Rutilio Manetti, Dido and Aeneas

Vergil’s Aeneid: Myth, Empire, and Ruin

Instructor: Bruce King
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

T. S. Eliot famously—or perhaps notoriously—declared Vergil and his Aeneid to stand “at the centre of European civilization, in a position which no other poet can share or usurp.” For Eliot, writing after World War II, Vergil’s poem about the founding of Rome was a poetic rampart upon which European civilization might be re-built and reintegrated. Others, however, have been less sanguine, finding in the Aeneid a deeply ambivalent and even pessimistic exploration of the perils of imperium, of power and empire. Ruin is a threat that comes not from without, but from within—in imperial, philosophical, and psychological delusions.

In this course, we’ll read and discuss Vergil’s Aeneid, using Sarah Ruden’s recent translation, giving close attention to its refugee hero, Aeneas, who flees the utter destruction of his homeland for a grandiose, mysteriously prophesied Rome. Aeneas sails out of the mythical ruins of Troy to an Italian landscape that already foretells of strife and civil war. In Vergil’s hands, the foundation myth is the means for contemplating the strife and violence of his own time—including that of the “Augustan settlement,” which brought peace to Italy, though at enormous costs of freedom, personal and collective. Throughout our reading of the Aeneid, we’ll give attention to the epic’s historical and philosophical (Stoic and Epicurean) contexts, as well as to Vergil’s representation of “native” Italians, of women and children, of erotic passion, of his literary predecessors (Homer, primarily), of history itself, and of the psychological wages, both individual and national, of imperium sine fine. What can a poem over 2,000 years old teach us about it’s like to live, now, under the aegis of American empire?

Course Schedule

Wednesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
September 11 — October 02, 2024
4 weeks


Registration Open

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