On Wednesday, we turned to epic poetry with Homer's Iliad and Vergil's Aeneid - and more importantly, the intertextual references that Vergil makes to Homer. Many students responded to some discussion questions in writing or video, and several students attended the live discussion on Thursday.
We first explored the powers - and powerlessness - of the gods in key scenes from Iliad 16. We found that Zeus decided to hold himself back from acting, but that Apollo played a rather active role. Many students also chose to think deeply about the pity we feel for both Sarpedon and Patroclus. One student put it this way:
Since Zeus didn't save him, "the reader feels badly for Sarpedon since even his own father wouldn’t save him from death. We feel pitiful for Patroclus because he was killed by the man that his friend Achilles told him to avoid."
We then jumped to Vergil's pro-Roman Aeneid, reading scenes from book 10. Many students found Turnus to be a ruthless character, compared to a lion and taunting Pallas. Other students looked to the emotional impact of Jupiter's conversation with Hercules. One student wrote:
"There’s the intense emotion that Hercules is feeling, his desire to help Pallas but his inability to do so, that lends a sense of helplessness to the entire thing. ... Though the reader could never have really helped anything, this whole conversation ... creates a haunting image of a young boy who everyone wanted to help but no one could."
As wee outlined the ways that Vergil made explicit references to Iliad 16, one student put together this meme:
We then asked, "but why?!" Some students pointed to the heroism of Aeneas as he resembles Achilles. Others saw differences the gods between the Iliad than in the Aeneid, and one student noted this:
"As much as Trojans' losses were, their victories were largely credited to the humans who had succeeded without as much divine intervention. Again, in the symbolic difference between Achilles’ armor and Pallas’, the gods are more present and involved in the former’s battles while the victories of the Trojans are wholly the strength of the humans (and Romans, eventually)."
Our discussion session even thought about undertones of civil war in the way that these humans were fighting each other - and looked specifically at Pallas' sword-belt with the scene of the Danaids as a symbol of intra-familial strife. We entertained the idea that perhaps Vergil paints a less-than-rosy image of Aeneas' war in Italy, and of Augustus' rise to power.
Thank you for an engaging discussion, both through your writing and over Zoom. It was wonderful to hear all of your thoughts! I can't wait to see where the coming days take us!
-- Mr. Jefferson
This blog will document the MMXX virtual session of the Virginia Governor's Latin Academy.