Elena Ferrante’s Virgil
Stephanie McCarter

An interesting article. The names of Elena and Lila’s children, Dede and Elisa, both recall Dido/Elissa too.

As a fan of Ferrante and her feminism who couldn’t help highlighting all of the Classical allusions/references along the way, one aspect of Vergil in the tetralogy that is also worth considering is the spectre of Vergil’s life and the apocryphal Vergilian topographies in Ferrante’s Naples. How do Elena and Lila become feminine embodiments of, or appropriate the biographical details of the epic author for their own epic lives?

Just as Marcello Solara’s gossip spreading through the rione is compared (in bk.1) to “Fama” in the Aeneid, the novels abound with allusions to the apocryphal stories around Vergil’s authorial life and presence in the city: the tomb, the “sorcerer’s villa” at Posillipo, and even to the story of Vergil’s wish that the Aeneid be burnt upon his death — something which, if we read the The Blue Fairy as an Aeneid-like text, Lila fulfils when she burns it at the sausage factory. Some confirmation of the allusion comes in Book Three, as Ferrante seems to signal that her characters are thinking about Vergil’s authorial biography: “She said that, as I knew, even the Aeneid wasn’t polished.” Likewise, Ferrante draws on the 14th century Cronaca di Partenope when she explicitly cites the apocryphal Vergilian etymology behind the Piazza di Carbonara in the final book to great effect. One wonders if Ferrante, like Lila in her later life, spent considerable time researching the history of her city in its ancient libraries….

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