Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Virgil's Epic Designs

Virgil's Epic Designs: Ekphrasis in the Aeneid

Michael C. J. Putnam
Copyright Date: 1998
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 272
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Virgil's Epic Designs
    Book Description:

    This book by one of the preeminent Virgil scholars of our day is the first comprehensive study of ekphrasis in Virgil's final masterpiece, theAeneid.Virgil uses ekphrasis-a self-contained aside that generates a pause in the narrative to describe a work of art or other object-to tell us something about the grander text in which it is embedded, says Michael C. J. Putnam. Individually and as a group, Virgil's ekphrases enrich the reader's understanding of the meaning of the epic. Putnam shows how the descriptions of works of art, and of people, places, and even animals, provide metaphors for the entire poem and reinforce its powerful ambiguities.Putnam offers insightful analyses of the most extensive and famous ekphrases in theAeneid-the paintings in Juno's temples in Carthage, the Daedalus frieze, and the shield of Aeneas. He also considers shorter and less well known examples-the stories of Ganymede, the Trojan shepherd swept into the sky by an amorous Jupiter; the fifty daughters of Danaus, ordered by their father to kill their husbands on their wedding night; and Virgil's original tale of a domesticated wild stag whose killing sparks a war between Trojans and Italians. These ekphrases incorporate major themes of theAeneid,an enduring formative text of the Western tradition, and provide a rich variety of interpretive perspectives on the poem.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14707-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    This book examines Virgil’s use of the rhetorical figure of ekphrasis throughout theAeneid.The trope of “speaking forth” is of particular service for the poet at a moment when narration must apparently pause to recount, and in the process bring understanding of and clarity to, an entity of interest to the story line as it progresses.¹ Such adescriptio,for instance, can be concerned with a piece of landscape. Virgil’s first example of the figure in the epic epitomizes the magic and menace which the Trojans both confront and engender as they moor in Dido’s harbor at Carthage, while...

  6. 1 Dido’s Murals
    (pp. 23-54)

    Virgil’s initial use of ekphrasis in theAeneidis also his second longest and serves to educate the reader in many of the imaginative patterns the poet will follow in his subsequent descriptions. It comes halfway through the epic’s first book as Aeneas views the murals which decorate Dido’s inchoate temple to Juno. After a detailed critique of the verses themselves, I will turn to the influence the passage exerts on the poem as it evolves. In conclusion I will trace Virgil’s originality vis-à-vis Homer and the eighth book of theOdysseywhich serves as the Roman poet’s primary model....

  7. 2 The Cloak of Cloanthus
    (pp. 55-74)

    We turn now to the first of the poem’s three shorter examples of ekphrasis. It deals with the tale of Ganymede woven on the cloak given by Aeneas as prize to Cloanthus, victor in the boat race of book 5.¹ After first analyzing the ekphrasis in detail, I will place it in its various contexts, in the history of the Ganymede myth, in the ekphrastic tradition of embroidery on cloaks, and above all in the nearer setting of book 5, which in turn has ramifications extending toward the meaning of the poem as a whole. My thesis is that here,...

  8. 3 Daedalus’ Sculptures
    (pp. 75-96)

    We turn now to the opening of book 6 and to the ekphrasis of highlights from the life of Daedalus.¹ Aeneas confronts this tale on reaching Cumae in search of the Sibyl. It is told in a series of tableaus on the doors of a temple dedicated to Apollo by the artisan-sculptor himself after his safe arrival in Italy. This is the only occasion in ancient literature where an artist is described as constructing his literal—which in this case is also to say his spiritual, or psychic—biography. As such I take it as a metaphor for the progress...

  9. 4 Silvia’s Stag
    (pp. 97-118)

    In the preceding chapters we have examined the initial three “notional” ekphrases in the poem.¹ All have direct bearing on the meaning of the poem as a whole; in fact, in my view, all are to whatever degree metaphoric in sometimes astonishing ways for the text in which they are embedded. But there is also a series of other ekphrases which punctuate the epic. The majority of these are centered on landscape. We have, for instance, the magic harbor at Carthage which receives Aeneas and his battered ships after the initial storm but whose menacing backdrop—Virgil calls it a...

  10. 5 The Shield of Aeneas
    (pp. 119-188)

    Book 8 of the epic concludes with the lengthiest and most complex ekphrasis in the poem, devoted to the shield of Aeneas,¹ In this chapter, I will analyze the description in detail, looking in particular at the means by which Virgil uses words to delineate the creation of a piece of fine art and to give it spatial quality. I will trace how the poet elicits our concern with problems of balance and shape. The last episode, for instance, is longer than all the preceding ones combined, and the totality, though its subject is linear history, finds its place on...

  11. 6 The Baldric of Pallas
    (pp. 189-207)

    We turn now from the longest to the briefest, and last, example of “notional” exphrasis in theAeneid.It occurs in book 10 where the narrator, in a line and a half, depicts the contents of the sword belt of the dead Pallas which Turnus strips from his body and at some point assumes. We will once more examine the description, for its contents and context, for its poetic inheritance, and, finally, for the light it sheds on the poem as a whole and on a larger problem of Augustan intellectual history.¹

    First the content and context. Turnus has met...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 208-214)

    This has been in no sense a theoretical book either about the phenomenon of ekphrasis or about the history of description, whether of real or imagined art. Rather, it consists of six separate but congruent acts of practical criticism based on the close reading of individual texts. In all instances we have been probing the words of poetry, their intention and deployment. But since the subject has been ekphrasis, that is, words used (in five of myexempla)to portray visual art, by the very nature of the undertaking we have been examining two types of narration in studied intersection,...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 215-244)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 245-252)
  15. Index
    (pp. 253-257)