Great Books 101: Ancient to Medieval

"Virgil, The Aeneid"


The Aeneid was written by the Roman poet Virgil in the 1st century BC and tells the story of the journey of Aeneas, legendary founder of Rome, following the fall of Troy. One major lesson of Virgil’s poem is that personal injustice has more than personal consequences. This lesson is illustrated by Aeneas’s self-indulgent dalliance with Dido, which Virgil connects to the future wars between Rome and Carthage.

Yet, if Aeneas occasionally engages in self-indulgence, he displays the vice of a man who has lost all. He is at heart a pious family man of good character, whose chief virtue is his faithfulness to his people. He leaves Dido—who subsequently commits suicide—because he has a duty to found Rome. Virgil teaches the reader the importance of doing one’s duty, even in the face of great personal cost, another major and recurring theme of the poem.

Americans today should read the Aeneid for the timeless lessons it offers. Above all, Aeneas inspires us to do our duty, to persevere in the face of opposition—from without but also from within—when we lose the things we love.


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Discussion Questions

  1. How does Aeneas’s romance with Dido illustrate the idea that private acts can have public consequences?
  2. In what ways does the Aeneid show Aeneas overcoming personal loss and doing his public duty?
  3. What lessons does the Aeneid have to teach us today?

Q & A Session

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