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Novel Gives Roman Maiden Her Moment in the Sun

Apr 27, 2008 (All Things Considered)

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In Virgil's poem The Aeneid, a blond maiden named Lavinia whose father is the king of Italy marries the Trojan hero Aeneas. Virgil doesn't give Lavinia any lines, and he scarcely mentions her for the rest of the epic.

For Ursula K. Le Guin, an author best known for her science fiction and fantasy novels, Virgil left a gaping hole that she was eager to fill — albeit slowly. Her latest novel, Lavinia, picks up where the classic Roman poet left off.

Le Guin, 78, says she started work on the novel methodically by reading the The Aeneid in its original Latin and doing copious research on the Bronze Age. She brings Lavinia's rustic Roman world to life, delving into her childhood, her suitors and the cast of characters who ultimately wage war over her after she marries Aeneas.

Virgil himself even makes an appearance in Le Guin's novel, traveling back in time by hundreds of years to appear as a spirit who forewarns Lavinia about the great battle that is to come. As he counsels Lavinia in a sacred grove, Virgil frets about how he shortchanged her in The Aeneid.

NPR's Jacki Lyden spoke with Le Guin about how she gave voice to a character largely forgotten in Roman literature.

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