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An exploration into the elusive, and sometimes unlikable, hero of Rome’s most important poem

Table of contents

Chapter One: On Not Liking Aeneas
Chapter Two: The First Three Words
Chapter Three: The Choices of Aeneas
Chapter Four: The Silences of Aeneas
Chapter Five: The Tears of Aeneas
Chapter Six: The Anger of Aeneas
Epilogue: The Hero Vanishes
Further Reading
Works Cited
Index of Passages Cited


The central character of Vergil’s Aeneid seems to elude readers. To some, he is unlikable; to others, he seems unreal, a figure on which to hang a plot. Aeneas discovers a tragic figure whose defining virtue depends on a past that has been stripped from him, and whose destiny blocks him from the knowledge of the future that gives meaning to his life. His choices, silences, tears, and anger reflect an existential struggle that, in the end, he loses. Aeneas is a hero of the Trojan War, a time as distant from Vergil as Vergil is from us, but he is also a literary character created in response to political chaos and civil strife as the Roman Republic gave way to the Augustan empire. Lee T. Pearcy’s book creates an Aeneas for our time: an age of liquid modernity, when identities seem fungible and precarious, amid a moment of political conflict and collapsing institutions. This volume gives readers new translations and close readings of important passages, and it restores Aeneas to the center of Rome’s most important poem.

Lee T. Pearcy retired from the Lounsbery Chair in Classics at the Episcopal Academy, Newtown Square, PA, in 2013. He is Research Associate in Classics at Bryn Mawr College.

"...Aeneas fills a niche, introducing readers to important scholarly contexts while remaining approachable. Recommended."


"This is an idiosyncratic book distilled from literally magisterial experience. ...As promised, P. delivers a thoughtful work that will help curious recreational readers to appreciate the poem’s irresolvable complexity."
The Journal of Roman Studies

- The Journal of Roman Studies

"The book easily fulfils its stated purpose: to serve as a first glimpse, a reading or re-reading guide for the young educated reader, an introduction to the Virgilian universe. And there is, in addition, something that the seasoned reader will find valuable: the sensation of attending the classes of a colleague, remembering those almost remote times when we studied Virgil and translated the Aeneid as the culmination of our studies."
Bryn Mawr Classical Review

- Alberto Marina Castillo

"Teachers will benefit from reading this book and are sure to assign parts of it as readings for their students. At the same time, both Vergil specialists and informed non-specialists will learn from and enjoy Pearcy’s careful and sensitive engagement with Rome’s great epic."
The Classical Outlook

- The Classical Outlook