Aeneid Books VI -XII by Virgil translated by David Hadbawnik (Shearsman Books)

Tears in the Fence

To Virgil, the second half of his epic of Roman imperial destiny and its human cost was themaius opus(‘greater work’). The long voyaging from fallen Troy is over. Aeneas has accepted hisineluctabile fatum, arrived in an Italy already thickly settled with both migrated and autochthonous peoples, and wants land to settle and found his city. There are moments of respite: feasting, aetiological storytelling, divine portents and the extended ekphrasis of Aeneas’ God-made shield. But mostly it’s war: siege, raid, council, treaty, mass funerals and constant one-on-one combat.

The emotional power of this, the Aeneid’s Iliadic half, accumulates iteratively. The relentless and grisly scenes in which, over and over, a character is given a mini-biog only to ‘vomit thick gore’ or have ‘his face […] covered in hot brains’ a few lines later, becomes sickening as well as pitiable. The pity is reinforced by scenes of grieving…

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