This is an example of Metonymy, where one word is substitued for another which it suggests ('deep' for the sea).
superum - a Syncopated form of superorum. It is genitive plural, not accusative singular.
saevae - there are a number of possible translations; harsh, cruel, nasty, mean. Pick your favourite.
memorem - mindful, never forgetting. A tricky to word to translate nicely into English.
superum is not only the Syncopated form of superorum, it is also another example of Metonymy ('those above' for the gods)..
saevae memorem Iunonis iram is an example of Synchysis, which is an interlocked word order. It is done to tie the words more tightly together. In this instance it also puts the two adjectives together thereby increasing their force.
Juno is the most common antagonist in Greco-Roman legend and myth. Usually this is because she is jealous of the hero who is an illegitimate son of Zeus. In this case, Juno was a patron goddess of Carthage, a long-standing rival of Rome. Virgil wil provide a laundry list of reasons for Juno's anger.
memorem is a Transferred Epithet (an adjective which more naturally modifies another noun). In this case, it is Juno who never forgets, rather than her anger. Here it is effective because it gives Juno's anger a life and personality of its own which Juno cannot control. And, yes, it means that memorem iram is an example of Personification.
multa - this time multa is an adjective serving as a noun ('many things').
passus - this signals a second participial phrase, also in agreement with qui (as was iactatus). Here too, it best to treat the participle as an indicative and begin a new sentence.
dum - while, until There are two possibilities here. Strictly speaking 'until' is the logicial choice, since the city could not be founded until after the wars had been fought. On the hand, 'while' suits well, since it suggests that the war (and by extension the wanderings) were part of the city's founding).
conderet - subjunctive due to the implied purpose; 'until he might establish' or 'while he was establishing'.
quoque et are two words which are both connectives; 'also' & 'and'. Typically there would only be one. When the poet adds extra connectives, as here, it is called Polysyndeton.
conderet strikes a chord in Roman hearts and mind. It is the technical verb to establish a city. The Romans counted their years ab urbe condita (a.u.c. - from the founding of the city).
urbem can refer to two cities. The principal one is, of course, Rome (which the Romans often referred to simply as 'the city'), but the city that Ascanius will establish is Alba Longa (which is referred to in lines 6-7. Aeneas, in fact, does not found any city.
dum conderet can be taken in one of two different ways. Standard interpretation is 'until he might establish a city'. That is, Aeneas had to undergo all of these struggles before Rome could be founded. I prefer 'while he was founding the city'. This makes the journey to Italy and the war fought there against the Rutulians part of the whole process, rather than a prelude.
|unde - this last clause has no verb; we understand something like 'arose' or 'came', but the English can be left without a verb as well (although this does not appeal to all tastes). This implied verb has three subjects; genus, patres & moenia.|
inferretque deos Latio; obviously the original Latins had gods which they worshipped. The emphasis here is on Aeneas being dutiful (pius) to the gods. One of the most common and enduring images is of Aeneas guiding his father and carrying his hoisehold gods. This also fits well with Augustus's own self-image as being pius (avenging his adoptive father, rebuilding temples, re-establishing religious rites).
|altae - this is the second occurrence of this adjective, but here it has its opposite meaning of high, rather than deep.|
The 'Alban fathers' here have two meanings; Alba Longa was the city which spawned Rome and so is its parent city; settlers from Alba Longa founded Rome and so they were its founding fathers; it is also a reference to the senators who were called (conscript) fathers [patres (conscripti)] based on the story that Romulus, Rome's first king, chose them to be his advisers.
High (or lofty) is another Transferred Epithet. It is the walls which are high, not the city. However, by describing the city as lofty, the walls are also lofty by logical association.. Also, Rome's loftiness is geo-political more than it is phyical.
This opening sentence ends with the climatic word Romae, which is the focus of the entire poem.
This commentary is a small sample of the project under construction. Eventually there will be a full commentary on the entire Book I as well as a facing translation. This resource will be aimed at assisting high school students in their understanding, not just of Virgil's Aeneid, but also the grammatical, literary and cultural intricacies of 'genuine' Latin literature.