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Lavinia: 10/07/10

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When I was in college I took course on classic epic poetry. We had three books to read: Homer's Iliad and Odyssey and Virgil's Aeneid. Homer's stories kept me up at night. The language was difficult at times but the action kept me turning the pages. Virgil, though, was a different matter. I had to force myself to finish the book.

In all the adventures of the Trojan War and the travels through what would become Rome, Aeneis pauses briefly to marry Lavinia. For all her political importance to Aeneis, she is a minor character, a mere blip in the epic. She doesn't have a single spoken line. She does now with Ursula K. Le Guin's Lavinia.

Five years ago Canongate began a series of novels based on well known myths, written by well known authors. I read the first two: Weight by Jeannette Winterson and The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood. Lavinia isn't one of the Canongate books but its connection to The Aenid made me think of the series. Also, Ursula K Le Guin is one of my favorite authors and I was curious to see what she would do with Virgil's work.

Le Guin writes in a prose that carries the same spirit as Virgil's poetry. It's light on dialogue and heavy on imagery, though told through Lavinia's point of view. There are some scenes even where Lavinia speaks with Vergil, teasing him for making her such a minor character.

Although it wasn't my favorite Le Guin novel, I did appreciate her take on the epic. I think any misgivings I had go back to my remembered frustration with the translation I read in college.

Comments (2)

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Comment #1: Monday, October, 11, 2010 at 11:36:28


This sounds like an interesting read! I've read and enjoyed The Penelopiad and this seems to be in the same vein. I've always wanted to read something by Le Guin, this could be the one to start with!

Plus I'm teaching Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, which makes heavy references to The Aneid, starting with the mute character Lavinia.

A good few reasons to read this book. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

Comment #2: Monday, October, 18, 2010 at 21:15:13


Sounds like I need to read Titus Andronicus. Thanks for the heads up.

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