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Judith Rohman’s Le Héros et la Déesse offers something of a crown to decades of research on Virgil’s Aeneid, even as it gives indications of potentially profitable future avenues of investigation. It is a successor to Denis Feeney’s influential The Gods in Epic: Poets and Critics of the Classical Tradition,[1] not to mention the less celebrated, underappreciated work of Elizabeth Block,[2] and a merciful yet exacting judge of interpretive voices from late antiquity to the present day (not least those enamored of allegory). Rohman’s long monograph is in some ways an amalgam of Peter Schenk’s Die Gestalt des Turnus[3] and Joseph Farrell’s Juno’s Aeneid: A Battle for Heroic Identity,[4] even as it seeks to expand upon the research commenced by Agathe Thornton in her 1976 volume, The Living Universe: Gods and Men in Virgil’s Aeneid.[5] The pedigree of Rohman’s massive treatment of Virgil’s epic dates back too to an equally prolix study, Henri de la Ville de Mirmont’s seminal tome on the gods in the Hellenistic Argonautica and the Augustan Aeneid.[6] The vastness of this book’s range and material invites a review that situates it within the last century of Virgilian scholarship, even as it charts new areas of investigation. This study of close to 700 pages is remarkably enlivening in its vast scope and ambitious agenda, with an economy of expression.[7] It is a work of literary more than textual criticism, and so the many problems of establishing the correct readings of vexed passages is not a major concern of the author.[8]

The admirable and profitable methodology of the work of Viktor Pöschl and his school in exploring the nature of Virgilian characters both divine and mortal through systematic study of their appearances in the poem[9] is wedded in Rohman’s volume with the more thematic approach of Michael Putnam,[10] the etymological interests of James O’Hara,[11] and (more rarely) the rigorous source criticism of Nicholas Horsfall.[12] The resulting union is not some unwieldly, chimaera of a critical construct, but rather a book that serves in part as a commentary on a century plus of voluminous Virgilian scholarship. It may be recommended without reserve, and will be a vademecum to those working on any aspect of Aeneid studies, both for its synthesis of previous work, and its precise delineation of next steps in explicating the supreme poetic achievement of the Augustan Age. Harking back to the magisterial work of Augustin Cartault,[13] Le héros et la déesse succeeds in providing a synergistic reading of Virgil that is reminiscent of the best of Clausen[14] and Dion.[15] Less technical but just as rigorous as Lesueur,[16] the volume under review is heir and contributor to a rich tapestry of multifarious interpretive skeins. If narratology has influenced this investigation of Augustan literary aesthetics, it has done so without dogmatism.[17]

There is a less discrete “thesis” in these pages than a condensing of countless books, articles, and assorted studies and diverse approaches to Virgil’s epic. The image that recurred to this reviewer most often was that of an oasis, one that offered a chance to rest and to absorb the lessons of so many other works of Virgilian scholarship, while also providing a necessarily incomplete map that of the next steps of the journey.

Rohman’s book ultimately is about the problems posed by the final scene of the epic, a passage that has become a virtual playground for learned debates and attempted exposition and divining of the poet’s intentions.[18] Here there is judicious consideration of opposing points of view, though the Harvard School casts the most discernible shadow.[19] The problem of whether or not the Virgilian immortals are to be considered characters in their own right, endowed as it were with poetic personhood, is at the forefront throughout. Can the gods and goddesses of the poem be dismissed as mere tropes, as puppets to be manipulated by the poet as colorful avatars of this or that emotion or force? Engagement with scholarship here as diverse in perspective as the work of Gordon Williams[20] and John Alvis[21] provides an avenue to interpretive solution, even if the road has several lanes and generous opportunity to take scenic detours. Rohman is concerned with timeless questions about the nature of heroism, even as she explores the temporal and political realities of producing a heroic epic in an Augustan context. It is good to see continuing evidence that the strange prejudice by which the first half of the poem has been favored over the latter (always more an anglophone than a continental phenomenon) may at last have been put to rest.[22]

