Vergil: You know what really ticks me off? Lazy critics trying to stick me with the “epic poet” label. Man, that really bugs me. I’ve only just stopped being “that pastoral guy” and now everyone’s, like, epic this and epic that. I like to think that with the Aeneid I’ve done something fundamentally new. This is above all a literary poem.
Interviewer: But it has demigods, battles, grandeur, dactylic hexameter – it ticks all those epic boxes.
Vergil: Sure those things are there – but then I’m using them in a much more aware way, you know? Yes you get these elements in genre poetry, but the difference is, I’m controlling them, not the other way around. I’m using them to say something real about life and the world, not just to take people for a white-knuckle chariot ride.
Interviewer: You do tell a strong story, though. That descent to the underworld, it really gave me the shivers. And the Dido romance? I don’t mind telling you, manly tears were shed.
Vergil: Thanks. I actually take that as a compliment. Look, I don’t despise those things – I just don’t want people to get fixated on them. Look at the way I’m telling it, what I’m doing with language. I suppose what I’m saying is, sure, you can read the Aeneid as an epic poem if you want, but you’ll miss so much. That’d be like reading Oedipus Rex as if it was a tragedy!
Interviewer: Er, right… That’d be dumb, I guess…
Vergil: Right, right? Am I right? You know I’m right!