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Preface

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 For the years 2013–2015, lines 1–299 of Aeneid 4 form part of the OCR Latin A-Level specifications. According to the current Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, students are thus able to enjoy a portion of ‘the best book of the best poem of the best poet’![1] One can see where Johnson is coming from, not least from the point of view of the ‘classical tradition’—that is, the impact and presence of ancient Greece and Rome, after the end of antiquity, down the centuries until the present day. For among other things, the fourth book of the Aeneid features three powerful forces in human experience—Love, Sex, and Tragedy—that, in their classical inflections, continue to ‘shape our lives’.[2] ‘Euge!’, then, as Minimus, the Latin-speaking Mouse of Roman Vindolanda would have put it, or, in English, ‘hooray!’[3]—even though the text is, apart from being ‘violently emotive’ also ‘undeniably difficult’.[4]

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 As with my little volume on Cicero’s Verrines 2.1.53–86 (an AS-level set text for 2012–14), which appeared last November, the initial impulse behind writing this textbook on Aeneid 4.1–299 was an invitation to speak at a conference for teachers on the available resources and ‘the latest thinking’ on the new set text.[5] Yet unlike the situation with Cicero’s Verrines—where the aids available to come to terms with the set text proved rather scarce—introductions and commentaries on the Aeneid as a whole, and Book 4 in particular, are of course plentiful. Over the last seventy-five years or so no fewer than four special editions have appeared—by A. S. Pease (1935), R. G. Austin (1955, 2nd edn 1963), Keith Maclennan (2007) and James J. O’Hara (2011).[6] Each one has its particular areas of strength: Pease impresses with his careful and diligent collection of literary and historical data; Austin offers superb analyses of Virgil’s style and handling of the hexameter; Maclennan renders the text admirably accessible to students, while also drawing attention to the depth and complexity of Virgil’s poetry; and O’Hara compels with his concise explication of difficult grammar and determined distillation of the scholarly literature. Electronic resources, too, exist in abundance, most notably the remarkable ‘Vergil Project’ sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania at http://vergil.classics.upenn.edu/. Apart from offering a hyperlinked Latin text that provides handy reading assistance in the form of parsing each individual word, the website also features other helpful material such as a Concordance, electronic versions of the commentaries by Servius and Conington/Nettleship, and various translations (including the one by John Dryden).

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 In the light of such cornucopia, there was, arguably, no need to add a further resource to the list. I went ahead nevertheless, in part to experiment with a novel format designed specifically for the special challenges of the Latin A-level and its liminal position between school and university. Unlike standard commentaries, which principally aim at explicating difficulties and providing answers or solutions to questions or problems in the text, this textbook tries first and foremost to stimulate critical engagement with Virgil’s poetry. Given the manifold aids available elsewhere in terms of translations; basic introductions to Virgil, the Aeneid, and the wider historical context; vocabulary lists; definitions of technical terms; or guidance on matters to do with metre etc., I have dispensed with recapitulating basics in favour of the following:

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Latin Text: going by my own experience and preferences, I assume that most users of this book will want to have their text in a separate volume (or window), to avoid flipping about or scrolling up and down. It seemed nevertheless advisable to re-print a plain text of the assigned passage here, for the sake of completeness and convenience and to facilitate checks and revision. The text here comes from the Latin Library (http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/), with occasional adjustments.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Study Questions: a crucial feature of this textbook is the list of study questions as an intermediary stage between ‘text’ and ‘commentary’, designed to stimulate independent thought about Virgil’s poem and poetry. They are meant to draw attention to interesting or difficult features of the text (from grammar to syntax, from style to theme) and to indicate lines of enquiry worth pursuing further. As such, they are meant to function as gateways into critical dialogue with the Aeneid. Teachers may wish to pick and choose from the list for their work in class; but the questions are phrased and set up in such a way that they lend themselves to independent study as well, especially since the more technical ones find answers in the commentary. Many, however, are open-ended: they raise a problem or issue of interpretation that can never be satisfactorily exhausted or resolved, but merit ongoing discussion and controversy. In short, the Study Questions ought to facilitate engagement with Virgil’s text and its rich layers of meaning—perhaps also in ways that at times fall outside the constraints and conventions of ‘skool’ (as Nigel Molesworth would put it).

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Commentary: the commentary itself, too, is designed in such a way as to open up avenues for dialogue and discussion. It includes basic explanation of the grammar and syntax and explicates, fairly systematically, the rhetorical fabric of Virgil’s text. The point here is not to spot yet another tricolon, alliteration, or chiasmus, or to suggest yet another (methodologically often dubious) correlation between sound and sense, but to train readers in recognizing such patterns as a matter of course and to suggest ways in which form and content interlock in Virgil’s poetry.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 The emphasis throughout is on literary appreciation and an attempt to situate this part of the Aeneid within the Greco-Roman literary tradition and the wider historical context. This includes several attempts to show how Virgil rewrote Greek predecessors in ways that I hope will be illuminating also to students who have not (yet) studied ancient Greek. The extensive citation of Greek texts, also in the original, still calls for an explanation. The rationale is the same that informs a course offered by the Department of Classics and Ancient History at Durham University for freshers who have not had any Latin or Greek tuition at school and are (at least initially and for whatever reason) disinclined to pick up either language at university. It is called ‘Language, Translation, Interpretation’ and is specifically designed to help students without knowledge of the ancient languages to engage with the primary sources in English translations—with the original Greek or Latin present as a reminder, occasional point of reference, and, perhaps, stimulant to enrol in a language module in future years. In the commentary, all citations from Greek and Latin are at any rate accompanied by a translation (unless the quotation comes from the set passage itself). Unless otherwise indicated, I have used the Loeb Classical Library editions for Greek and Latin texts and translations (though frequently adjusted).

