Sample and Questions

1. Is Dido the only convincing female character in the Aeneid?

- Always question the question first:

What does 'convincing character' mean? that she is believably portrayed?

- Then consider whether Dido actually is a convincing character:

Does Virgil's decision to relate Book 4 from her point of view make her actions more understandable to us than they would have been had he chosen not to? Do you believe that she is a 'real' person or just a literary creation to explain Carthage's historical antipathy towards Rome and to show Aeneas' dedication to his mission? Does the fact that she is so clearly representative of a Greek tragic heroine make her any less convincing?

- Then consider whether, if she is a convincing female character, she is the only one:

Can a division be made between the mortal and immortal female characters? Are the other mortal female characters (Anna, Creusa, Lavinia, Amata, Camilla, Andromache etc.) only of use functionally within the poem or do they have defined characters in their own right? If they do have defined characters, are they convincing? What about the immortal female characters? Are Juno and Venus, specifically, convincing?

- You should by now have given a thorough answer to the question, touching on all the major female characters, mortal and immortal, in the poem, but focussing particularly on Dido and making sure that you have answered the question asked.

2. Is the Aeneid adequately described as 'the epic of Rome's imperial destiny'?

- What does 'the epic of Rome's imperial destiny' mean? Is it suggestive of propaganda on Virgil's part? What was Virgil's aim in writing the Aeneid?

- Is it fair to describe the Aeneid as such?

Do Jupiter's prophecy in Book 1, the Pageant of Roman Heroes in Book 6 and the description of Aeneas' shield in Book 8 constitute strong reasons for calling the poem 'the epic of Rome's imperial destiny'? Is Aeneas a proto-Augustan character? Is the view we are presented of the future Roman race unequivocally optimistic? Consider whether the harm done to individuals in the process of Aeneas fulfilling his mission could be said to denigrate the future race before its city has even been founded, or whether their personal suffering is shown to be an unfortunate corollary in the pursuit of Rome's greatness.

- Can the Aeneid be adequately described as such?

Even if the poem could be described as 'the epic of Rome's imperial destiny', does this description do it justice? Are there are aspects to it that are overlooked by such a narrow statement? Could we ever hope to sum up such a vast work with one phrase, or is the question simply asking us to say whether that is the best phrase to attempt to do so, since it locates the fundamental truth of the poem?

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