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The massive quasi-commentary of James Henry tapers off just as Virgil announces his maius opus. School editions of the Aeneid even to the present day regularly favor the first half of the epic at the expense of Virgil’s song of the rebirth of the wrath of Achilles in Latium. Even the proposed Oxford project to produce a complete three-volume Virgil was largely abandoned after the death of Christian Fordyce in 1974, so that today only the projected first two “volumes” of that edition exist complete in the Clausen-Mynors Eclogues-Georgics and the Austin-Williams Odyssean Aeneid.

So while Page’s Victorian Aeneid and Williams’ Vietnam era work treat the entire poem without prejudice, close exegesis of the second half of the epic has been a relatively recent phenomenon in Virgilian studies. Horsfall’s doctoral work on Aeneid 7 (1967 D.Phil. thesis on part of the book; 2000 complete published commentary) saw the beginning of a period of serious engagement with the second half of the epic that has yielded numerous editions of individual books (Gransden on 8; Dingel, and Hardie on 9; Harrison on 10; Gransden, Alessio, Horsfall and Fratantuono on 11; Traina, and Tarrant on 12).

Why should the second half of the poem, Virgil’s self-proclaimed “greater work,” receive shorter shrift in the development of scholarly commentary tradition? What prompted the appearance since the late 1960s of a more serious engagement with the problems posed by Virgil’s account of the war in Italy? Did the same spirit that prompted Renaissance critics to “finish” the Aeneid and provide a tidier and less problematic to Virgil’s epic also serve to inspire a relative neglect of his songs of war? Do the prejudices of the commentary tradition reflect the relative merits of individual books of Virgil, as Horsfall considers in his Aeneid 11, where he wonders if sometimes even Virgil sleeps? Did earlier commentators on Virgil, from late antiquity through the Baroque, share the prejudices of their critical descendants?

The answers to these questions can be found in part both in the response of commentators on the Aeneid to monographs and articles on the epic, and in the engagement of the commentator with contemporary and recent events. Later commentaries on the Iliadic Aeneid owe much to the pioneering work of Warde Fowler on Books 7, 8, and 12 that was produced in the shadow of the First World War. The experiences of the bloodletting of the Great War and Vietnam color the tradition of commentary on Virgil’s battle books.

The relatively recent spate of commentaries on “the splendors of later Virgil” has already begun to influence work on earlier sections of the epic, even as schools and national examination syllabuses slowly introduce Aeneid 7-12 to a wider audience. Studies and reflections on the close of the epic and the problems posed by Aeneas’ killing of Turnus have benefited the most from the work of commentators on Virgil’s Latin war. The same commentaries have helped to show the rich complexities of the division of Virgil’s epic into halves and thirds and pairs of books, with resultant closer engagement with the problems posed by more traditionally understudied sections of Virgil’s Odyssey (Books 3 and 5).

Virgil’s reception of his prose antecedents, especially Caesar and Sallust, has been an important facet of the work of commentators on Books 7-12, and the study of this reception has helped to improve understanding of the methods of Virgilian poetic composition. Internet access and both recent and forthcoming major Virgilian reference works have served to reintroduce important Renaissance and later work on the Aeneid, both commentaries and marginal notes.