One of the great virtues of Rohman’s approach is that the Virgilian analysis is not overwhelmed by extensive intertextual study of Homer and Apollonius. While amply informed throughout by the mammoth labors of Niko Knauer[23] and Damien Nelis[24] (and too the challenging exposition of Alessandro Barchiesi,[25] more indirectly), Rohman does not succumb to the siren song that has both enchanted and enslaved Virgilian critics. Virgil is treated on his own terms, with gazes both backwards and forward subjected to a rigorous custody of the eyes. The problems posed by the characterization and personality of the heroes and gods of the Aeneid are approached first and foremost by intensive analysis of Virgil’s own treatment thereof, and not so much by consideration either of how they echo archaic and Alexandrian antecedents, or how they anticipate argentine and imperial epigones. Likewise the focus throughout is on Virgil, and not on his intertexts with other Augustan poets, or the relationship of his epic to architecture and the visual arts.

This is also one of those welcome works of Virgilian criticism that makes extensive use of the Servian commentary tradition as part of a recurring emphasis throughout on tracing the history of scholarship on a given problem. Here Rohman benefits from the recent trend (largely francophone) of devoting full scale treatment to individual books of Servius.[26]

While those seeking comprehensive or even more than cursory study of Virgil’s use of Greek and Latin epic, tragic, and lyric poetry will not find much to consult in this volume, it is a markedly different story in terms of the totality of the author’s engagement with every corner and recess of the Aeneid.[27] This is not a work that follows the all too common tendency to focus on rigorously (even if judiciously) selected passages from the epic that support one’s thesis (preordained or not). Rohman ranges widely through the epic, crafting a reading of the poem’s treatment of Juno, Turnus, Aeneas and more that does not compel the reader to apply her method to untested scenes, given the comprehensiveness of the author’s exploration of every book. Certain figures emerge whose explication renders them especially brilliant. The Volscian heroine Camilla is noteworthy in this regard,[28] as is the Arcadian Pallas – both rivals for the Patroclean mantle, and both of critical significance for understanding Virgil’s approach to Turnus. In this arena there are analyses that complement recent important work on the favorite Virgilian topos of the premature death of colorful, attractive youths.[29] In this vein, Lausus receives his due attention (Mezentius less so).[30] If there is a shadowy figure in this book, it is Aeneas (and rightly so).[31] Rohman follows Virgil’s example of delineating the epic protagonist largely by reference to those with whom he interacts, with some consideration in particular for the implications of such a method on the problem of Aeneas’ success of failure as a leader and source of authority both for his Trojans and for the people he encounters on arrival in Latium.[32]

On the divine plane, certain “minor” figures receive due attention as particularly rich illustrations of Virgil’s depiction of timeless forces. The “female demonic” has been the subject of recent study,[33] and the soporific close of Aeneid V has long cast its own hypnotic spell on scholars.[34] But of all the members of the secondary cast of Virgil’s epic, none approach the paramount role of Juturna in coming to terms with the poet’s composition of his Rutulian antagonist, not to mention her importance to the crafting of Juno as a divine patroness with a shifting focus of allegiances, as we move from Carthage to Rome. The Carthaginian provenance of Juno’s devotion leads inevitably to consideration of Dido, where Rohman builds on the work of Richard Monti[35] (rather more than of Alfred Schmitz).[36] In terms of the interactions of Virgil’s characters, there is much here in the spirit of Cornelia Renger on the relationship between Aeneas and Turnus,[37] more so than on the perhaps excessively studied, disastrous consequences of the affair between the Trojan and his Phoenician paramour.[38] The anger of Aeneas is typologically related to the fury of Hercules that is on display in the Cacus epyllion of Book VIII, a sequence that is also the subject of considerable attention that follows on the extensive work of Karl Galinsky.[39]

