Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2003.02.15

William S. Anderson, Lorina N. Quartarone, Approaches to Teaching Vergil's Aeneid. "Approaches to Teaching World Literature" series.   New York:  The Modern Language Association of America, 2002.  Pp. xiii, 255.  ISBN 0-87352-771-2.  $37.50 (hb).  ISBN 0-87352-772-0.  $18.00 (pb).  

Contributors: Barbara Weiden Boyd, John Breuker, Jr., Nancy Ciccone, James J. Clauss, Randall Colaizzi, Patrick J. Cook, Ann Engar, Judith P. Hallett, Daniel M. Hooley, Rachel Jacoff, Mary Jaeger, Sharon L. James, Patricia A. Johnton, Gary S. Meltzer, Michael C.J. Putnam, Sarah Spence, Scott Ward, Shirley Werner

Reviewed by Rudolph Masciantonio (
Word count: 2032 words

This stimulating and wide-ranging collection of essays is addressed primarily to instructors, some of whom may be non-classically trained, who will be teaching the Aeneid in translation at the undergraduate level, though it strikes me as valuable to all teachers of the Aeneid at whatever level, whether in Latin or English translation.

Part One, "Materials", contains discussions of Latin editions, English translations, the history of the text, what every instructor's library should contain (i.e., reference works, background studies, critical studies, and periodicals), twentieth-century perspectives, internet resources, and audiovisual materials. Part Two, "Approaches", provides a balance between traditional and new approaches to the text. The essays are organized under the following headings: Preliminary Considerations; Aeneas and Heroism; Homeric Intertextuality; History and Material Culture; Gender Issues; Classroom Techniques and Strategies; and Integrating the Aeneid into Larger Academic Contexts. Among the subjects of the essays are: pietas and furor as motivational forces in the Aeneid; the epithets Trojan, Dardanian, and Roman; character portrayal in the Aeneid; the public and private Aeneas; reading and teaching the end of the Aeneid; Vergil's Aeneas, the best of the Romans; Homer, pietas and duels in Aeneid 10 and 12; the evolution of Augustus as it relates to the Aeneid; Juno's anger; Vergil and the monuments; women past and present in the Aeneid; pietas, furor and ecofeminism in the Aeneid; the frenzy of noble women in the Aeneid and the letter of Cornelia, the mother of the Gracchi; appreciating the poetry of the Aeneid; a narratological approach to the Aeneid; tragedy and the Aeneid; Dante's Vergil; the Aeneid and Milton's Paradise Lost. One appendix includes Homeric parallels to the Aeneid. Another explains cultural, historical, and literary terminology. There are notes on contributors, a list of the instructor participants in the survey that formed the basis of this book, a list of works cited, and an index.

This book contains something for everyone. The user will have to pick and choose what is applicable to her or his particular classroom situation, though everyone will benefit from reading all of these informative and interestingly-written essays. Some are by cutting-edge first-rank Vergilian scholars; others are by lesser-known lights. But throughout one senses penetrating analysis of Vergil's text by people who love it, a sobering sense of experience in reading and teaching the Aeneid, addressing the real problems encountered in the classroom, and provocative discussion of disputed issues. This book is part of a series called Approaches to Teaching World Literature edited by Joseph Gibaldi which seeks to collect "within each volume different points of view on teaching a specific literary work...widely taught at the undergraduate level" (p. ix). Another volume on a classical author in this series, viz., Approaches to Teaching the Dramas of Euripides edited by Robin Mitchell-Boyask has recently appeared and been reviewed by David J Schenker in BMCR 2002.12.40. Most of the 85+ volumes that have already appeared deal with works of English literature with a smattering of other European literatures represented also. The preparation of each volume of the series begins with a survey of instructors. The names of the 56 respondents to the survey who provided information on 108 courses involving the Aeneid are provided at the end of the book. The purpose of the survey is to enable the editors to include "the philosophies and approaches, thoughts and methods of scores of experienced teachers" (p. ix) The twofold division of the book into "Materials" and "Approaches" was dictated to a certain extent by the series.

