BMCR 2004.06.38

Virgil Aeneid VI

, , Aeneid VI. London: Bristol Classical Press, 2003. 231 pages : maps ; 22 cm. ISBN 185399653X. £9.99.

This is a new school edition of one of the books of the Aeneid most often read in schools and colleges, written by a schoolteacher of many years’ experience, and is a useful and welcome addition to the range of such Virgilian editions. It is certainly a timely and up-to-date replacement for the ageing 1946 school edition by Gould and Whiteley.

Its introduction is full and informative, with useful sections on the poet and the work (the book-by-book summary of the poem is very helpful), on the historical context, and (in some interesting detail) on metre and metrical effects, too often underplayed at this level. The main section on the sixth book itself offers much of importance for interpretation and for class discussion: the relation to Odyssey 11 and to Lucretius (it is well observed that Anchises’ speech at 6.724ff imitates Lucretius stylistically but opposes him ideologically), a positive and optimistic interpretation of the Parade of Heroes, and an account of Aeneas’ exit by the ivory gate as a mark of the book’s fictionality. Likewise, the material to be found at the end of the book (parallel passages from Ennius and Lucretius, index of terms used in the commentary, index of names in text and commentary, vocabulary, list of abbreviations) shows a laudable care for the school user.

The use of sections and headings in both text and commentary makes the volume easy to use and to navigate and also shows the student how the text might be segmented into narrative episodes. The commentary is generally very helpful on grammar and often translates the more difficult passages (the quickest way of showing how to take something), and will be much appreciated by students and their teachers. I append a few comments on individual points and interpretations below. But it should be clear that this is a useful volume which provides a well-informed and relatively up-to-date guide to both the Latin and the themes of this central Virgilian book.

6.20-30: Daedalus ekphrasis. Good comments on the relevance of the exile theme here, but more could be made of the Theseus/Aeneas parallel (explicitly raised later by the Sibyl: 6.122) and the Underworld/labyrinth parallel.

6.89: alius Latio iam partus Achilles is surely prophetically ambiguous (is Turnus or Aeneas the new Achilles in Italy?).

6.94: ‘half-lines’. It should be added that no other ancient poem shows such incomplete lines, an important piece of evidence that these were not intended as final.

6.210-11: a good discussion of the Golden Branch, using David West’s interpretation, which importantly stresses Aeneas’ own point of view here.

6.453-4: a good discussion of the Dido/moon simile, but one could add that this last simile for Dido echoes her first as Diana (moon-goddess) at 1.498ff.

6.511ff: might the inconsistency with the Helen/Deiphobus story in Aeneid 2 be explored?

6.530: is it worth pointing out that revenge is taken against the ‘Greek’ Turnus in the war in Italy?

6.564: is it worth remarking on the clever device whereby Tartarus is described second-hand by the Sibyl so that the righteous Aeneas does not have to visit it?

6.662ff: note how the poet gives his own kind a good berth in Elysium.

6.817ff: good on Tarquins and Brutus and republic/tyrannicide.

6.824: might use and explain the term devotio.

6.842: could mention the Ennian pun fulmine/Scipiadas (see Austin here).

6.847-52: makes the good point that epic poetry is omitted from Greek cultural achievements — is martial epic (e.g. the Aeneid itself) included in the Roman mission of military empire, perhaps?

6.853: parcere subiectis et debellare superbos: is it worth saying that this looks forward to the death of Turnus (which principle is being applied there?)?