Lavinia
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Lavinia

3.9 20
by Ursula K. Le Guin
     
 

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In The Aeneid, Vergil’s hero fights to claim the king’s daughter, Lavinia, with whom he is destined to found an empire. Lavinia herself never speaks a word. Now, Ursula K. Le Guin gives Lavinia a voice in a novel that takes us to the half-wild world of ancient Italy, when Rome was a muddy village near seven hills.

Lavinia grows up knowing nothing

Overview

In The Aeneid, Vergil’s hero fights to claim the king’s daughter, Lavinia, with whom he is destined to found an empire. Lavinia herself never speaks a word. Now, Ursula K. Le Guin gives Lavinia a voice in a novel that takes us to the half-wild world of ancient Italy, when Rome was a muddy village near seven hills.

Lavinia grows up knowing nothing but peace and freedom, until suitors come. Her mother wants her to marry handsome, ambitious Turnus. But omens and prophecies spoken by the sacred springs say she must marry a foreigner—that she will be the cause of a bitter war—and that her husband will not live long. When a fleet of Trojan ships sails up the Tiber, Lavinia decides to take her destiny into her own hands. And so she tells us what Vergil did not: the story of her life, and of the love of her life. Lavinia is a book of passion and war, generous and austerely beautiful, from a writer working at the height of her powers.

Editorial Reviews

Eve Ottenberg
[Le Guin] focuses this engaging novel on Aeneas's Latin wife, who is only sketchily depicted in the epic poem. In simple, stately prose that does no violence to Vergil's work, Le Guin presents the rough, unpretentious dignity of the ancient pagans. She also portrays daily life in the Bronze Age, some time after the 13th century B.C., when duty and responsibility glue the community together…there is plenty of action in Lavinia. Even her happy marriage is filled with musings cleverly ancient yet modern—most compellingly on the expectations of women. By telling this story from its heroine's clear, forthright perspective, Le Guin has taken the cipher that is Vergil's Lavinia and given her a new life.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

In the Aeneid, the only notable lines Virgil devotes to Aeneas' second wife, Lavinia, concern an omen: the day before Aeneus lands in Latinum, Lavinia's hair is veiled by a ghost fire, presaging war. Le Guin's masterful novel gives a voice to Lavinia, the daughter of King Latinus and Queen Amata, who rule Latinum in the era before the founding of Rome. Amata lost her sons to a childhood sickness and has since become slightly mad. She is fixated on marrying Lavinia to Amata's nephew, Turnus, the king of neighboring Rutuli. It's a good match, and Turnus is handsome, but Lavinia is reluctant. Following the words of an oracle, King Latinus announces that Lavinia will marry Aeneas, a newly landed stranger from Troy; the news provokes Amata, the farmers of Latinum, and Turnus, who starts a civil war. Le Guin is famous for creating alternative worlds (as in Left Hand of Darkness), and she approaches Lavinia's world, from which Western civilization took its course, as unique and strange as any fantasy. It's a novel that deserves to be ranked with Robert Graves's I, Claudius. (Apr.)

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School Library Journal

Adult/High School- This novel takes a minor character from Vergil's Aeneid and creates a thoughtful, moving tale of prophecy, myth, and self-fulfillment. Lavinia is the teen princess of Latium, a small but important kingdom in pre-Roman Italy. As she moves into womanhood, she feels pressure from her parents to choose one of her many suitors as both her husband and the future ruler of the kingdom. But the oracles of the sacred springs say she will marry an unknown foreigner. This stranger is none other than Vergil's Aeneus, proud hero, king without a country, and the man who will lay down the foundations of the Roman Empire. Their marriage sparks a war to control the region; while readers don't see the glorious battles, they do get the surprisingly moving perspective of the home front through Lavinia's eyes. Best known for her works of fantasy, Le Guin takes a more historical approach here by toning down the magical elements; gods and prophecies have a vital role in the protagonist's life, but they are presented as concepts and rituals, not as deities playing petty games with the lives of mortals. This shifts the focus of Vergil's plot from action to character, allowing Le Guin to breathe life into a character who never utters a word in the original story. Lavinia is quite compelling as she transforms from a spirited princess into a queen full of wisdom who makes a profound impact on her people. The author's language and style are complex, making this a title for sophisticated teens.-Matthew L. Moffett, Pohick Regional Library, Burke, VA

