Images are clearly important for Vergil. The episode of Aeneas examining the images at the temple of Juno in Carthage (Aen. 1.453-493) reveals their place and power in both the description and his emotional response to them. Images can do the same for modern readers of the epic, giving them guidance in how to see the work through Roman eyes and augmenting their response to it. The goal of my project has been to create a resource that provides learners at both the secondary and post-secondary levels materials to enhance the experience of studying the Aeneid as well as their understanding of it. The emphasis is less on a list of images than on the process of learning that each, along with the paired assignment, provides. These assignments can be adapted to individual, small group, oral or written work to keep the text at the center of the learning experience, but to provide context and materials that reinforce it.
There can be a tendency to get lost in the daily work of class and the need to cover not only the lines of Latin but to ensure that students have familiarity with the entire Aeneid. It can be tempting to jettison all the visual material to focus on the text and translation alone. This in my experience is invariably a mistake. The students can lose morale and a sense of wonder towards the text. They also risk losing any sense of the poetry, the larger Roman world and the central place of Vergil’s work in Roman art and material culture. With that in mind I have collected a series of images with corresponding assignments that I can incorporate into class. This can and has been as simple as putting an image up at the start of class to create setting for a scene to be read that day. Sometimes the visual works give an indication of the Roman response to Vergil’s poetry and how they read it or incorporated it into their lives, homes and larger world. Occasionally they serve to give students a chance to read Vergil in manuscript, which can be exciting and confidence-building for students. Finally, they can reinforce key plot points by providing stimulus for both visual learners and those – probably the majority - who learn better using multiple senses. Even if the action of the Aeneid is clear, sometimes the setting is not. For example to a contemporary of Vergil, the procession of Romans in book 6 would certainly evoke images of a funeral or triumphal procession. To our students, that context is missing. We can supply it and add meaning and deeper understanding to that critical passage through the art from the period: images of funerals, triumphs and the statues of the summi viri in the Forum of Augustus.
These images fall into three broad categories. First, works of art based on Vergil that directly depict scenes from the epic. This includes the famous wall painting of the wounded Aeneas and others from Pompeii, the sculptures of Laocoon and the key colossal sculptures from Sperlonga. Second, the use of visual evidence that is evocative rather than directly illustrative. Here the funeral processions, images of the Aeneas and Romulus tituli from the Augustan statues and coupled with readings from the descriptions in book 6 work together. Finally, the texts of Vergil from the Roman world provide students opportunities to read the Aeneid as the Romans did. The quotes from the epic found on the walls of Pompeii can provide students a unique chance to read Vergil’s words in the handwriting of an ancient Roman. In addition, the Vatican Library’s project of scanning and placing high resolution pages from the Vatican Vergil online allows students to read a 5th century manuscript of the work with accompanying illuminations for key events.
More than a survey of types or categories of visual evidence or even a list of images and material culture I attempt here to provide suggestions for incorporating these into classroom time that will increase the learning and retention of the Aeneid as well as provide insights into the role of literature in Roman culture. There is also a tertiary purpose in only using ancient images. Students at any level can benefit from a reinforced notion of history or art history. When ancient and, for example, baroque paintings are used together it gives each a sense of existence outside of the time and place in which they were created, confusing the cultural aspects further in students’ minds. Seeing the Aeneid with ancient material brings our students a step closer to seeing it through Roman eyes.