Looming (not to say brooding) over all of these concerns with the depiction of individual figures in the Aeneid is the problem of fate and fortune. This too has been the subject of significant recent work,[40] building on the seminal treatments of Pierre Boyancé[41] (rather more than Cyril Bailey)[42]. In the realm of philosophy and its schools, Epicurean thought is studied more for its implications on the cosmology and divine machinery of the poem than for its political implications in the nascent, formative years of Augustan Rome.[43] Stoicism is considered in light of Jupiter’s relationship to fate and the omnipresent Virgilian concern with the (often quite circumscribed) area in which gods and men may act either in defiance of or in ignorance of destiny. As with the Harpies, so with the Parcae Rohman offers a lucid exposition that makes a noteworthy contribution to the study of Virgil’s divine and quasi-divine women.[44]

There is less in these pages on epic vocabulary or syntax, topics that have long been at the forefront of Virgilian studies[45] and that in recent years have been the subject of an impressive array of titles.[46] Colors are neglected in the wake of the exhaustive treatment of Robert Edgeworth[47] in particular, though this is an area where more work needs to be done to take advantage of that work’s yeoman labor in chromatic cataloguing. So too arboriculture (the study of which has grown appreciably since John Sargeaunt),[48] topography and landscape,[49] and battle narrative.[50] These topics are not germane in the strict sense to the author’s arguments or approach, but are mentioned here since much of Rohman’s work and ideas could be supported by recourse to these other byways of Virgiliana.

The Virgilian bibliography is daunting, given that everything from sound to silence has been subjected to detailed analysis,[51] and the preface of the present study attests to the problem posed by the 2020 pandemic for research conducted in its shadow. Some recent major works are missing,[52] though throughout the absent scholarship does not so much work against Rohman’s arguments and analyses as it would have provided additional support and footing.

The early twenty-first century has been a fruitful period for Virgil studies. One would profit much from a slow reading of the Aeneid accompanied by Rohman’s volume alongside Gerhard Binder’s recent three-volume commentary.[53] Pace Callimachus, Rohman’s book is a μέγα καλόν, one that offers provocative, engaging and inspiring readings of the epic that are clothed in deceptively simple raiment. The answers to perennial Virgilian puzzles may be as elusive as ever, but the clues are more numerous, and the arrangement and interpretation of the available evidence more cogent and compelling. Roger Mynors prefaced his Oxford Classical Text with the Virgilian tag itur in antiquam silvam. Judith Rohman’s book is a dense forest, but to be lost in it is to come to a better understanding of Virgilian epic.


Lee Fratantuono, National University of Ireland-Maynooth

Publié dans le fascicule 1 tome 125, 2023, p. 200-205.


[1]. Oxford 1991.

[2]. The Effects of Divine Manifestation on the Reader’s Perspective in Vergil’s Aeneid, Salem, New Hampshire 1981.

[3]. Königstein 1984.

[4]. Princeton 2021.

[5]. Leiden 1976.

[6]. Apollonios de Rhodes et Virgile: Les mythologies et les dieux dans les Argonautiques et dans l’Énéide, Paris 1894.

[7]. Latin passages are translated (modified in places from Jacques Perret’s Budé), thus making the work accessible to a wider audience.

[8]. The two recent, slender volumes of G. Biagio Conte, Critical Notes on Virgil. Editing the Teubner Text of the “Georgics” and the “Aeneid”, Berlin-Boston 2016, and Virgilian Parerga: Textual Criticism and Stylistic Analysis, Berlin-New York 2021, offer both companions to the standard Teubner text and histories of major scholarly trends and approaches in this area. Invaluable too is E. Kraggerud, Vergiliana. Critical Studies on the Texts of Publius Vergilius Maro, London‑New York 2017, with recapitulations of earlier work alongside new investigations of select cruces. M. Scappaticcio, Papyri Vergilianae. L’apporto della Papirologia alla Storia della Tradizione Virgiliana (I-VI d. C.), Liège 2013 provides a lavishly illustrated guide to one of the more promising paths to solving heretofore knotty problems.

