Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2015.09.07 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2015.09.07

K. F. B. Fletcher, Finding Italy: Travel, Nation and Colonization in Vergil's 'Aeneid'.   Ann Arbor:  University of Michigan Press, 2014.  Pp. viii, 280.  ISBN 9780472052288.  $45.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Lee T. Pearcy, Bryn Mawr College (

Table of Contents

Aeneas is a hard man to read. His first words to his comrades seem heartfelt—but are they? Spem vultu simulat, premit altum corde dolorem (Aen. 1.209). Except perhaps in the narratives of books 2 and 3, when he attempts for once to speak the unspeakable (infandum, Aen. 2.3), Aeneas will seldom say what he thinks or how he feels. Readers must infer those things from what others say to him or about him, or from his actions. In this book K. F. B. Fletcher attempts to do just that by investigating how and why Aeneas “falls in love with Italy before even arriving there and what this love means for both Aeneas and Vergil’s audience” (1). In the attempt, Fletcher seeks new paths over some well-trodden ground: the Aeneid as a narrative of colonization and city-founding,1 onomastic wordplay and shifting names,2 the importance of the idea of Italy to Augustanism generally and to Vergil’s imagining of Roman identity in particular,3 and the fusion of Aeneas’ search for Italy with his own search for a new personal identity.4 Fletcher has good things to say about all these matters, and on the last in particular he offers many thought-provoking observations. Experienced Vergilian scholars will profit by this book, although they may be unconvinced by at least one of its central assertions. They may also put it down with a sense that Fletcher has said less than he might have about parts of the Aeneid that are important for his argument or show it in a different light.

An introduction leads to six chapters, one on each of the first six books of the Aeneid. Books 7–12 are confined to a seventh, concluding chapter. In each chapter Fletcher takes up episodes that contribute to development of one or more of the themes that he has identified as important for Aeneas’ transformation from Trojan to Italian. Because the chapter on book 3, “Setting the Colonization Narrative in Motion” (80–141), is the longest and, as Fletcher says (80), the most important, it can stand by synecdoche for his entire book. In it Fletcher demonstrates how the Trojans, through a series of instructions and revelations (from the ghost of Polydorus in Thrace, Apollo on Delos, the Penates on Crete, Celaeno in the Strophades, and Helenus in Buthrotum), make the transition from refugees to colonists. Elements of the pattern of colonization narrative identified by Carol Dougherty—civic crisis, consultation of Apollo, foundation of the colony, death and heroization of the founder—recur as the colonization narrative is restarted at different points. Fletcher persuasively shows how Vergil develops Aeneas as both leader of the expedition and increasingly enthusiastic city founder in Thrace (prima moenia, 3.17) and on Crete (avidus muros optatae molior urbis, 3.132). Close readings often shed light on particular issues, like the question of how Aeneas’ navigator Palinurus could “remember” (meminisse, 3.202) the waters off Crete (118–19).

Throughout his book, Fletcher describes Aeneas’ growing knowledge of Italy as an increase in affection. Aeneas forms an “emotional attachment to the idea of Italy” that “gives his goal meaning” (81). “The Trojans—and Aeneas in particular—begin to form an emotional attachment to Italy even before they arrive” (100). “Aeneas falls in love with the idea of Italy before he ever gets there” (253). Fletcher, that is, takes Aeneas at his word when he tells Dido that he must go to Italy: hic amor, haec patria est (Aen. 4.347). Without a doubt Aeneas’ attachment to Italy is a strong one, but I wonder whether “love” is the right word for it. Vergil has shown Aeneas from the beginning as a man who tailors his words to his situation and audience. We know that he has given careful thought to this speech (4.283–284). What other image than love and homeland could he have devised that would better explain to Dido the pull of destiny?

I also wonder whether Aeneas’ transformation from Trojan to Italian is as complete as Fletcher argues. His concentration on the first half of the Aeneid and his focus on how Aeneas changes as he learns more about Italy lead Fletcher to undervalue Aeneas’ ignorance, which is at least as remarkable as his knowledge. Aeneas’ stature as a moral hero comes in part from his willingness to follow a divinely commanded destiny that he barely comprehends and that will lead to a future that he cannot know. Fletcher glides over ignarus at Aen. 8.730 and cites (215) but ignores Glenn Most’s argument that Aeneas remembers nothing of his visit to the Underworld.5 Even towards the end of the poem, when its readers will learn about Jupiter’s agreement with Juno to blot out the culture and language of Troy by absorbing them into the Latins, Aeneas still thinks like a Trojan exile; he imagines that his role in victory will be to found yet another city for his Teucrians, with their own laws and rites (12.187–194).

Finding Italy includes useful indexes and an extensive bibliography, although at least one item in the notes is missing from it.6 Inevitably, readers will take issue with particular interpretations. Does Aeneas really “move Dido to tears” (161) in the Underworld, or is ciebat at Aen 6.468 conative, as 469–471 imply? Fletcher’s language is occasionally imprecise; for example, not all gentes whose forebears competed in the contests of book 5 were patrician, as he suggests on 163. He sometimes shoehorns events into the categories of his analysis; does the Sibyl’s prophecy at 6.83–97 really offer “a type of direction” (199) in the same way that Creusa’s final words or the Penates’ dream-vision do? None of these or other quibbles should deter readers who know the Aeneid from seeking out the useful insights that this book has to offer.


1.   E.g. Carol Dougherty, The Politics of Colonization: From City to Text in Archaic Greece (Oxford 1993); Sharilyn R. Nakata, “Dum Conderet Urbem: Colonization Narratives in the Aeneid,” Ph.D. diss., University of California-Irvine, 2004; J. Reed, Virgil’s Gaze: Nation and Poetry in the Aeneid (Princeton 2007) and “Vergil’s Roman,” in Companion to Vergil’s Aeneid and Its Tradition, ed. J. Farrell and M. C. J. Putnam (Oxford 2010) 66–79.
2.   Notably James J. O’Hara, True Names: Vergil and the Alexandrian Tradition of Etymological Wordplay (Ann Arbor 1996); also M. Paschalis, Virgil’s Aeneid: Semantic Relations and Proper Names (Oxford 1997); Francis Cairns, “The Nomenclature of the Tiber in Virgil’s Aeneid,” in What’s in a Name? The Significance of Proper Names in Classical Latin Literature, ed. J. Booth and R. Maltby, 65–82 (Swansea 2006); and, even earlier, Louise Adams Holland, “Place Names and Heroes in the Aeneid,” AJP 56 (1935), 202–15.
3.   E.g. C. Ando, “Vergil’s Italy: Ethnography and Politics in First-Century Rome,” in Clio and the Poets: Augustan Poetry and the Traditions of Ancient Historiography, ed. D. S. Levene and D. P. Nelis, 123–42 (Leiden 2002); P. R. Hardie, Virgil’s Aeneid: Cosmos and Imperium (Oxford 1986).
4.   Perhaps because Aeneas’ inner life is so elusive, less attention has been given in recent years to the interaction between his own character and his epic destiny; see perhaps chapter 3 of Yasmin Syed, Vergil’s Aeneid and the Roman Self: Subject and Nation in Literary Discourse (Ann Arbor 2005). Older literature offers a different picture; see Therese Fuhrer, “Aeneas: A Study in Character Development,” G&R 36 (1989), 63–72.
5.   G. W. Most, “Memory and Forgetting in the Aeneid,” Vergilius 47 (2001), 148–70.
6.   “Stewart 1958,” cited at 106 n.73 and 194 n. 1, presumably George R. Stewart’s Names on the Land: An Historical Account of Place-Naming in the United States (1945, repr. 1958 and frequently since).

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