The Labors of Aeneas: What a Pain It Was to Found the Roman Race

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Author: Rose R. Williams
Product Code: 5564
ISBN: 978-0-86516-556-4
Pages: 108
Availability: In stock.
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This paperback book retells the story of The Aeneid in a light-hearted and understandable manner with humorous insights and asides. This volume makes Books I-XII of Vergil's Aeneid enjoyable and easy to follow and may be used in conjunction with the Latin text of Vergil's Aeneid in high school classrooms.


Labors of Aeneas offers enhancement of a student's understanding of basic Roman cultural myths and attitudes by an unusual path. The vocabulary, varying from the colloquial to the sophisticated, draws students into giving special thought to the concepts expressed. The chronological interdependence of the events builds a picture of the mythological migration from the Heroic Age to the Classical one.


Special Features

  • the story of The Aeneid, Books I-XII
  • black and white illustrations
  • notes
  • a glossary of gods prominent in The Aeneid


Check out the teaching tip and printable exercies in the "Teaching Materials" tab.

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by Liz Kelley
on 8/17/2016
Easy to Read and Funny Retelling
My students enjoyed this text as a review of the characters and plot of the Aeneid. They did say that sometimes the tongue-in-cheek tone make it a bit difficult to keep up with plot, but otherwise, it was a very easy read.
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Reviews

