Sunday, June 22, 2008


Just read Ursula LeGuin's recent novel, Lavinia (Amazon reviews here).

The novel extends The Aeneid, written by Virgil between 29 and 19 BC. Virgil was writing a founding myth of Rome, where the Trojan hero Aeneas, after many adventures in Cathage, Sicily and the underworld, arrives in Latium, near the eventual site of Rome. There he engages in warfare with the indigent clans and victorious, marries the local princess Lavinia to found the Julio-Claudian dynasty.

LeGuin's Aeneas is a Taoist ideal, the artisan attuned to the Way in its Augustan form as pietas, honour and duty. He contends with those overmastered by passions: King Turnus, who he kills (murders?) at the end of the Aeneid, and his own flawed son, Ascanius. Lavinia, a cipher in Virgil's poem, becomes a person in LeGuin's hands, but also an archetype: the owl of Minerva.

The reviews on the Amazon website properly convey what a fine piece of writing this is. It works as history, a vivid picture of bronze-age life, and as a retelling of the last six books of the Aeneid. Lavinia lives her life, from small girl to her eventual destiny, in the immanent presence of magic, myth and fate. LeGuin ensures that the reader does too.


Note: it reminded me a little of "The Way of Wyrd" by Professor Brian Bates, which recreates the celtic 'life in magic' in dark ages Britain