Troy has fallen. Rome is a tiny village by the seven hills... At the end of Vergils epic poem The Aeneid, the Trojan hero Aeneas, following his destiny, is about to marry the Italian girl Lavinia. But in the poem, she has played only the slightest part, and has never spoken a word.
Daughter of a local king, Lavinia has lived in peace and freedom, till suitors came seeking her hand, and a foreign fleet sailed up the Tiber. Now her mother wants her to marry handsome, ambitious Turnus, but strange omens, prophecies spoken by the voices of the sacred trees and springs, foretell that she must marry a stranger. And that she will be the cause of a bitter war. And that her husband will not live long.
Lavinia is determined to follow her own destiny. And when she talks with the spirit of the poet in the sacred grove, she begins to see that destiny. So she gains her own voice, learning how to tell the story Vergil left untold her story, her life, and the love of her life.
I know that there will be far greater kings of far greater kingdoms than Latinus of Latium, my father. Upriver at Seven Hills there used to be two little fortified places with dirt walls, Janiculum and Saturnia; then some Greek settlers came, rebuilt on the hillside, and called their fort and town Pallanteum. My poet tried to describe to me that place as he knew it when when he was alive, or will know it when he lives, I should say, for although he was dying when he came to me, and has been dead a long time now, he hasnt yet been born. He is among those who wait on the far side of the forgetful river. He hasnt forgotten me yet, but he will, when at last he comes to be born, swimming across that milky water. When he first imagines me he wont know that he is yet to meet me in the forest of Albunea. Anyhow, he told me that in time to come, where that village is now, the Seven Hills and the valleys among the hills and all the river banks will be covered for miles with an ...
When thinking of the epics that tell the tales of Odysseus, Achilles and Aeneas, grand scenes come to mind. Characters are larger than life, battles are loud and bloody, and the gods are an ever-present influence over the fortunes of their heroes. If the reader approaches Lavinia with these expectations, they will be disappointed. It's not an epic; it's a quiet tale, small and contained. It tells of the things that would have concerned the women of that time – tending to the hearth and performing home rituals, caring for their children, ministering to the wounded in battle -- common, mundane matters. Battles happen in the background for the most part. There are no marble-columned palaces here; what action there is takes place in a rural community.
The reader's expectations may also be distorted by a well-publicized review by Publishers Weekly comparing Lavinia favorably to Robert Graves's I, Claudius. Any parallel that reviewer saw between the two novels is unclear, as the books aren't remotely equivalent. I, Claudius provides a sense of epic history; Lavinia reads more like a diary. Anyone selecting Lavinia based on an assumed similarity with I, Claudius will almost certainly be dissatisfied with it ....
Lavinia's strength is the depth of Le Guin's imagination. Lavinia is a fully fleshed out character. The novel is rich with detail, and Le Guin's scholarship evident. It won't be for everyone, but readers who take pleasure in learning what day-to-day life was like in a distant era will find Lavinia worth their time. (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).
Full Review (958 words).
History records that Publius Vergilius Maro, better known as Vergil (or Virgil), was born in 70 BCE. Scholars argue about his place of birth and his early education, but legend has it that he was born the son of a farmer in Northern Italy, which was then known as Cisalpine Gaul ("Gaul, on this side of the Alps"). Despite a relatively lowly birth, he was well-educated, ending his education in Rome where, after dabbling briefly with other studies, he focused on philosophy.
Vergil lived during one of the most turbulent times in history. He was ten years old when the First Triumvirate (Julius Caesar, Pompey and Crassus) was formed, 17 when it collapsed, and 26 when Caesar was assassinated in 44 BCE. He fled south to...
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