Review by: Debra Hamel, book-blog.com - October 6, 2005
In the Aeneid Vergil (70-19 B.C.) tells the story of the Trojan hero Aeneas, who survived the Greek siege of Troy (the subject of Homer's Iliad) and went on, after considerable difficulty, to fulfill his destiny and found the Roman race. Anyone looking to dip their toes in Aeneas' story, either as a prelude to reading the Aeneid itself or merely to acquaint themselves with this major chapter of Greco-Roman mythology, would do well to spend a few hours with Rose Williams' brief, breezy retelling of the Aeneas legend. (Note that Williams' book is not precisely an abbreviated version of the Aeneid: she begins Aeneas's story in childhood while Vergil picks up the tale in the seventh year after the fall of Troy.) Williams' tone throughout the book is light. In her discussion of the Trojan prince Paris, for example, who had been exposed as a baby but lived to tell about it, the author writes: "Anyone who has read much classical mythology knows that any babe abandoned on a mountainside was always rescued by a wandering shepherd and taken home to some unfortunate shepherd's wife. Thereafter the child was reared in flowery meadows tending sheep until a little bird told him one day about his royal heritage. Whereupon he descended on his true father's palace, or what he thought was his true father's palace, usually with disastrous results." In Paris' case those disastrous results would include the siege and destruction of Troy, which he brought about single-handedly by stealing Helen from her jealous Greek husband--her face launching a thousand ships and all that. Williams' writing is punctuated by cute asides which almost become cloying: "Pallas' war horse, Aethon, according to Vergil, was led in the procession with big tears rolling down his hairy cheeks. (The intelligentsia always scoffs at such statements, saying that horses do not cry in grief, or at all, for that matter. Maybe they just never encountered a horse in a lachrymose mood.)" But for the most part the writing is very successful. The Labors of Aeneas includes a handful of notes and an appendix of major gods. The book might have been improved by the addition of an introduction--covering Vergil's biography, for example, the history of Rome in a nutshell--but it is not strictly necessary. Readers who are unacquainted with the book's subject matter will find that the author does a good job injecting explanatory material into her account. Her book is, in short, a well-written introduction to the world Vergil describes. Readers should find it both instructive and entertaining.
Review by: N. S. Gill, About.com - September 28, 2005
Knowing how to translate Latin is not enough to get you through the twelve book epic poem, The Aeneid, by Vergil — at least with any real understanding. Vergil was a master of the poetic medium in which he wrote. Obligated to glorify the current administration in dactyllic hexameters almost guaranteed that two millennia later readers would have trouble understanding all the undercurrents. Modern readers need a well-informed teacher, familiarity with the relevant mythology and iconography — if not the history of ancient Rome, or Rose William’s The Labors of Aeneas. Subtitled What A Pain It Was To Found The Roman Race, the slim volume pokes fun at epic pomposity ‘Vergil, like most self-respecting poets, never simply says that the sun came up. At this point he states that the sea reddened as Aurora the Dawn Goddess rose aloft in her saffron robes. In other words, the sun came up.’ while giving an affectionate, clear, and careful explanation of events in each of the twelve books of The Aeneid. Thus, The Labors of Aeneas is very useful, but no more so than it is charming. If one were trying to translate the Aeneid for modern readers the obvious first choices would be prose or verse, but neither method assures that modern readers will know what’s happening. Frequently Vergil leaves out what seem like crucial details and he fails to make clear transitions, so reading along, you may wonder if you missed an important point. By treating the work as a serious piece to be adapted with loving humor and in fast-paced prose, Rose Williams can point out all these difficulties. For example, when Aeneas is planning to go to the Underworld for a tete a tete with his ghostly father Ascanius, he is warned that going down is easy compared with getting back out again; yet, as Williams says, “[Vergil] spends a sizeable part of the book getting Aeneas into Hades and then gets him out in three lines.” Her treatment of the gods and especially Juno is most fitting for our era when it can’t be assumed that readers even know the identity of the Roman gods and goddesses let alone understand their bizarre behavior: ‘Anyone with merely mortal intelligence would have seen this long ago, but classical deities were unbelievably hardheaded.’ In case there isn’t enough detail in the text (and there is), Williams also provides a glossary of the gods and goddesses Aeneas deals with on his adventures. Rose Williams points out that prior to composing his masterpiece, Vergil had been writing horticultural treatises, which had a decided impact on his style. She also mentions that the poet’s experience with warfare may have colored his depictions of the battles in Italy: ‘If Vergil, who himself knew some of the horrors of war, wanted to discourage the Romans from ever undertaking it again, the appalling battle scenes he wrote should have been an excellent deterrent. Unfortunately, they did not have that effect.’ Full of wit and despite being written with her tongue firmly in her twenty-first century cheek, Rose Williams has produced an invaluable guide for modern readers — whether reading in Latin or in translation — to Vergil’s story of Aeneas.
Review by: Kristina Chew, Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2004.07.42 - July 1, 2004
The Labors of Aeneas by Rose Williams (hereafter W.) is an extensive paraphrase-cum-retelling of Vergil's Aeneid in a voice that is quite opposite to that often accorded to the lofty Founder of the Roman Race. The book's subtitle is from the translation of Book I.33, Tantae molis erat Romanam condere gentem: "What a pain it was to found the Roman race." W. strives to retell the Aeneid in as painless a manner as possible, all the while keeping in mind "what a pain" reading this epic poem, in English or in Latin, can be for today's high school Latin students as well as "untold millions of long-suffering history students" (1). This slender book lucidly recounts the story of Aeneas vis a\ vis the Trojan War in a tongue-in-cheek tone that pokes fun at the majestic seriousness often allotted to Vergil's epic. Aeneas is compared to Scarlett O'Hara ("he knew that you can't go forward if your head is hung over your shoulder looking back," 16); the "chicken" Trojans' haplessness is highlighted (74); Turnus is "an excellent example of an early spin doctor" (74). The irreverence of W. is gleeful and high-spirited; here is an author whose fondness for her subject matter enables her to poke brazen fun at it. Comments like Aeneas sleeping in "his