Pre-Christian Rome: Aeneid/Metamorphoses

Virgil's Aeneid

Read books 1 and 6 at the partially-translated, annotated version of Virgil's Aeneid OR at the MIT site linked below. This story was the "official" epic poem of the Roman Empire, written in honor of the Emperor Augustus and his reign. The story chronicles the wanderings of Aeneas, 'founder' of Rome and survivor of the Trojan War. This epic did not originate in the oral tradition of the earlier Greek epics; rather, it was created as a written story. See also the fine background/synopsis at Wiki.

- Full text available at:

Ovid's Metamorphoses

Also read books 1 (Daphne and Phoebus Apollo, aka "The Transformation of Daphne into a Laurel"), 4 (Pyramus and Thisbe sections), and 15 ("Aesclepius Saves Rome from Plague" through "Ovid's Envoi") of Ovid's Metamorphoses, the text of which is provided below. You may also read this fine introduction to and synopsis of the books of Metamorphoses. This is another Roman "epic" written in a more satirical vein. Do you recognize some of the historical and mythological themes from the Greek epic songs? Greek mythology? Roman mythology relies heavily on the Greek which preceded it; Romans considered themselves - much like the Macedonian conquerors before them - the heirs of Greek culture and ingenuity.

- Book I (Phoebus - AKA Apollo - Sees Daphne through Phoebus Honors Daphne)

- Book IV (Pyramus and Thisbe, Death of Pyramus, Death of Thisbe)

- Book XV (Aesclepius Saves Rome from Plague through Ovid's Envoi)

- Full text in translation:

Study Questions for Aeneid, Metamorphoses, and On the Apparel of Women (Tertullian) - (discussed in class)


  1. How does Aeneas fit the "epic hero" standards we've already discussed?
  2. What is Aeneas' primary quest? What are some parallels to/borrowings from the Odyssey that you can see in the Aeneid? How are these epic poems similar? How are they different, in content and purpose? Do Odysseus and Aeneas have anything in common? Are there any similarities in their adventures?
  3. What is Aeneas' role in Roman history? Which important first century family claimed descent from Aeneas?
  4. While pulling together Aeneid, Virgil used versions of Roman folklore and mythology that were considered cannon at the time. That said, there were very specific, then-contemporary political reasons for writing things as he did. What do you think those were? Hint: Augustus and the end of the Roman Republic.


  1. Ovid, author of Metamorphoses, was not as well-received by the Roman establishment as Virgil, author of the Aeneid. Can you see why, given his treatment of various gods and heroes in this poem? How is his "epic" different than the other epics we've read this semester?
  2. The work's title comes from the fact that each story contained within includes some sort of transformation. What are the transformations that occur in each section we've read?
  3. Many believe that Metamorphoses was intended as a critique of Roman institutions and beliefs. Given the sections about Apollo and Daphne and Pyramis and Thisbe, how do you think Ovid feels about love and marriage?
  4. Given the sections about Apollo and Daphne and Caesar's apotheosis, how do you think Ovid felt about the Roman gods? Roman religion? The way politics came to affect Roman religion? How do these sections make the gods look?
  5. Given the section about Caesar's apotheosis, how do you think Ovid felt about emperor deification? About Augustus? Why?

On the Apparel of Women

  1. What is Tertullian's advice regarding dress and appearances to the women of Roman Christian communities? What is his reasoning?
  2. In light of both the Christian values he discusses and the political realities for Christians living in the pagan Roman Empire, do you think he had a point? Explain how and why Tertullian's reasoning does and/or doesn't make sense to you.