Contexts of War

Manipulation of Genre in Virgilian Battle Narrative
Andreola Rossi
A fresh look at the neglected topic of the battle narrative of the Aeneid


In Contexts of War, Andreola Rossi takes a fresh look at the battle narrative of the Aeneid and devotes specific attention to the ways in which the narrator constantly manipulates the epic imagery of war by assimilating the narrative conventions of other literary genres, namely historiography and, indirectly, tragedy. Moving beyond the usual pairing of Homer and Virgil, Iliad and Aeneid, Rossi refutes the notion that Homer is the only code model for the latter, and demonstrates that the Virgilian battle narrative presents a complex generic structure.

Grounding her work on modern literary theories according to which the specific expressive structures of a literary genre represent definitive cultural and ideological values, Rossi shows how the presence of multiple generic perspectives constantly redefines the text's system of signification. She is particularly interested in the ways in which these multiple generic subtexts allow the narrator to exploit the irreconcilable tension between epic and tragic dialectic.

This in-depth study reveals how Virgilian war narrative allows for diachronic visions of reality, and hence for multiple systems of signification, to co-exist simultaneously in the text. The text thereby becomes a polygeneric entity, which detaches itself from the Homeric epic and the Homeric worldview to forcefully assert its own relative modernity.

Rossi's work sheds new light on one of the most important classical texts. It will interest not only scholars of Latin poetry, but also those interested in comparative literature and literary theory.

Andreola Rossi is Assistant Professor of Classics at Amherst College.

Praise / Awards

  • "Few critics have brought so much insight to the study of military action in the Aeneid. With the help of Polybius and Livy, Rossi illuminates the cultural significance of clouds of dust, siege engines, and mass attacks, and, equally important, delivers new ideas on how the war machinery works as a powerful machine."
    ---Alessandro Barchiesi, University of Sienna, Italy
  • "Rossi reveals a new dimension in Virgil's representation of scenes of war. Without underestimating the importance of his generic inheritance from Homer or the subtlety of his intertextual response and reaction, she demonstrates how Virgilian battle narrative draws on the narrative topoi of other genres, ages, and cultures. Like Virgil's blending of aspects drawn from tales of Greek and Trojan heroes, his assimilation of 'anachronistic' elements into combats and sieges conveys the timeless, universal nature of warfare and assimilates the vivid and tragic aspects of Hellenistic historical writing into poetry that redefines the epic. This exciting and cogent study marks a real advance in our understanding of Virgil's artistry and vision."
    ---Elaine Fantham, Princeton University, Emeritus
  • "Careful work like this on the Aeneid's battle scenes is long overdue, and Rossi's extensive knowledge of ancient historiography gives her a fresh and original perspective on the poem. Her analysis illuminates many features of a long-beloved section, the fall of Troy in book 2, and the part of the poem that has received increasing attention in recent years, the war in Italy in books 9-12."
    ---James O'Hara, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
  • ". . . Rossi provides a welcome and crucial perspective on the battle-scenes of the Aeneid, showing convincingly how narrative and other conventions from Roman historiography are exploited in Vergil's narratives of fighting at the fall of Troy and the war of Italy. . . . Rossi deserves the gratitude of all Virgilian scholars for a timely and stimulating piece of work which . . . will now be the key resource for research on the use of Roman historiography in the Aeneid."
    ---Bryn Mawr Classical Review
    (Sic: two spellings of Vergil/Virgiliain)
  • "This study is an important, original, captivating contribution to the study of Virgil's epic."
  • "Vergilian scholars have long regretted the lack of attention devoted to the Aeneid's battle scenes. Rossi's book...fills the bibliographical void...makes a significant contribution to Vergilian scholarship."
    ---Classical World
  • "Rossi has given us a book that helps us read major portions of the Aeneid, some of them hitherto unduly neglected, with new eyes. By bringing tragedy and historiography into the critical conversation, the first with fresh evidence and the second in a largely novel fashion, she allows us to see levels of intent hitherto unplumbed in this extraordinary poem. All students of Vergil and of ancient poetry are in her debt, and will benefit from the close study, and from the further application, of her insights."
  • ". . . subtle and impressive. . . . [A] most satisfying study on which the author is to be congratulated. . . . This is an intelligent, informative, and creative work which Virgilian scholars will wish to study closely. Rossi is a scholar to watch."

Look Inside

Copyright © 2004, University of Michigan. All rights reserved. Posted May 2004.

To view PDF files, you must have Adobe Acrobat Reader installed on your computer. To find out more, please visit

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 236pp.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2003
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-11359-0

Add to Cart
  • $89.95 U.S.