little trundle bed" (9) as the Greeks attack peel off the patina of "pious Aeneas," The Father of the Roman People. Instead, Aeneas, with his mind set on fulfilling his Duty, can seem "an awful bore" (1). W. makes him a "thoroughly sound egg" (28), who "knows a divine neck when he saw one" (25), poses as an "art [critic]" before the door of the Sibyl's temple (50), asks "as many questions as a four-year-old" (56), and is in need of "getting his beauty sleep" (67). The survivors of the Trojan War are his "Merry Men" (10). Dido's death scene threatens "to be as drawn out as the death scene in an Italian opera" (37). Venus is Aeneas' "dear Mama" (4), Achates his "beetle-brained" companion (24). The gods' fickle natures are never forgotten: Juno thinks that, in regard to the Trojans, "none at all would be a nice number" (21). Jupiter, chief among the "double-dealing" gods (19), is seen "lolling on a cloud" and can't resist "getting in a little dig at Juno" (82). Mercury, dispatched to remind Aeneas about his unforgettable Duty, "had long practiced prompt obedience when Papa dear was in [the] mood" (33). Tisiphone personifies "Extreme Nastiness" (56) while Cupid -- that cherub! -- is all "cuteness" (27) The Labors of Aeneas is aimed as a companion piece to a student first studying the Aeneid. Each of the chapters retells the plot of one of the twelve books of the Latin epic. An Appendix provides succinct descriptions of the prominent gods in the poem and brief notes provide more information about specific mythological figures such as Polyphemus and Daedalus, and the Latin word pietas. W. shows keen awareness for students' response in reading -- slogging through -- the twelve books of the Aeneid, noting the frequency with which Aeneas' hair stands on end and his lengthy speeches, as well as the elaborate and recurring epithets that can seem rather pointless to a student drowning in vocabulary words: "Vergil, like most self-respecting poets, never simply says that the sun came up" (59). The "tedious accuracy of mythological prophecies" (68) -- why bother to make them if they are going to happen? -- is duly noted. A taste of Latin is provided via the epigraphs for each chapter, which are drawn from the Latin text and rendered in a translation that can evoke the same tone of gentle mockery as W.'s own text: Facilis decensus Averno; ... / Sed revocare gradum superasque evadere ad auras, / Hoc opus, hic labor est (VI.126, 128-9) is translated as "Going down to Hades is easy; / Finding your way back out / Is definitely the big job." In an attempt to make the text "relevant" to secondary students, words like "goo" (which Aeneas trudges through in Hades, 54) are peppered throughout -- words that may seem simply odd to students whose ears and iPods are full of the harsher vocabulary of hip hop and its hybrids. Indeed, today's student may have to hurry to www.dictionary.com to understand words like "lulu" (8), while calling Anchises "Pop" seems old-fashioned at best. And, at least with a group of cynical wise-cracking youth, a book like The Labors of Aeneas can do too much. The book offers a pre-prepared interpretation from an angle that makes it harder for students to devise their own spin on Vergil's epic of "arms and the man" via the text's non-sequiturs and sarcastic asides (as this comment, when Aeneas is pouring libations at his father's tomb and a huge snake appears: "Young people have the most peculiar ideas about their parents," 41). Students would have to be quite thoroughly knowledgeable about the poem and the myths to see the fun of saying the Romans are on a quest for "world domination" (99). Also, the literary purist will perhaps catch her breath at the asides with their sarcasm and kindly sniggers at the foibles of Greeks and Trojans, of mortals and immortals alike. For The Labors of Aeneas very much presents W.'s view and voice. These are particularly evident in editorializing comments such as "The things that can happen to fish, fowl, and animal when there is no active SPCA!" (45) about the dove tied to a mast as a target for the archery context in Book V. A passing literary judgment appears in a comment about why the Trojans only pass by Sicily because "It would have been a waste of good time to have had the Trojans linger in adventure here, since Homer had already covered this watery turf in his Odyssey" (18). And, when writing dactylic hexameter in Latin, "a fellow needs all the help he can get" (25) and consequently can refer to Dido as Elissa, and her people as Punic, and Tyrian, and Sidonian, and on and on. The book's easy familiarity with mythological references, the assumptions about Latin poetry and the broad references to Roman history, may not be apparent to students first reading the Aeneid. Given that such students seem to be the target audience for The Labors of Aeneas, the book might be best used by teachers to "spice up" a class working their way (however laboriously) through yet another indirect statement. The reader most likely to chuckle at W.'s teasing asides and silly parentheses may well be that teacher comfortably versed in Aeneas' labors, aware of the tediousness of long works of literature for students, and the cheeriest of cheerleaders for the study of Latin, Roman history, and Vergil. The Labors of Aeneas provides a witty plot summary and can serve as a anchor for the plot and the overall direction of the narrative; it reminds students that pius Aeneas need not only be seen as an august icon of Roman history. It might be argued that a verse translation, such as Robert Fitzgerald's elegant work, of course, or Allen Mandelbaum's, might do as well in providing an English version of Vergil's epic; or a book such as Poet and Artist: Imaging the Aeneid by Henry Bender and David Califf that provides "translations" of another sort of the Aeneid, in the form of engravings. Perhaps what is really needed is an "adaption" of the Aeneid in the spirit of Christopher Logue's adaptations/recreations of Homer's Iliad in War Music, Kings, and All Day Permanent Red. These works turn Homer's excerpts inside out by rendering the physical brutality and beauty of the Iliad's story in contemporary verse. W.'s The Labors of Aeneas serves another function: to re-present a great story of great deeds and great heroes, all while reminding us that such glory is achieved by humans (and by gods) acting their best as well as worst, through a mixture of sheer silliness and steadfast seriousness that is the very stuff of humanity.
Review by: Juliet Waldron, Thie Historical Novels Review - March 30, 2004
This is Virgil's famous propaganda piece, the Aeneid cheerfully made accessible to a modern reader who wouldn't glance at a formal translation. It is faithful to the story and might be used in conjunction with a high school Latin class. Beyond that, it was fun for this long-ago Latin student to peruse a cheeky retelling.

Teaching Tip for Teaching Vergil's Aeneid


Exercises created by Magistra Jackson, guide students through a thorough study of this book. Download and print the PDFs for use in your classroom.


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