Good Essay Topics For The Aeneid

Below you will find four outstanding thesis statements for The Aeneid by Virgil that can be used as essay starters or paper topics. All five incorporate at least one of the themes found in The Aeneid and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements offer a short summary of The Aeneid in terms of different elements that could be important in an essay. You are, of course, free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them for your essay. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes from The Aeneid by Virgil at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent essay.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: Women and Power in Virgil’s Aeneid

Throughout Virgil’s epic, there are several women, few of which fit the literary stereotype of being weak and passive. In fact, many of the women characters in Virgil’s Aeneid are quite opinionated and often, very emotional and quick to react. For this essay on Aeneid, spend one paragraph looking at three main female characters; Dido, Venus, and Juno and look at the way the power and gender are interrelated. A more complex thesis statement or essay topic for Virgil’s Aeneid would examine the way these women characters allow their emotions to dictate their reactions and decisions and how the theme of rage in The Aeneid

is expressed by women, most notably goddesses. A good conclusion would tie together the ways these women use their power and it also might suggest something about women are viewed in this society—especially if they are given power. (For more assistance, this article on rage and the goddesses should be quite helpful).

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2: Predictions, Prophecies, and Fate in Virgil’s Aeneid

Throughout Virgil’s Aeneid, the role of fate directs the main action as the gods and goddesses vie with one another to see their desired outcome. As the hero and object of fate, it can be argued that although Aeneas makes his some of his own decisions, there is no single aspect of his life that is untouched by fate, prophecy, or predictions. Many characters, most notably Aeneas himself, are visited by the dead or are the object of dreams and visions. Furthermore, other characters are the subjects on which the gods enact fate, consider Turnus and the role of fate in his life (and death), for example. For this essay on Virgil’s Aeneid, write an argumentative essay with the claim that no matter what Aeneas might have done to escape his fate, doing so was impossible. A good conclusion might tie together all of the examples you provided with the idea that this is not so much an epic about a hero destined to make heroic decisions and actions, but about man as a vehicle for fate. (For further assistance with this thesis statement on The Aeneid, check out this article that discusses fate and how it functions on Turnus as an example).

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: Aeneas as a Classic Epic Hero

The character of Aeneas in The Aeneid fits just about every description of a classic epic hero. He is of noble (even supernatural) birth, he faces and overcomes temptation (particularly in the form of women) and in general, he acts as the good vessel the gods wish him to be. He is a passionate leader and is able to rally his troops, even when it seems that all is lost. While the argument could be made that Aeneas is not an epic hero, this would take some real work and character analysis of Aeneas, but it would be a tough sell. If you’re writing an argumentative essay on The Aeneid in this light, look to literature’s other examples of epic heroes such as Achilles, Gilgamesh, Beowulf, etc. and discuss how Aeneas, far more than other characters, defines (or does not—again, this question depends on how much you want to challenge yourself) fits this archetype.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4: The Complicated Role of Nature in Aeneid

Throughout Virgil’s epic, the natural world is an incredibly powerful force and is often either the direct or indirect cause for a great deal of action within the work. What makes the role of nature even more important is that it is coupled with the will of the gods, many of whom are quite wrathful or bent on their own aims and desires. As a result, nature is both a force within itself as well as the most powerful tool in the arsenals of the gods and goddesses. This is a deceptively simple thesis statement for Aeneid because on the one hand, it would be very easy to go through the Aeneid and find examples of characters being affected by nature and discuss how it is a powerful force. While this is an option, there’s no real argument to be made. To remedy this, make the suggestion that both nature and the power of the gods and goddesses are of an unpredictable nature. As a result, characters are at the mercy of forces against which they have no way to control and the best they can do is struggle and hope for the best. This could help with the closing argument that human characters are at the mercy of the natural world, of which the gods and goddesses are but a part.

Due Saturday, April 27th, 5 p.m., in your conference leader's Eliot Hall mailbox.
Length: 6-8 pages (1500-2000 words), or to be determined by your conference leader.