[9]. E.g., A. Brill, Die Gestalt der Camilla bei Vergil, Heidelberg 1972.

[10]. Especially The Poetry of the Aeneid: Four Studies in Imaginative Unity, Cambridge Massachusetts 1966, and The Humanness of Heroes: Studies in the Conclusion of Virgil’s Aeneid (Amsterdam Vergil Lectures), Amsterdam 2011.

[11]. True Names: Vergil and the Alexandrian Tradition of Etymological Wordplay, Ann Arbor [20172] 1996, vastly expanding on G. Bartelink, Etymologisering bij Vergilius, Amsterdam 1965.

[12]. Cf. The Epic Distillled: Studies in the Composition of the Aeneid, Oxford 2016, the author’s last book before his death on New Year’s Day, 2019. The memorial collection Fifty Years at the Sibyl’s Heels: Selected Papers on Virgil and Rome, Oxford 2020, may be noted as a convenient assembling of his most important Virgilian articles.

[13]. L’art de Virgile dans l’Énéide, Paris 1926.

[14]. Virgil’s Aeneid: Decorum, Allusion, and Ideology, Munich-Leipzig 2002.

[15]. Les passions dans l’œuvre de Virgile: Poétique et philosophie, Nancy 1993.

[16]. Recherches sur la composition rythmique de l’Énéide, Lille 1974.

[17]. In style and format, Rohman’s work is comparable too to J. Newman, F. Newman, Troy’s Children: Lost Generations in Virgil’s Aeneid, Hildesheim-Zürich-New York 2005, where close reading of many passages offers often richer treasures than one finds in studies that prefer a more selective, thematic approach.

[18]. From the commentary tradition, one of the few noteworthy omissions is A. Traina, Virgilio: l’utopia e la storia: Il libro XII dell’Eneide e antologia delle opere, Bologna [2017], 20042, which offers valuable annotations.

[19]. Rohman does not engage with H.-P. Stahl, Poetry Underpinning Power. Vergil’s Aeneid: The Epic for Emperor Augustus, Swansea 2016, which one can appreciate given the penchant of that volume for polemic.

[20]. Tradition and Originality in Roman Poetry, Oxford 1968, and Technique and Ideas in the Aeneid, New Haven 1983.

[21]. Divine Purpose and Heroic Response in Homer and Virgil: The Political Plan of Zeus, Lanham 1995.

[22]. This encouraging trend dates back at least to K. Gransden, Virgil’s Iliad: A Study in Epic Narrative, Cambridge 1984.

[23]. Die Aeneis und Homer, Göttingen 1964.

[24]. Vergil’s Aeneid and the Argonautica of Apollonius Rhodius, Leeds 2001.

[25]. Homeric Effects in Vergil’s Narrative, Princeton 2015 (updated edition).

[26]. Cf. A. Baudou, S. Clément-Tarantino, Servius: À l’école de Virgile, Villeneuve d’Ascq 2015, and the volumes in the Collection Budé on Books IV, VI, and most recently VIII.

[27]. The index locorum is indispensable for users of this book.

[28]. On Camilla, M. Alessio, Studies in Vergil: Aeneid Eleven, an Allegorical Approach, Québec City (a generally underappreciated, underutilized volume), would have been helpful to support the arguments that are advanced.

[29]. Note especially here A. Sisul, La mors immatura en la Eneida, Córdoba 2018.

[30]. On Mezentius we miss G. Thome, Gestalt und Funktion des Mezentius bei Vergil, Frankfurt am Main 1979, but in some ways more so L. Kronenberg, “Mezentius the Epicurean”, TAPA 135, 2005, p. 403-431.

[31]. Rohman offers a sequel now and again to C. Mackie, The Characterisation of Aeneas, Edinburgh 1988, perhaps the best anglophone example of the tradition honed by the Pöschl-Schule and its followers.

[32]. There is no engagement with M. Schauer, Aeneas dux in Vergils Aeneis, München 2007, whose approach and conclusions largely mirror Rohman’s.

