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In a richly imagined, beautiful new novel, an acclaimed writer gives an epic heroine her voice.

The Aeneid, Virgil'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 Virgil 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.

279 pages, Hardcover

First published April 21, 2008

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About the author

Ursula K. Le Guin

904 books23.7k followers
Ursula K. Le Guin published twenty-two novels, eleven volumes of short stories, four collections of essays, twelve books for children, six volumes of poetry and four of translation, and has received many awards: Hugo, Nebula, National Book Award, PEN-Malamud, etc. Her recent publications include the novel Lavinia, an essay collection, Cheek by Jowl, and The Wild Girls. She lived in Portland, Oregon.

She was known for her treatment of gender (The Left Hand of Darkness, The Matter of Seggri), political systems (The Telling, The Dispossessed) and difference/otherness in any other form. Her interest in non-Western philosophies was reflected in works such as "Solitude" and The Telling but even more interesting are her imagined societies, often mixing traits extracted from her profound knowledge of anthropology acquired from growing up with her father, the famous anthropologist, Alfred Kroeber. The Hainish Cycle reflects the anthropologist's experience of immersing themselves in new strange cultures since most of their main characters and narrators (Le Guin favoured the first-person narration) are envoys from a humanitarian organization, the Ekumen, sent to investigate or ally themselves with the people of a different world and learn their ways.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,865 reviews
Profile Image for Magrat Ajostiernos.
569 reviews3,935 followers
January 28, 2019
RESEÑA: https://cronicasdemagrat.wordpress.co...

Otro libro de Le Guin que me FASCINA.
Es cierto, quizás no sea tan original y rompedora como otras de sus novelas, pero Lavinia, en su intimismo y ternura logra ser también sorprendentemente insólita.
En este libro asistimos a los acontecimientos de la Eneida pero todo contado desde el punto de vista de una mujer, y las batallas, guerras y peleas pierden importancia (aunque también son narradas) en favor de los ritos, las costumbres, tradiciones.
La primera mitad de la novela me llegó de una manera increíble, no deja de alucinarme la capacidad de esta autora para mostrarnos paisajes y costumbres de una manera que parece tan real y palpable. La segunda mitad me gustó un poquito menos pero aún así la disfruté muchísimo, la voz de Lavinia es maravillosa.
En fin, si os gustan las novelas con base tanto mitológica como Histórica no dejéis pasar la oportunidad de leer esta maravillosa novela, tan tan TAN bien escrita.
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,868 reviews16.5k followers
February 28, 2019
Is it possible that Ursula K. LeGuin can write a bad book?

I guess anything is possible: I could win the lottery, get hit by a meteorite, struck by lightning, etc. All very low probabilities.

As expected, this is beautifully written and crafted with an inspired structure. Telling the story of Lavinia, who in Vergil’s great work Aenid, did not speak a word; LeGuin describes the princess’s story in that of an almost pre-historic and pagan setting.

This is really the element of this story that I will take with me: this vision of a simple life when Rome was not yet founded and the hills in what would someday become the greatest city in the world were populated with early tribes, farms and lives that would be legend.

LeGuin creates an unusual narrative device in which Lavinia comes to know “her poet” as Vergil is illuminated as a time travelling specter from the future, mystically visiting his subject as he survived a fever dream in the time of Augustus. Interestingly, almost in an existential awareness of her self as a character in the epic.

Told with unassuming but descriptive language, and with her inimitable style, Lavinia was a pleasure to read.

Profile Image for Charlotte May.
696 reviews1,074 followers
March 12, 2020
DNF at page 180

I’m sad, I thought I’d love this but there doesn’t seem to be anything different in here than is in The Aeneid. It’s just from Lavinia’s perspective but all the events are the same, and I’m bored 😑
Profile Image for Jake.
174 reviews2 followers
September 12, 2008

“I am not the feminine voice you may have expected”

When my father told me that Ursula LeGuin had put out a new novel, I was, as I usually am, ecstatic. LeGuin is one of my all time favorite authors, and I can’t think of time when she’s written something that has somehow failed to engage, entertain, or intrigue me. The fact that she was, apparently, riffing off Virgil’s Aeneid was just icing on the cake for this poor excuse for a classical studies major.

