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The Core Curriculum

Core Readings: Lit Hum Instructor Joseph Howley reads Virgil

19 BCE
Relates to: 


Joseph Howley, professor of classics at Columbia, reads selections from Virgil. 

The Aeneid: paean to imperial conquest, subtle critique of the evils of empire — or both?  Virgil’s epic tells the tale of Aeneas, leader of the vanquished survivors of the Greek conquest of Troy.   Revisiting many of the sites of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Aeneas and his men vie against gods, indigenous peoples and their own flagging spirits to achieve the fated founding of Rome.

Virgil wrote the Aeneid between 29 and 19 B.C.E., at the very moment when Augustus was transforming Rome from a republic into a monarchic empire.    And on its face, the Aeneid celebrates both the person of Augustus and the prospect of Rome’s unending expansion.    

In his reading, however, Howley suggests Virgil’s own ambivalence about the imperial project and also the role that artistic works — and those who enjoy them — play in justifying the terrible deeds that sustain empire.  



BOOK 1, lines 625-710.  Aeneas examining a frieze of his exploits on a shrine to Juno soon after landing at Carthage 
BOOK  6, lines 11-59.  Having led his men on pious pilgrimage to the Sibyl’s grotto, they miss the point of the elaborate carvings on the gate. 
BOOK 8, lines 242-351.  King Evander relates (in horrifically gory detail) how the mythic Hercules extirpated the monstrous Cacus from the future site of Rome. 
BOOK 12, lines 1221- 1271.  Howley reads the Aeneid’s final lines in English and in Latin, showing how Virgil uses ambiguities within language to create layers of meaning within the poem. 

(26 mins)