In the first part one finds what amounts to a rich annotated 33-page bibliography. There is discussion of the pluses and minuses of various Latin editions of the Aeneid followed by a similar and more copious treatment of English translations. We are told that instructors prefer verse translations, while recognizing that English cannot do the things that Latin can do (p. 4). A little over half the instructors polled prefer the Mandelbaum translation, followed by Fitzgerald. The most popular prose translation is that of David West. The strengths of various translations are discussed as well as some of the nuances of translation. The history of Vergil's text is summarized. The reference works, background studies, critical studies, essays, articles, and periodicals recommended for an instructor's library are discussed. The treatment of twentieth century critical perspectives (pp. 22-31) provides a useful guide to the complexities and varieties of criticism. I would like to have seen a reference here to the special issue of Vergilius (Volume 47, 2001) on "The Vergilian Century" based on a seminal conference on that subject organized at the University of Pennsylvania by Prof. Joseph Farrell.

There are brief treatments of Internet resources and audiovisual materials including films that provide modern parallels to the Aeneid. Under audiovisual materials a reference to Elizabeth Vandiver's excellent course on tape "The Aeneid of Vergil" made available by the Teaching Company would have been appropriate. Professor Vandiver's engaging course is essential for less-experienced and nonclassically trained instructors and helpful to all. Another surprising bibliographical omission, especially in connection with the literary importance of the Aeneid, is the multifaceted work Why Vergil? A Collection of Interpretations, edited by Stephanie Quinn (Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, 2000).

The essays in the "Approaches" section are all brief (18 essays in 163 pages, divided into seven subsections, with a brief introduction by the editors). Naturally there is a certain amount of overlap in a multi-authored work such as this, but differing viewpoints on the same topics are also valuable. I will cite what I think are examples of the many strengths of this section.

The "what to do on Monday morning" orientation of some of the essays is refreshing. The editors recommend, for instance, using the Vergilian Latin phrases on the reverse side of the American dollar bill as a point of departure for discussion of Roman influence on our culture (p. 38). Scott Ward and Gary S. Meltzer in their essay on "Appreciating the Poetry of the Aeneid" list specific questions that the instructor can use to introduce tropes, help students understand how they work, and lead to discussion of their implications (p. 169). In her discussion of tragedy and the Aeneid Ann Engar talks about looking at Euripides' Medea and Hippolytus as forerunners of the Dido and Aeneas story and testing their story against Aristotle's definition of tragedy in the Poetics (p. 182).

There are many instances of interesting and penetrating analysis of Vergil's text. For example, Shirley Werner in her essay "'Frigid Indifference' or 'Soaked Through and Through with Feeling'? Portrayal of Character in the Aeneid" cites the ancient practice of portraying character by type rather than through the piling up of idiosyncratic and incidental details as one of the most important differences between Vergil's technique and that of a modern novel (p. 61). Michael C.J. Putnam in his brilliant "Vergil's Aeneid and the Evolution of Augustus" tells us that both Aeneas and Augustus are caught up in the throes of angry vengeance. The richness of Vergil's presentation allows readers to see the parallelism between Aeneas's vengeful spate of brutality and a similar moment in the rise to power of the future Augustus (pp. 120-121). Many more examples of interesting and penetrating analysis of the text could be given.