When the book arrived, I found myself looking at the cover and suddenly wondering what the heck this book was about. As much as I tried, I could not remember the character of Lavinia from my previous readings of the Aeneid in the slightest (the best I could do was to temporarily confuse her with Dido). My guilt at my poor powers of memory was a bit assuaged when, after some checking, I realized that Lavinia only barely appears within the Aeneid, and never speaks at all. It’s no surprise I don’t remember her. Indeed, it’s a wonder that many people do.

The notion of taking an old story and telling a different side of it is a popular one these days, and I confess I’m not terribly up on the sub-genre (which seems to include things like The Red Tent, Mists of Avalon, and Lady Macbeth, among others), so I can’t compare it fairly to other authors efforts. It is a sub-genre that seems potentially filled with a lot of anger; how easy would it be for Lavinia (or any of these voiceless women) to rage against the world that so long ignored them? How simple would it be to tell a story about how the men screwed everything up, and the women were doing everything right?

Easy though it might be, LeGuin doesn’t do anything of the kind. Her Lavinia (who is curiously aware of her meta-fictional existence) is very, well, ancient Roman. She is strong, but conscious of her duty. She has a strong sense of the importance of family. She genuinely loves Aeneas, and her insights into Aeneas are interesting, and very much in line with what I remember of the Aeneid (which I confess is precious little). The entire story is told by Lavinia herself, a decision that allows LeGuin to really get into her protagonists mind, and produce a very different, interesting, and very real vision of a part of the Aeneid that Virgil did not get to.

I think that is the thing that makes me enjoy Lavinia so much; it is LeGuin’s addition to the myth. Not a refutation, or an attack, but merely another side of part of the story. A side as compelling, powerful, and insightful as the original itself. Unquestionably worth the read.

Next time: I have no idea. Not really sure what to read next, though I’m tempted to read the Aeneid again. I’ll have to go scan the shelves.
28 reviews1 follower
June 11, 2008
I thought this book was boring. There, I said it. Even though it had passion, war, bloodshed, royal intrigue, suicide, I found it boring and it was difficult for me to convince myself to continue reading it. I am a classic history buff, which this novel has loads of, but it still couldn't grip my interest. The tone of the book was quiet and ghostly, very in the past so I never felt anything immediate. It was a story told by someone who remembered facts, places, names, etc. and spoke of emotion, but I never felt it. I think this book was well reviewed, so I am sure many people would have a different experience, I was just not that keen on it.
Profile Image for Sharon.
55 reviews3 followers
July 28, 2008
It's interesting to contrast this with Margaret Atwood's Penelopiad. Both explore one of the Big Classics (The Aeneid in LeGuin's case, the Odyssey in Atwood's) from a female character's perspective. LeGuin and Atwood are both stellar writers, but I enjoyed Lavinia vastly more. LeGuin seems to have a real affection for her characters, and that makes for a warmer, more humane book.

