Classics Trip: Learning more about Virgil

London F37

In February, the students who are studying Classical Civilisation at A2 level went to a day of lectures on the unit ‘Virgil and the World of the Hero’. A level study days help and inspire both students and teachers. The lectures are given by academics from Russell Group universities but are pitched at the right level for intelligent and enthusiastic students. As well as discussing and analysing important themes in the text, the day also gives students the experience of listening and taking notes at a lecture which they will be required to do when they go to university.

In the first lecture, Professor Matthew Leigh from Oxford discussed Virgil’s debt to Homer. He cited examples of where Virgil was clearly making use of material from both the ‘Iliad’ and ‘Odyssey’ but refashioning it in a strikingly original way. Professor Catherine Edwards from Birkbeck then discussed Virgil’s relationship with Augustus, the tyrant - or benevolent dictator, depending on your point of view - who commissioned the epic. She looked at examples of Virgil’s ‘private voice’ which is critical of Augustus and the Roman empire and is at variance with the ‘public voice’ which glorifies Augustus and lends support to his regime.

After lunch, Professor Edith Hall from King’s College, London, gave a lecture on religion in the Aeneid. She discussed various aspects of ancient religion, many of which seem utterly foreign to modern sensibilities and she gave the students plenty to think about. The final lecture was given by Doctor Tristan Franklinos on the ending of the Aeneid. Virgil’s ending was controversial in his own day and attempts were made in antiquity to write a different ending and even a thirteenth book. Dr. Franklinos made a powerful case for this being the ending that Virgil had chosen. Although the ending is shocking, Virgil refuses to take the easy way out and ends his epic on a disturbing note.

The day was very enjoyable and enhanced the students’ understanding and appreciation of Virgil’s Aeneid.

Eileen Ryan