Practical problems in teaching the Aeneid are creatively addressed. For instance Randal Colaizzi's discusses Books 10 and 12 in the context of the need to abridge (p. 99) in his essay "Homer, pietas, and the Cycle of Duels in Aeneid 10 and 12". Barbara Weiden Boyd's comments in "'Tum Pectore Sensus Vertuntur Varii': Reading and Teaching the End of the Aeneid" that the end of the Aeneid is the greatest "ideological battleground" in Latin literature. She then examines in a very classroom-usable way four moments in the concluding scene, showing how language in one series of events or narrative moments in turn evokes participation through recollection of other moments, other events, other conclusions, and other poems (pp. 80-81). Nancy Ciccone in "Look Who's Talking: A Narratological Approach" discusses a narratological approach to the second half of the Aeneid as a means to heighten student enthusiasm. She examines the ways the Aeneid signifies story (plot), narrative (discourse), narrator (who speaks), narratee (addressee), focalization (who sees), and focalized (object of sight) (p. 176). Moreover the practical solutions proposed are by people who know and love the Aeneid and are very familiar with the vast secondary literature from Servius to Richard Heinze, Viktor Pöschl, Alessandro Barchiesi, Richard Thomas, and many others.

The section on Gender Issues seems especially valuable for instructors and readers trained (as I was) in the antediluvian days before such matters were customarily treated. Sharon L. James in "Future Perfect Feminine: Women Past and Present in Vergil's Aeneid" tells us that the role of women in the Aeneid poses problems as women either play short but crucial roles, like Dido and the Sybil, or receive virtually no "screen time", like Creusa and Lavinia (p. 138). Lorina N. Quartarone's treatment of "pietas, furor, and Ecofeminism in the Aeneid "(pp. 147-158) is longer than most of the essays and provides a number of templates to employ in interpreting the poem. The central premises of ecofeminism are twofold, viz., that the female and nature are integrally connected and that androcentric forces that have shaped Western culture are responsible for the oppression of both female and nature. Vergil associates pietas with the male; he associates furor with women, destructive natural forces, and, in the second half of the Aeneid, with men also. Quartarone concludes that whereas Juno, despite her previous furor, surrenders her will and ceases to struggle against destiny, pius Aeneas becomes overwhelmed by furor. Here "the distinction between male and female, reason and emotion breaks down, revealing that complexity rather than reductionism is at the core of human affairs" (p. 158). Judith P. Hallett's fascinating "Feminae Furentes: The Frenzy of Noble Women in Vergil's Aeneid and the Letter of Cornelia, Mother of the Gracchi" sees resonance between Cornelia and the mother of the Trojan warrior Euryalus, the Latin queen Amata, and Dido (p. 159).

Both appendixes to the volume are very useful and practical. Appendix A (pp. 221-224) cites and explains Homeric parallels to the Aeneid book by book. Appendix B (pp. 225-228) provides Latin and Greek cultural, historical, and literary terminology deemed by survey respondents as most fruitful for introduction to students. Though I would like to have seen more terms explained and certainly all those that occur in the essays of the book, what is included is well done.

There are some minor concerns. The method of citing the Aeneid seems too complicated, though explained in extenso in a footnote on page 33. And it seems that not all essayists follow it with total consistency. I would favor just plain numbers for the Latin text and the translator's last name with the appropriate numbers every time a translation is cited. Otherwise novices are apt to be confused.

Amazingly the editors say in their Preface that "Latin was dropped as a standard requirement for college students in the late 1960s and early 1970s" (p. xi). One wonders on what basis they say this.

Of course, as with any work of this type there are many individual statements within the essays with which scholars and teachers might disagree. One might also have concerns about who did not write for this volume and might have had something important to say. And there might be concerns about colleges and universities that did not participate in the survey on which the book is putatively based.

The Greek gremlin was unfortunately very much at work within this book where Greek type is used. To cite some examples: on p. 202 the nu of ἄνδρα is misprinted as an upsilon; on p. 225 ἐκφράζω is printed without accent or breathing mark; also on p. 225 δόλος is printed without an accent and mistranslated as a verb; on p. 226 ἥρως has the wrong breathing mark.

But these are small points. The book comes up as a definite plus. The Modern Language Association of America has our gratitude for making it available. One would hope that additional volumes on classical authors will be developed in this series.

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