Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Lavinia by Ursla Le Guin

Lavinia is the faceless princess of Latinum in Virgil's poem. Lavinia finally tells her story. Born to a peaceful king, Latinus, and his disturbed wife, Amata, Lavinia's childhood is ideal, except for her mother's frequent outbursts. When Lavinia is "ripe for marriage", many suitors travel to Latinum to ask for Lavinia's hand in marriage and to become the next King. Amata favors her nephew, Turnus, to become Lavinia's husband. While vising a holy site, Lavinia is told by a poet from the future that she will marry a foreigner. Her father is also warned in visions not to marry his daughter to a Latin. Lavinia's hair catches on fire while making an offering, but she is unharmed and the omens point to war. Aeneas lands on Latinum's shores and proposes a treaty between the Trojans and Latinus. Latinus agrees and gives Lavinia in marriage to Aeneas. Amata and Turnus are outraged at this "betrayal" and war breaks out between Turnus' people and the Trojans. Powerless to stop the bloodshed, Lavinia waits for the end her poet prophesied. Aeneas emerges victorious and the new couple found Lavinium. But the poet dies before his work is finished and the future is cloudy. Lavinia soon finds herself deprived of the two men she loved.
Lovers of Virgil's poem will relish this book. I had wondered about Aeneas, but never questioned who one of Rome's mothers really was. Upon starting the book, I was transported to the Italian hills. Lavina is loved by her father, but despised by her mother. She grows up with a strong sense of duty to her family and the people of Latinum. She agrees to marry Aeneas without any real knowledge of him, exhibiting faith in her poet. I loved her strength throughout the whole book. Though she faces adversity, she never lets it overcome her. Her cunning and wisdom make for a wonderful heroine, mother and wife. Lavinia, the woman defined by a man, doesn't need a man to define her.

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