A fan of Le Guin’s writing since adolescence, I appreciated the author’s effort to amplify and enrich the Aeneid. Her novel in a way completes Virgil’s epic poem by continuing the narrative after the hero Aeneas, a Trojan survivor of the war between his state and the Greeks in perhaps the 12th century BCE, defeats and kills his opponent, the Latin, Turnus.
Le Guin is not the first to do so. From Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maffeo_… “[Maffeo Vegio’s (1407-1458)] greatest reputation came as the writer of brief epics, the most famous of which was his continuation of Virgil’s Aeneid…Completed in 1428, this 600-line poem starts immediately after the end of Virgil’s epic, and describes Aeneas’s marriage to Lavinia and his eventual deification.”
As in her Earthsea novel, “Tehanu,” Le Guin carries the narrative almost entirely through the experience of the novel’s eponymous heroine, Lavinia, daughter of the king of Latium. She becomes the proto-matriarch of ancient Rome because of her short-lived union with Aeneas and the son she bears from that marriage.
The novel is mysterious and enchanting at times, but ponderous on occasion. Nevertheless, Le Guin creates a compelling protagonist whose fate intrigued me. Having studied the Aeneid in high school and felt curious about the epic’s abrupt ending, I welcomed the novel’s imaginative recreation of a world difficult to discern through the mists of time.
And yet…and yet…throughout my reading of this well-researched narrative, I returned to beautiful, resonant bits I still hold close. For example, while wondering if she ever had substance as she contemplates the two men in the arc of her life who strengthened her self-worth, Lavinia says: “We are all contingent. Resentment is foolish and ungenerous, and even anger is inadequate. I am a fleck of light on the surface of the sea, a glint of light from the evening star. I live in awe. If I never lived at all, yet I am a silent wing on the wind, a bodiless voice in the forest of Albunea. I speak, but all I can say is: Go, go on.” This is a key passage and makes profound sense when the reader reaches the novel’s end.