BLOOMINGTON — Just as Dido tempted Aeneas to abandon his destiny to found Rome, the siren call of a sunny spring day held down the number of students who gathered through the day for a marathon reading of Virgil's “Aeneid” at Illinois Wesleyan University.
But Aeneas eventually did what the gods commanded him to do, much to the dismay of Dido. And students, joined by faculty and staff, carried on with the mission to read “Aeneid” from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday at Ames Library to mark World Poetry Day.
More was afoot than reading an epic poem more than 2,000 years old. There was food to eat and other artistic outlets, much as there would have been in Virgil's time, explained Amy Coles, acting director of Greek and Roman studies — although coffee and Lego blocks and coloring books undoubtedly weren't part of the original reading of “Aeneid.”
“I know the students are going to be stressed out with the end of the semester approaching,” Coles said, explaining why she tried to lighten up what was called “Virgilpalooza.”
“They don't seem to take time to switch gears to be creative if they've been analytical all day,” she said, adding that research shows spending time creatively also helps the analytical side.
But Sara Raffensperger, a junior majoring in English writing, put it more simply.
“It's always fun to play with Legos,” she said.
Accepting the challenge from Coles to build Troy, Raffensperger was among several students contributing to the “city” throughout the day.
“Flames. Flames. More flames,” freshman Jennifer Sieben of Palatine, a physics and math major, said with a laugh as she dug through a container of Lego parts. Finding another “flame,” she handed it to Raffensperger – her classmate in Latin 101 – who placed it atop the “temple” as they declared it “the eternal flame.”
While all this was going on, the reading of the poem continued.
Among those filling the 36 reading slots was Tim McDunn, a sophomore from Elmhurst majoring in music composition and Greek and Roman studies.
McDunn didn't just read an English translation of the epic. He read it in Latin – doing independent research to find pronunciation as close to what it would have been when the poem was written.
“The way poetry sounds is an important part of understanding it and appreciating it,” McDunn said. “As a musician, I have a particular interest in the sound of poetry.”
Coles said the struggles of Aeneas — leaving home, falling in love, leaving people behind, settling in a new community — are "very similar to what my own students are going through. I hope that they can see a little of themselves."