Write an essay in response to one of the following prompts. Structure your essay around a strong, analytical claim, and provide specific, detailed evidence from the primary texts to support that claim. You will want to focus on specific characters, episodes, relations, themes, or claims in the texts, rather than provide general summaries.

  • Many of Livy's stories revolve around rape (e.g. the rape of the Vestal Virgin, the Sabine women, and Lucretia). How and why does Livy use these stories in constructing The Rise of Rome, and how does this   particular example of violence compare to the many other acts of violence that Livy sees as part and parcel of the rise of Rome?

  • Livy writes: "I shall find antiquity a rewarding study, if only because, while I am absorbed in it, I shall be able to turn my eyes from the troubles which for so long have tormented the modern world..." What do you see as the most important implications of this view of the historian's craft for the shape and tone that Livy's text takes?

  • At the beginning of the Res Gestae, Augustus presents himself as the savior of Rome. How does this portrayal (both here and elsewhere in the Res Gestae) compare with:
    a) Livy's representation of Camillus OR
    b) Virgil's representation of Aeneas as the ideal Roman?

  • Examine the ways in which the Ara Pacis's pictorial program tallies with Augustus's image of the Rome he "restored" in his Res Gestae.

  • Analyze the role that women play in Virgil's account of Aeneas's foundation of Rome, and consider these females in comparison to the females in Book 1 of Livy's The Rise of Rome.

  • Discuss one of the "secondary" characters in The Aeneid: e.g. Camilla, Pallas, Evander, Mezentius, Lavinia, Palinurus, Lausus, Amata, or a character of your choice. Offer a detailed analysis of the place of that character within the poem as a whole. What are the excellences or faults of this character; how does this character further the portrayal of the "primary" characters or the development of the general themes of the poem?

  • Examine the various encounters that Aeneas has with figures from his past in Book 6. Why does Virgil recount these encounters and what do they tell us about his views concerning Rome's past and what role Rome's past is to have in its crafting of a new age; i.e., the Age of Augustus?

  • From what you have read about Augustus, in what ways do you think Livy's first book of The Rise of Rome might be supporting or criticizing the new order?

  • Fertility and death are both themes in the Ara Pacis. Discuss the relationship between the two with respect to specific examples. Be sure to address both formal and thematic elements.

  • Very early in The Rise of Rome, Livy makes this comment on the purpose of his text: "I invite the reader's attention to...the process of our moral decline, to watch, first, the sinking of the foundations of morality as the old teaching was allowed to lapse, then the rapidly increasing disintegration, then the final collapse of the whole edifice, and the dark dawning of our modern day when we can neither endure our vices nor face the remedies needed to cure them. The study of history is the best remedy for a sick mind; for in history you have a record of the infinite variety of human experience plainly set out for all to see; and in that record you can find for yourself and your country both examples and warnings; fine things to take as models, base things rotten through and through to avoid" (1.1).

    Discuss this theory, or justification, of history, in reference to one or two major episodes in the text. How, if at all, is this concept of the historical text as, alternately, remedy, warning, or model, at work in the episode(s) you have chosen? You might consider, in addition, the extent to which Livy leaves these matters open for interpretation.

  • Read closely VIII. 677-718 of  The Aeneid. Drawing from these and/or similar passages, analyze the role that divine intervention plays in Roman history, according to Virgil's epic poem. Does Virgil portray Aeneas as a free agent or as a puppet of the gods?

  • In the Preface to his history, Livy says of Rome that "... there has never been any state grander, purer, or richer in good examples..." (4). But much of what Book One depicts strikes the contemporary reader as anything but grand, pure, and good. Provide an interpretation of Livy's claim in the Preface, and use your interpretation to explain how we ought to understand the "egregious" behavior in Book One.

  • In The Aeneid, Virgil depicts two women who engage in typically masculine pursuits, the capable queen Dido in Book IV and the fearsome warrior Camilla in Book XI. What does Virgil's presentation of these exceptional women--perhaps in comparison with Lavinia-- express about the role of gender in The Aeneid, and more broadly about gender roles in Augustan Rome?

  • In consultation with your conference leader, write an essay on a topic of your own devising.

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