Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2012.01.12

Peter Jones, Aeneid I and II. Cambridge Intermediate Latin Readers.   Cambridge; New York:  Cambridge University Press, 2011.  Pp. xiii, 320.  ISBN 9780521171540.  $28.99 (pb).  

Reviewed by Isabella Canetta, Università degli Studi di Milano (


This volume on the first two books of the Aeneid, specifically addressed to readers having at least a grasp of basic grammar and vocabulary (one year of Latin seems sufficient) follows other school editions, attesting a growing interest in the scholastic diffusion of the poem. Peter Jones's volume is designed to offer a complete overview of and commentary on the text, to provide the reader with lexical, grammatical, metrical, literary tools to achieve a deep understanding of the poem, and possibly to make reading Virgil a pleasure.

The first part of the book sets forth what is required to know before starting the reading of the poem: a short introduction about Virgil, the Aeneid and its hero; a glossary of literary terms; a sketch of the regular features of Virgilian poetry; an outlineon metre and verses with exercises; a brief up-to-date bibliography; and two maps depicting the Greek and the Roman world. In the second part, there are the text, opportunely divided into macro- and micro-sections, and a twofold critical apparatus: a line-by-line commentary consisting of vocabulary, grammar and notes on names, places, customs, literary and rhetoric devices, and an extensive paraphrase/discussion of the passage just read. The page is thus split into three sections: the Latin text at the top, the line-by-line help in the middle and the expanded essay at the bottom. The book is closed with an appendix reporting other versions of the sack of Ilium in English translation and a learning vocabulary containing all the words necessary to read the Latin text. Four illustrations by Tiepolo and other less famous painters complete the edition.

The introduction gives a general view of Virgil, his time and his epic poem. The first ten paragraphs report Virgil's life in the words of Donatus and Servius (the translation is based on W.A. Camps, Virgil's Aeneid, Oxford 1969; the notes are mainly based on chapter 2 of L.P. Wilkinson, The Georgics of Virgil, Cambridge 1969). It is certainly true, as Jones states, that the poet's biography is a “controversial topic” and that the accuracy of ancient lives is difficult to assess; nonetheless, a more critical perspective of the thorny problems raised by them and a survey of up-to-date discussions and critical editions – hopingly published after the '70s and preferably in most recent years - could be usefully submitted to beginner students. In the next five paragraphs a very brief summary of Roman history in the first century BC focalizes the prominent figures of Maecenas and Octavian and their intercourse with Virgil; then a long section (§§16-22) recalls the forerunners of the Aeneid: Homer, of course, but Naevius and Ennius are given the closest attention, particularly as regards the elements borrowed and imitated by Virgil in his own epic. Other significant literary influences, such as Apollonius Rhodius's Argonautica, Greek and Roman tragedy, have been regrettably left out. The largest part of the introduction (§§ 23-38) examines several facets of the poem: Virgil's epic concept, the multilevel readings of the Aeneid (historical, mythical, allegorical, moral, aetiological), the ambiguous intercourse between the poet and the princeps (merely adulation or a critical assessment?), the Aeneas-Dido relationship, the controversial heroism of Aeneas. This figure and his role are widely investigated in the next paragraphs (§§ 39-44). Jones rightly points out that “Aeneas is not constructed like twenty-first-century man”, who is basically self-centered and in search for self-fulfilment in accordance to his own emotions and desires; consequently, in order to apprize Aeneas in the proper way, above all we must sympathize with those features which identify the Virgilian hero and distinguish him both from the average contemporary values and from the common idea of a superman (two paragraphs are significantly entitled Aeneas: no superman). Pietas, obedience, justice, duty, submission to the will of gods... but also courage, bravery, self-confidence, reliability, loyalty: all these qualities construct a fascinating and multi-faceted, at times contradictory, character, who has still something to tell us. The action of gods and the powerful presence of fate – an epic feature removed from the modern literary sensibility – are discussed in the last paragraphs (§§ 45-50). As Jones rightly explains, this was an indispensable apparatus of the epic world and Virgil has been skilled enough to redeploy “that framework convincingly in its new, Roman context” and to persuade the readers that it works.

The bulk of the volume is obviously the text of the Aeneid and the commentary on it. The Latin text has been over-punctuated to help the students with the reading and the scansion: underlined vowels and -m endings, long syllables marked with macra; linking-marks to clarify word-groups (uirumque^....^cano; Lauinaque*....*litora). The secondary-school students to whom I submitted this printing have usually responded positively to it; this method, then, proved to be helpful at this level of education and consequently it might be profitable in the first years of university teaching as well. The division in macro- and micro-sections, corresponding to small narrative plots, is another useful aid to introduce beginner students to the poem: the narrative may be submitted little by little, passage after passage, without forgetting the whole story. In addition, the running commentary – lexical, grammatical and exegetical – on each brief passage allows the students to start with small portions of the text and gradually to embrace the whole of it.