Kirkus Reviews
Le Guin (Powers, 2007, etc.) departs from her award-winning fantasy and science-fiction novels to amplify a story told only glancingly in Virgil's epic The Aeneid. The story is that of the eponymous princess of Latium (a royal city before Rome existed), promised by her parents, King Latinus and Queen Amata, to neighboring Rutilian king Turnus (who is Amata's nephew). But omens decree otherwise, and Lavinia weds Trojan warrior-adventurer Aeneas, a bereaved and conflicted husband, son and father who will, over the years, earn the initially reluctant Lavinia's undying respect and love. Though this unlikely heroine receives only token mention in Virgil's original, Le Guin brings her to vibrant life as a dutiful virgin whose world is circumscribed by daily routines; who is the uncooperative cynosure of several suitors' eyes; and who eventually distances herself from the misrule of her stepson Ascanius (Aeneas's successor), biding her time until the new metropolis of Rome is made worthy of its intrepid founder. Lavinia's inner strength emerges in dreamlike "conversations" with the poet who created her, and in her intuitive understanding of her father's just rule, her husband's justifiable ambitions and her own unending obligations. Le Guin has researched this ancient world assiduously, and her measured, understated prose captures with equal skill the permutations of established ritual and ceremony and the sensations of the battlefield ("The snarling trumpets rang out again. A group of horsemen far out in the fields moved forward in a solid mass like a shadow across the ripening crops . . . through the hot slanting light full of dust"). Arguably her best novel, and an altogether worthy companionvolume to one of the Western world's greatest stories.
From the Publisher

PRAISE FOR URSULA K. LE GUIN

"She never loses touch with her reverence for the immense what is."—Margaret Atwood

"Like all great writers of fiction, Ursula K. Le Guin creates imaginary worlds that restore us, hearts eased, to our own."—Boston Globe

'There is no writer with an imagination as forceful and delicate as Le Guin's."—Grace Paley

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780151014248
Publisher:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
04/21/2008
Pages:
288
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.20(d)
Lexile:
960L (what's this?)

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
PRAISE FOR URSULA K. LE GUIN

"She never loses touch with her reverence for the immense what is."—Margaret Atwood

"Like all great writers of fiction, Ursula K. Le Guin creates imaginary worlds that restore us, hearts eased, to our own."—Boston Globe

'There is no writer with an imagination as forceful and delicate as Le Guin's."—Grace Paley

Meet the Author

Ursula K. Le Guin was born in Berkeley, California, in 1929. Among her honors are a National Book Award, five Hugo and five Nebula Awards, the Kafka Award, a Pushcart Prize, and the Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She lives in Portland, Oregon. www.ursulakleguin.com

Brief Biography

Hometown:
Portland, Oregon
Date of Birth:
October 21, 1929
Place of Birth:
Berkeley, California
Education:
B.A., Radcliffe College; M.A., Columbia University, 1952
Website:
http://www.ursulakleguin.com