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 With a student audience in mind, I have also cited other commentators and scholars more extensively than is common practice in the genre of the commentary, where mastery shows itself in the elegant wielding of the learned ‘cf.’ and a string of references. But such oblique pointers to primary sources or secondary literature are by and large meaningless for anyone who does not have access to a research library or JSTOR (short for Journal Storage, an on-line archive of academic journals, including back issues). I therefore routinely cite or summarize scholarship I refer to and when adducing a parallel passage (begin to) explicate the reason and the relevance.

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 Technical details to do with style and metre, especially those that presuppose familiarity with the statistics of Virgilian useage, have been kept to a minimum (though are not passed over in silence altogether), and the notes tend towards the discursive and the open-ended. Again, the aim has been to go beyond, in as intelligible fashion as possible, the kind of thing that usually goes into a school commentary, to bridge the gap between A-level and the study of Latin literature at university level. But where the gap to be bridged seemed too wide, I have flagged up sections of the commentary with the tag ‘Extra Information’. These sections are printed in smaller font; the information therein tends to require extra initiative (such as reading a piece of Hellenistic poetry that Virgil may be alluding to) to be appreciated fully.

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 Essays: while the commentary already tends towards the essayistic, the format of line-by-line analysis still imposes severe limits on the sustained discussion of a particular aspect or topic. I have therefore included lengthier and more coherent treatments of a range of topics that are of particular relevance for a sophisticated appreciation of Virgil’s poetry in general and his Dido episode in particular: 1. Content and Form; 2. Historiographical Dido; 3. Allusion; and 4. Religion. The challenge I set myself here is to offer discussions of difficult and controversial aspects of the Aeneid in ways that are comprehensible, perhaps even enjoyable, to a student reader—or at least provide some suggestions for further thought and study.

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 Goold, in the Preface to his revised Loeb edition of Virgil, voices the opinion that ‘in spite of the prodigious amount of commentary, annotation, and criticism written upon the three great works of the divine Mantuan [sc. Virgil], the reader may rest assured that the Latin text itself enshrines everything vital to its appreciation’ (x). However appealing this idea might be, it is a half-truth at best. Some aspects of Virgil’s poetry may indeed require little ‘contextual’ knowledge to be appreciated in their brilliance, notably the interlocking of content and form, which is a key theme of the commentary and explored in more sustained and systematic fashion in the first interpretative essay. But Virgil’s aggressive rewriting of the historiographical tradition on Dido; his pervasive and sophisticated engagement with his literary predecessors, Greek (notably Homer and Apollonius Rhodius) and Latin (notably Lucretius and Catullus); or his distinctive dialogue with the religious realities of late Republican and early imperial Rome—all vital dimensions of his artistry—require the kind of commentary, annotation, and criticism that advocates of the divine artwork and its autonomy like to disparage. For better or for worse, a historically informed appreciation of classical texts remains an educational objective (while also being one of the most difficult and demanding things to achieve—but that in itself is a good reason to keep trying). At the same time, efforts to read the Aeneid historically should not get in the way of—indeed, should enhance—the text’s contemporary relevance. The issues raised by the Dido episode—sexual ethics, the use and abuse of power, interaction with (and construal of) the other, imperialism, personal choice and historical necessity, or rhetorical spin in the (mis-)representation of facts, to name a few—continue to matter.

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 The book concludes with a bibliography that lists texts, translations, commentaries, introductions, and a selection of secondary literature, including all those items cited in the form of Author and Date in the Commentary and the Interpretative Essays.

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14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 [1]
Cf. John Dryden’s (1631–1700) famous appraisal of Virgil’s Georgics as ‘the best poem by the best poet.’ For Boris Johnson’s mischievous misprision, see the promotional video for CICERO, an acronym for Certamen In Concordiam Europae Regionumque Orbis, a competition (certamen) designed to further the peaceful harmony (concordia) of Europe (Europae) and the regions (regionum) of the world (orbis), at www.ciceroconcordia.com.

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18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 [3]
To meet Minimus, go to http://www.minimus-etc.co.uk/.

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22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 [5]
See I. Gildenhard, Cicero, Against Verres, 2.1.53–86: Latin Text with Introduction, Study Questions, Commentary and English Translation (Cambridge, 2011). The book is also freely available to read in its entirety at the publisher’s website (http://www.openbookpublishers.com/product/96) and at Google Books at http://www.openbookpublishers.com. The free interactive version with teachers’ comments is available at http://openbookpublishers.theclassicslibrary.com/home/

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Source: http://aeneid4.theclassicslibrary.com/2012/11/29/preface/