Aeneid: Conquest of the Heavens

Aeneid: Conquest of the Heavens

Vergil set out to create a literary work in praise of Augustus, but rather than scrawl out a tired and tedious panegyric, the author opted to link Rome’s ruler to her mythic past in an epic poem worthy of the Homeric tradition.  For my graphic novelization of the Aeneid, I have chosen to depart from the safe and accepted norm of literal adaptation, in order that I might create something unique and lasting; my own salute to one of antiquity’s greatest poets.

My selection follows the protagonist from the storm of Aeolus to his meeting with Venus, near Carthage.  I have chosen to set the story in space, and have made Aeneas the commander of a refugee fleet. Countries have become solar systems, cities have become planets, and deities have become incorporeal electronic entities.  From their enigmatic assemblage, deep within the Olympus Nebula, the gods control spacecraft and computer programs throughout the universe.

Page 1: We see Aeneas in the captain’s chair, confidently leading his fleet to the Sicily System.  Juno, represented here by a malicious virus, hijacks the ship’s navigation system, leading the voyagers into the dangerous Aeolus Asteroid Cluster.  Explosions and chaos surround Aeneas’ ship, as the storm of rock and debris wreaks havoc on the fleet.

Page 2: Palinurus explains that a Triton process has restored control to the ship, which represents Neptune’s aid.  Aeneas orders an emergency FTL (Faster Than Light) jump to safety, and flees from the danger.  In the confusion, it is revealed that only seven of the fleet’s twenty ships made it to the next system.  Are they lost?  Were they destroyed?  The previous scenes of carnage would certainly suggest the latter.  As the ship moves into the Libya system, we see Aeneas deeply troubled by grief.

Page 3: Achates, a captain in Aeneas’ fleet, comes aboard while his ship’s life support systems are being repaired.  Aeneas enlists his friend’s help, and both venture to a nearby orbital station in search of supplies and information; this parallels the beach episode in Vergil’s work.  Having found medical supplies and three tanks of fuel (referring to the three stags in Vergil), Aeneas makes a false show of bravado before deciding to investigate the planet below.

Page 4: Venus confronts Jupiter, berating him for letting such tragedy strike at “her” Aeneas.  In Part 2 (not included), it will be revealed that Venus watched over Aeneas throughout infancy and childhood, after the hero’s biological mother died giving birth.  Jupiter reassures the goddess that Aeneas will reach his destination, and prophesizes a magnificent future for his descendants.  Mercury is sent, in the guise of a security program, to alert Dido of the Trojan’s coming.

Page 5: Aeneas and Achates teleport down to the surface of Carthage.  The Trojans encounter Venus, posing as a wildlife management program (referring to the Spartan or Thracian huntress in Vergil), who regales the heroes with the tragic story of Dido.  Aeneas presents his own, highly compressed, story, and comes to the conclusion that the gods have abandoned him.  Venus balks at such a claim, and assures the hero that his fleet is fine, comparing his ships to Jupiter’s satellites (referring to the swans in Vergil).

The layout of the project’s pages is meant to indirectly refer back to Vergil’s strict adherence to the metrical requirements of dactylic hexameter.  Each of my pages contains three rows of cells, and each row introduces a new series of events.  Cells are in turn divided in one of three ways: symmetrical halves, asymmetrical (but standardized) pairs, or single-cell spondees. Symmetrical halves are meant to give even weight and importance to the dialogue contained in each cell.  Asymmetrical pairs give a sense of critical immediacy to the smaller, and gravitas to the larger of the two cells.  Single-cell spondees are meant to give a sense of scale, and are often used to introduce a new locale and plotline.

I have also included a sample of what my project might have looked like had I faithfully followed the guideline.  Depicting the same series of events, but set in the Mediterranean’s mythic past, this treatment includes Greco-Roman characters, appropriately stylized font, verbatim dialogue (taken from David West’s Penguin translation), and a rigid metrical system.  While attractive, and relatively easy to produce, this version fails to capture the spirit of literary inventiveness that, I feel, defines Vergil’s work.

I would also like to mention cultural resonance.  Vergil’s audience was well-versed in the poetic devices, stock characters, and narrative pacing required for a true appreciation of his work; they had, after all, been raised on The Iliad and The Odyssey.  I, on the other hand, was raised on Star Wars and Star Trek.  For me, asteroid clusters and vicious aliens are far more compelling obstacles than divine storms and sinister sea-monsters.  Aeneid: Conquest of the Heavens aims to give a modern audience the immediate sense of immersion felt by those of Vergil’s Rome.

MJ