The Aeneid, by Virgil: A Review

ATY’s 2019 Reading Challenge prompt #29 is to read a book published before 1950. While there are likely several books on my TBR that fit the category, I decided to take this opportunity to read The Aeneid, by Virgil. I had purchased this book on audio a while back when I was on an epic poetry kick.

In this book, Virgil writes about Aeneas, a survivor of the Trojan war who is now homeless along with others of his city. Following a prophecy, Aeneas sets sail with his people, bound for Italy. This journey is not an easy one, nor is it a foregone conclusion that they will be welcomed upon their arrival in Italy.

Though written eight centuries later, The Aeneid takes up where The Illiad leaves off, and is filled with the same sort of exaggerated adventure. There is a lot of violent warfare. The gods intervene frequently whether for good or ill. This book is viewed as Virgil’s attempt to legitimize the Roman emperors, giving them a connection to the ancient gods through Aeneas.

I didn’t enjoy this book all that much. I probably should have read it back when I was on my epic poetry kick. It is a classic, and if you’re studying ancient literature, it likely has its value. But it was definitely not a pleasure read for me.

Beowulf: A Review

I discovered audio books last year, and listening to books has become my favorite way to survive my daily commute. Beowulf joined my 2017 Reading Challenge because I’m currently writing a novel that features a bard. Bards and epic poetry go hand in hand, so this was research.

The version I listened to was published by Audio Connoisseur in 2005. It was translated by C. W. Kennedy and narrated by Charlton Griffin. It also includes a brief introduction which reviews literary and cultural discussions of the poem.

I was grateful for this introduction, for without it, I likely would have been horribly lost at a number of moments as I listened. The poem tends to digress in places, to fall into side stories and historical exposition of the various people groups surrounding the story of the hero, Beowulf. Even with the introduction, it was at times difficult to follow.

The poem relates the adventures of the title hero, Beowulf, defeating monsters and dragons. I won’t detail the plot for you here, I’ll let you read it for yourself. Suffice it to say, there is plenty of fighting, daring adventures and treasure.

Overall, I enjoyed this presentation. I ended up listening through it twice, and will likely do so again. Although I hope to read a print version of the poem before I do that.

Even if it was a little hard to follow, it was still a fun read. Over the top exaggeration, to be sure, but still fun. I find myself now wanting to read more epic poetry. There may be some Gilgamesh or Homer in my future, or anything from this list.

While I listened, I couldn’t help but think of J. R. R. Tolkien, and his created realm of Middle Earth. I could see where he’d clearly been influenced by Beowulf, and borrowed from its imagery. Later, in researching more about the poem as I sat down to write this review, I learned that indeed Tolkien was heavily influenced by this poem. In fact, he translated the poem himself and lectured on it in 1936 at the British Academy.

I also learned that this book exists, Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary. I think I found the print version of this poem I intend to read!