Lavinia – rescued from near oblivion

Another in the series of – “isn’t it time we looked at the story from someone else’s standpoint”. I haven’t read “Lavinia”  and probably won’t,  but any book which draws from someone who has the comment “If you haven’t read The Aeneid, you will want to after this”,  must be worthy of consideration.

Lavinia  B y Ursula le Guin

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

paperback; 288 pp.;

Virgil opens his epic of the foundation of Rome by invoking the muse to sing “of arms and the man.” The Aeneid gives scant attention to women, apart from Carthage’s queen Dido, wracked with love for the Trojan exile Aeneas, and the goddess Juno, forever scheming to thwart his plans to establish a new Troy in Latin lands. Notably neglected is the Latin princess he does battle for, foremother to the Roman rulers. Now, rescued from near-oblivion by Ursula le Guin, Lavinia gives her side of the story. Virgil got her all wrong, Lavinia tells us. It is she, as much as Aeneas, who determines the fate of her homeland. She is also a natural narrator, attuned to the old and alive to the new. Reviewing the book in The Daily Telegraph, John Garth writes: “Le Guin, a doyen of fantasy who has steeped herself in myth and history, is adept at the telling detail. Aeneas emerges a steely man of honour, troubled by his own battlefield excesses against his Latin rival Turnus … Celebrating literature’s power to outlive and outgrow its creators, this novel is neither a complaint against an old dead white male nor a slavish imitation of his work. If you haven’t read The Aeneid, you will want to after this. If you already know your Virgil, you may find Le Guin sending you back for a fresh look. Her achievement is to complement the original epic so distinctively, as if in a dialogue or dance with the poet who inspired her.”

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