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“I Sing of Arms and of a Man ... ”

Love of great literature lasts a lifetime.

Last month, I went to get a cup of coffee at the Manor Safeway Starbucks in Pacifica, and I was greeted by a new barista. Her name was Lavinia. “Lavinia,” I thought, “that was Aeneas’ second wife, if I recall.” I asked her if she knew the Story of Aeneas and the Fall of Troy. She said she did not. So I told her how ancient and illustrious her name was. She was very excited, and so was I. She reminded me why I love a good story, and Virgil’s Aeneid is one of the oldest and one of the best.

In my freshmen year at Mercy, we had to read The Aeneid. I think I still have my dog-eared, well-worn, spine-bent copy somewhere in a box of beloved books. The book is about the end of the Trojan War from the point of view of Aeneas, a cousin of Troy’s King Priam. Troy was an ancient city in what is now Turkey. Homer’s Iliad covers the entire war, but from the Greek point of view.

“I sing of arms and of a man ... ” Virgil hooks the reader from the first line of his epic poem about Aeneas and his wanderings, his struggles and how he settled in Italy and married Lavinia, the daughter of the King of Latium. His progeny became Caesars, so the legend goes, thus legitimizing the Roman Emperors' authority and rule. In Book Two, Aeneas tells the story of the fall of Troy to the entranced and doomed Dido, the Queen of Carthage (in modern day Tunisia, North Africa). There you will find a good summary of the Fall of Troy, the story of the Trojan horse, and that famous quote “I fear the Greeks, even when they bring gifts.”

It is amazing how books you read over thirty years ago still have a hold on you. I hadn’t thought about The Aeneid in over five years since I taught it in a Literature class. A good writer will convey those universal emotions and experiences so they become etched into the reader’s experience; and when it’s good, perhaps great, it becomes a part of the reader’s identity. I encourage everyone to read at least the second book of this classic and, like Dido, become enamored with the hero, Aeneas.

This column is dedicated to my favorite baristas at the Manor Safeway Starbucks: Makayla, Jenn and Lavinia. You guys are the best and I love my decaf with cold water coffees. After a crazy morning of dropping off six kids to their various destinations, that fresh cup of joe is both soothing and delicious.  Gratias ago vos, Latin for “thank you” (according to Google translate).  

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