The line-by-line commentary offers a multiple aid: English translation of many words; grammatical and syntactical clarifications; interpretation of obscure passages; explanation of literary devices; elucidation of allusions and so on. In spite of this considerable aid the work of the students is not oversimplified, because the reference form of nouns is in the nominative case and that of verbs is the paradigm; moreover, at times the notes are in the shape of questions (1.84: “incubuere what form is incubuere?” 2.44: “Danaum case?”; 2.136: “dum here + subjunct., meaning...?”) or give just a tip (1.49: “imponet careful with the tense!”). Furthermore, the latent meaning of lines or passages and the frequent allusions are not overtly disclosed, but hinted at or suggested by questions; for instance, at 1.63 iussus is translated with “having been ordered” and the commentator adds “but by whom?”. In this way the process of understanding and interpretation of the text entails the analytical discernment of the readers. Finally, the informal tone (2.255: “That's a poet for you!”), a touch of romanticism (2.623: “another unfinished line, romantically punctuated in this text as if V. meant it, and Aeneas found himself lost for words at this dreadful vision”, i.e. the gods destroying Ilium) and a certain sense of humour (2.440: “Martem the mother of all battles?”) make the commentary pleasant to read and captivating. The text is substantially accurate, but not faultless. The annotation at 1.247 explains “modern Padua, where V[ergil] was born”; in the note at 2.662 ianua leto (l. 661) is designated as the subject of aderit, whereas in fact it is Pyrrhus.

Nowhere is it specified which critical text has been printed in this edition; nonetheless, issues regarding textual criticism are submitted to the reader's judgment, often in the shape of questions soliciting a motivated preference. At 1.49 imponet is glossed with adoret and imponat along with the questions “what forms are they, and what difference (hint!) they make” and the suggestion “think of Juno's current state of mind”; at 1.236 in the printed text omnis agrees with terras, but the annotation signals that Servius prefers omni agreeing with dicione: the student is thus asked to express a preference and a possible reason for his choice; at 2.771 ruenti is glossed with furenti and once again the reader is requested to choose between them. As for book 2 Horsfall's emendations (Leiden 2008) are discussed and often accepted. For instance, in l. 2.455 a tergo infelix is printed instead of a tergo, infelix (as in Mynors 1969, Geymonat 20082 and Conte 2009), because a tergo taken “with the Andromache clause (not with postesque relicti), emphasizes Andromache's discretion”; at 2.121 the word-group cui fata parent (per ima cucurrit/ossa tremor, cui fata parent, quem poscat Apollo) presents a double interpretation, whether fata is subject or object: this latter is proposed by Horsfall, but appears unconvincing to Jones. In addition the editor proposes other possible emendations for the same word-group, “if one does not like either”: quid in the place of cui as object of fata or paret instead of parent with Apollo as subject; the irksome task of making a choice is entirely left to the reader. As a last example, in 2.702 di patrii is punctuated not with ducitis in the previous line (again, as in Mynors, Geymonat and Conte), but with the following seruate according to Horsfall.

The bottom of the page displays the editor's interpretation of the passage just read. The subdivision into small sections shows its helpfulness again, as the brief essays may focus on the innumerable facets of Virgilian poetry. Each essay develops a discussion along with the paraphrase of the text. For instance, the first appearance of Aeneas, freezing and desperate after the tempest (1.92-101), calls for an assessment of the Virgilian concept of heroism: “Aeneas is groaning not in fear of death […], but at the type of death to which he thinks he is going to be subjected” and “reflects on what a truly heroic death would have meant, i.e one on the battlefield”. About the encounter with Dido the commentary enhances the similarities of the two characters, both pii and exiled; the dream of Hector (2.268-298) brings about a penetrating analysis of Aeneas's situation and of Virgil's psychological shrewdness. Informality and humour still permeate the tone of the discussion. Sinon's speech is glossed with the aid of a “score-card” separating what is true from what is false and suggesting the image Sinon creates of himself. Jones is never dogmatic in his interpretation of the poem; on the contrary, he often hints at alternative explanations and refers to the papers of other scholars, as if his viewpoints were modest proposals open to discussion. As a result, the reader is invited to a deeper reflection on the significance of the Aeneid. To the same goal are designed the suggestions for further work (comparisons with Greek epics, topics for extended essays, analysis of passages, etc.) in the study sections at the end of every section and at the end of each book.

The accuracy and the rigor of both the line-by-line commentary and the paraphrase/discussion, the validity of the interpretation, the rich understanding and the clear explanation of Virgil's art along with the helpfulness of grammatical and lexical tools make this volume indispensable for those students and readers who are longing to read the first two books of the Virgilian masterpiece in the original language, and for those teachers who are looking for an easy and possibly pleasant approach to introduce their students to the Aeneid.

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