[33]. R. Cullick, Maximae Furiarum: The Female Demonic in Augustan Poetry, Dissertation Minnesota 2016. Rohman’s analysis of the Harpies from Book III is a gem of exposition.

[34]. E.g., L. Fratantuono, “Princeps Ante Omnis: Palinurus and the Eerie End of Virgil’s Protesilaus”, Latomus 71, 2012, p. 713-733.

[35]. The Dido Episode and the Aeneid: Roman Social and Political Values in the Epic, Leiden 1981.

[36]. Infelix Dido. Étude esthétique et psychologique du livre IV de l’Énéide de Virgile, Gembloux 1960.

[37]. Aeneas und Turnus: Analyse einer Feindschaft, Frankfurt am Main 1985.

[38]. Where Farron is cited, it is not for Vergil’s Æneid: A Poem of Grief & Love, Leiden‑Boston‑Köln 1993.

[39]. Vid. here especially The Herakles Theme: The Adaptations of the Hero in Literature from Homer to the Twentieth Century, Oxford 1972.

[40]. M. Cairo, Dioses y hombres en la Eneida de Virgilio: Un estudio del discurso profético, Buenos Aires 2021.

[41]. La religion de Virgile, Paris 1963.

[42]. Religion in Virgil, Oxford 1935.

[43]. Here Rohman complements Vivianne Mellinghoff-Bourgerie’s Les incertitudes de Virgile, Bruxelles 1990.

[44]. Invaluable here is G. West, Women in Virgil’s Aeneid, Dissertation California Los Angeles 1975, a work in the Pöschl tradition that deserves greater exposure.

[45]. Cf. A. Cordier, Études sur le vocabulaire épique dans l’Énéide, Paris 1939, and F. Antoine, De casuum syntaxi vergiliana, Paris 1882.

[46]. Noteworthy here are G. Beghini, Il latino colloquiale nell’Eneide: Approfondimenti sull’ arte poetica di Virgilio, Bologna 2020, S. Adema, Tenses in Vergil’s Aeneid, Leiden-Boston 2019 and P. Dainotti, Word Order and Expressiveness in the Aeneid, Berlin-Boston 2015.

[47]. The Colors of the Aeneid, New York 1992.

[48]. The Trees, Shrubs, and Plants of Virgil, Oxford 1920; cf. now G. Maggiulli, Incipiant silvae cum primum surgere: Mondo vegetale e nomenclatura della flora di Virgilio, Roma 1995, and R. Armstrong, Vergil’s Green Thoughts: Plants, Humans, and the Divine, Oxford 2019. The “cut flower” imagery that is associated with the deaths of Euryalus and Pallas is a happy exception to the general absence of botany herein.

[49]. Cf. here H.-D. Reeker, Die Landschaft in der Aeneis, Hildesheim-New York 1971, and also P. Van Wees, Poetische geografie in Vergilius’ Aeneis, Dissertation Utrecht 1970.

[50]. Note A. Rossi, Contexts of War. Manipulation of Genre in Virgilian Battle Narrative, Ann Arbor 2004.

[51]. Cf. F.-X. Roiron, Étude sur l’imagination auditive de Virgile, Paris 1908, and Y. Nurtantio, Le silence dans l’Énéide, Bruxelles 2014.

[52]. Among relatively recent monographs, P. Hardie, The Last Trojan Hero: A Cultural History of Virgil’s Aeneid, London-New York 2014 ; L. Weeda, Vergil’s Political Commentary in the Eclogues, Georgics, and Aeneid, Berlin‑New York 2015 ; A. Rogerson, Virgil’s Ascanius: Imagining the Future in the Aeneid, Cambridge 2017, and E. Giusti, Carthage in Virgil’s Aeneid: Staging the Enemy under Augustus, Cambridge 2018 offer a small selection of titles that would have buttressed various of the proposed theses.

[53].  P. Vergilius Maro Aeneis …, Trier 2019.