The Classical Quarterly (New Series)

Research Article

The Function and Structure of Virgil's Catalogue in Aeneid 7

R. D. Williamsa1

a1 University of Reading

The list of Italian forces1 with which Virgil concluded Aeneid 7 was a piece of the ‘machinery’ of epic, that is to say an expected part of the content of an epic poem, established by Homer (Il. 2. 484 f., the catalogue of Greek ships followed by the list of Trojan forces) and expected of his successors; cf. Apollonius 1. 20–228, Silius 3. 222 f., Statius, Th. 4. 32 f., Milton, P.L. 1. 376 f. The straightforward enumeration of Homer (divina ilia simplicitas, Macrob. Sat. 5. 15. 16) was naturally appropriate in the Iliad both because oral technique sought this kind of directness and because of the immediate relationship of the subject-matter to a heroic community. But Virgil was well aware (as his predecessor Apollonius had not been) that the Homeric manner would not fit satisfactorily into the sophisticated and elaborate structure of literary and contemplative epic. Two essential requirements had to be met in the transplanting of such ‘machinery’ into a new milieu. The first was one of function: the piece should blend with the whole intricate pattern of theme and tone which a poem like the Aeneid possesses. The second was one of structure: it must possess within itself artistic symmetries and designs of a carefully organized kind.