The experiment with our first Facilitative Group went very well. True to the title, they set out to facilitate (a verb from Latin meaning roughly "act to make doable") conversation in class. Thanks to Bijou, Teresa, Derrick, Oriel & Jessica (I don't have the list here, so if I left anyone out, send me an e-mail [jvsickle@brooklyn.cuny.edu]).

It was particularly important that they gave us particular page & line numbers to help us find the particular passages they were using to support their points. That is a method that every group should imitate. Personally I found inspiring the way they invited comments & responded by actually exploring the text. A very good example for the rest of us.

The conversation established that in the assigned reading from book 1 of Virgil's Aeneid, Virgil imagines Aeneas, invisible because wrapped in a cloud by his mother, the goddess Venus (Latin name for Aphrodite, Sappho's goddess), looking with amazement at the foundation of the city of Carthage. You made it clear that Aeneas is a refugee, fleeing from his home in Troy, which had been destroyed by the Greeks, & seeking to find a new home, which will prepare the way for the devlopment of Rome.

The facilitators made a number of points important for our developing investigation in the course:
SIMILARITIES TO THE CULTURAL MODELS found in Sappho, Catullus, Homer (Shield of Achilles & Odysseus' account of what Lotus Eaters & Cyclopes did not have in their cultures.
Laws, buildings, streets, harbor, council of elders, also a public space for spectacles, plowing, representations of past.
DIFFERENCES FROM PREVIOUS MODELS (reflect Virgil's cultural standpoint as a Roman):
council of elders called Senate (Roman term, means "council of older men");
plowing around city walls (Roman custom, called pomerium, cf. mural, "wall" ) marks line between city & country;
space for spectacle not merely dance floor but elaborate theater;
Above all, Virgil adds a grove at the heart of the city (cf. Prospect Park) & in the grove, a temple honoring Juno [Latin name for Greek Hera] with illustrations of scenes from the War at Troy. 
Conversation brought out that this represented personal experience of Aeneas just a few years earlier & that this differed from representations of past in Sappho (example of Helen following love to Troy) & on shield (song about Linos; comparison with dance floor made by Daedalus in Knossos).
Conversation then focused on two facts:
1] Virgil represents Aeneas as gazing in wonder & weeping at what he takes to be a show of sympathy (commiseration) for the fate of his destroyed home.
2] We infer that the purpose of building the temple must have been to honor the goddess & we remember (learn) that Hera (=Juno) fought to destroy Troy.
THUS WE INFER that the people of Carthage would have intended the scenes from the Trojan War to celebrate the defeat of Troy & NOT to commiserate with its fate.
We imagine that the illustrations of disaster that make the Trojan exile Aeneas weep would make the vengeful goddess gloat (cf. after 9/11 the different reactions around the world to the pictures of towers falling, not of Troy but of our city, New York).

We had to remark that Virgil imagined his hero as a reader (interpreter) who misreads the evidence due to a lack of knowledge about its context: how would the hero, just arrived, shipwrecked, wrapped in a cloud, be expected to know that the temple before him celebrated his suffering?

To enrich the context further, I pointed out that Aeneas is also the mythical ancestor of the Romans & I enlarged our Time Chart (click here). The enlarged chart includes Virgil towards the end of the first century BCE looking back to the founding of Rome around the time of Homer & further to the subject of Homer's poems, the War at Troy.

But the chart now also reminds us that one of the most dangerous struggles in Roman history had been the wars with Carthage (called Punic Wars from the name Punici, because in origin Carthage was a Phoenician city, founded by peoples from Sidon & Tyre).

Once we grasp this historical record, we can better appreciate irony in the account of Aeneas' arrival in Carthage.

Virgil imagines the ancestor of the Romans admiring, envying even, the foundation of the city that historically would be Rome's deadliest foe. We asked the question, how will the poet further imagine the meeting between his hero & the beautiful Carthaginian queen, Dido?

It is worth emphasizing again that both Greeks & Romans looked back to Homer's stories of the Greeks' campaign against Troy; but the Roman's identified with the Trojans & traced their descent from them.

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