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Lavinia 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 20 reviews.
Lizbiz5396 More than 1 year ago
The Aeneid retold from a different perspective. Ancient history is a favorite topic of mine. I really enjoy Roman history in particular. When I came across this book, I was so pleasantly surprised! In the past, I have looked for fictitious novels set around this time period and have been disappointed in the selection. Usually I find the only books written around this time period with female main characters are cheesy romance novels...the type of books I am not interested in. However, Lavinia was a breath of fresh air. The book is based around a character from Virgil's Aeneid who did not have much of a voice in his epic tale. I read the Aeneid and was not disappointed one bit by Lavinia. Ursula K. Le Guin does a brilliant job in retelling Virgil's story from Lavinia's perspective. If you are someone who is interested in ancient history and want a book that is not some cheesy romance novel, I highly recommend Lavinia. This book will definitely remain a keeper among the other books I have read and will probably be read again in the future!
Lindsey_Miller More than 1 year ago
Anyone who knows Virgil's The Aeneid will either love or hate Le Guin's retelling of the life of Lavinia as it intersects Aeneas's story. Le Guin, as always presents a tale replete with layers of conflict and underlying social commentary. Some of the most obvious is the masculine and feminine roles, the duties of a ruler to her/his people, the view of women as property and powerless, the tragedies of war, and, oddly, the inner conflict of homosexuals in a heterosexually dominated culture. Whether these elements will be endearing to lovers of Virgil's story, or if this will be seen as a good edition to the overall telling of Aeneas's tale is left to be seen. However, for those not caught up in this as an extension of Virgil, the story actually has legs of its own. Many reviewers have said that it's not one of Le Guin's best, but I beg to differ. The same was said about C.S. Lewis's retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche in Til We Have Faces, although Lewis is quoted as having considered it his greatest work, and I feel much the same way about this novel. It takes a lot of work and effort to get the history correct, and not only that, but Le Guin spends great lengths describing everything about the culture and time period-clothes, food, rituals, architecture, gender interplay, landscape, and much more-so that the reader can imagine every last detail of each scene. The early Latin culture becomes illuminated so that the story itself can live in an accurately detailed world. My guess is that since there is no magic in this story, outside of some prophesies and allusions to the intervention of the gods, people who love Le Guin's usual writing couldn't quite get into this one. However, I believe that it will stand the test of time as one of her greatest works, and hopefully it will be seen as an addition to Virgil's great epic. Le Guin herself reveals her love for The Aeneid in the afterword, pining after the days when people were still taught Latin as part of their education, so that they could be enriched by the words of Virgil. She insists that people will not be able to understand the full beauty and magnitude of the work unless they read it in the original Latin. -Lindsey Miller, www.lindseyslibrary.com
professa More than 1 year ago
I probably would never have heard of this book if I had not come across a list of four books for people who are interested in Rome and its history. I love Rome and have been there 13 times so I decided why not!? The book is about Lavinia, the wife of Aeneas from "The Aeneid." She is barely mentioned in that book so Ursula K. Le Guin decided to write a novel giving Lavinia some life and background. This book is listed as the second one to read in the four--"Roma" by Steven Saylor, "Lavinia," "The Aeneid" by Virgil, and "The Secrets of Rome (Love and Death in the Eternal City)" by Corrado Augias. I must also admit that the series of books intrigued me because I had read part of "The Aeneid" in my fourth year Latin class in high school. I had always intended to read the whole book in English and had long owned a copy of it. I must say I enjoyed this book and would recommend it on its own merits even if the reader did not intend to read all four books. I found it interesting and fun. I liked the idea that Lavinia meets/dreams Virgil when she visited the sacred grove of her family and learns about what he is writing. It seemed an original idea to me. Since I have now read through Book 9 of "The Aeneid," I have run into information about several of the characters in "Lavinia," though the heroine herself has so far only been mentioned as the unnamed daughter of the Latin King. Several of the events mentioned in "The Aeneid" were fleshed out with added interest by Le Guin. As I said I enjoyed this book and also would recommend "Roma" as a fun view of Rome's history starting in !000 BC. I am also enjoying "The Aeneid" though I have to admit I searched the Internet and found a prose translation rather than deal with worrying about end-line punctuation. And every once in a while all the names get to me, and I take a break by reading a mystery or two. The four books make up a project I am most certainly happy to have chosen!
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Ed-Philosopher More than 1 year ago
Other than Odds Bodkin's entertainingly abridged and bardic retelling of Homer's Odyssey, I've never much cared for the excessive machismo of such ancient tales. Vergil's Aeneas is balanced by Lavinia, a minor character transformed into a sublime heroine, as only LeGuin can do. Some battle gore inevitably remains, but always couched within the larger human enterprise of raising a child, directing a household, and, when necessary, countering aggression with compassion.