This book by one of the preeminent Virgil scholars of our day is the first comprehensive study of ekphrasis in Virgil’s final masterpiece, the Aeneid. Virgil uses ekphrasisa self-contained aside that generates a pause in the narrative to describe a work of art or other objectto tell us something about the grander text in which it is embedded, says Michael C. J. Putnam. Individually and as a group, Virgil’s ekphrases enrich the reader’s understanding of the meaning of the epic. Putnam shows how the descriptions of works of art, and of people, places, and even animals, provide metaphors for the entire poem and reinforce its powerful ambiguities.
Putnam offers insightful analyses of the most extensive and famous ekphrases in the Aeneidthe paintings in Juno’s temples in Carthage, the Daedalus frieze, and the shield of Aeneas. He also considers shorter and less well known examplesthe stories of Ganymede, the Trojan shepherd swept into the sky by an amorous Jupiter; the fifty daughters of Danaus, ordered by their father to kill their husbands on their wedding night; and Virgil’s original tale of a domesticated wild stag whose killing sparks a war between Trojans and Italians. These ekphrases incorporate major themes of the Aeneid, an enduring formative text of the Western tradition, and provide a rich variety of interpretive perspectives on the poem.