You can't tackle such a project without exploring the constraints placed on women in ancient times, but again, the authors take two very different approaches. Atwood focuses on the oppression of women, but LeGuin (who has always shown an appreciation for the beauties of everyday life) convincingly explores how women could find fulfillment and power within the roles allowed them.
Profile Image for Sine.
304 reviews324 followers
February 13, 2018
goodreads’in sayısal hedefinin yanısıra bizim büyük challenge’ımız benim için yetip artsa da kendime minik hedefler koymadan duramıyorum. her sene mutlaka bir yaşar kemal ve ursula k. le guin okumak bunlardan bazıları. bu sene de alıp alıp yığdığım ursulalarımdan hangisini okusam diye düşünürken kendisinin vefat haberini alınca elimdeki kitap (ki o da bir yaşar kemal kitabıydı) biter bitmez kütüphanemdeki en eski ursula kitabına gitti ellerim. nisan 2010’da, üniversite son sınıftayken son kez gittiğim izmir tüyap kitap fuarında almışım; “nisan 2010” yazmışım ön sayfasına. kitaba başlar başlamaz sekiz yıldır neyi bekliyordum diye kendime kızsam da, aslında belki de kitap tam zamanını buldu diye düşünmeden de edemedim. koca bir destanın içinde üç mısrayla anılan bir karaktere can vermek de ursula ninemize yakışırdı. o üç mısradan ilham alıp böyle ayrı bir destan doğurmak kelimelerimin yetmeyeceği iltifatları hak ediyor. kadın olmayı her yönüyle o kadar güzel algılamış ve o kadar güzel anlatıyor ki, çok sevdiğim kitaplar hakkında hep söylediğim gibi; “okurken kitabı ısırasım geldi.” sevdiğim yazarlar çoktan ölmüşse zaten kıyamayarak okuyorum ama nasılsa hayatta diye rahat rahat okurken vefat edince iyice panik duygusu sarıyor içimi. böyle de bencilim. lavinia’yla ilgili güzel olan ise, artık okumaya kıyamayacağım ursula k. le guin kitaplarından birini tam zamanında, severek, hatta zevkten ölerek okudum; yani “boşa gitmedi.”
Profile Image for Libby.
Author 5 books42 followers
July 8, 2008
Back when I studied Latin, we were given bits of Virgil's "Aeneid" to translate. I always found it to be a chore, as poetry is more challenging to translate than textbook translating exercises like "Roma est in Italia." Still, I thought I knew the piece sufficiently until hearing that Ursula Le Guin had written a book about a character from "Aeneid" but having no idea who Lavinia was. Having now read "Aeneid" in its translated entirety, I can't really fault myself for not remembering Lavinia. She has no spoken lines, no characterization, and her function in the story is simply to be the prize of quarreling factions. In other words, hers was a story that benefited greatly from being told with care and respect.

Part of the brilliance in Le Guin's book lies in her ability to seamlessly weave a rich and detailed story for Lavinia in the greater fabric of Virgil's epic. Le Guin makes the strange world of Bronze Age Italy a place one can feel and taste, a place where the influence of oracles and gods is clearly felt. She eschews Virgil's humanlike gods for dead that speak through sacred places, which allows for the well-executed meta-conceit of having a dying Virgil learn how egregiously he mistreated Lavinia in his unfinished masterpiece, which Le Guin suggests as a fanciful reason for Virgil's request that the incomplete "Aeneid" be burned upon his death. She takes no liberties with "Aeneid" as it stands- the story is familiar from the point that Aeneas enters the scene to the time that Turnus departs it. As delightful as it is to see Virgil's epic through an Italian princess's more frank and sensible perspective, it's a tragic and brief part of Lavinia's story, both as a person and as a character in a seemingly immortal piece of literature.

In her notes, Le Guin laments that "Aeneid" is rarely taught in its entirety or original language nowadays. Her book is an eloquent and compelling tribute to Virgil and a gentle reminder to the world's readers that the ancient stories are well worth reading. I highly recommend this story to anyone looking for an impetus to revisit early masterpieces of western literature as well as those who enjoy thoughtful historical fiction.
Profile Image for Vivian.
2,839 reviews393 followers
August 18, 2018
"Oh, never and forever aren't for mortals, love."

Le Guin writes wonderful women and stories that honor them. Lavinia is a whole book written from the perspective of a character that never utters a word in Vergil's epic, The Aeneid. It tells of all the life that happens between "the glorious battles", the farming, the herding, hunting and reading of the auspices, caring for the hearth gods, weaving, songs and observances -- the reasons we war in the first place.

I think if you have lost a great happiness and try to recall it, you're only asking for sorrow, but if you do not try to dwell on the happiness, sometimes you find it dwelling in your heart and body, silent but sustaining.

Lavinia is presented as an ideal female: a faithful daughter, dedicated wife, and strong mother. The transitions between those phases is beautifully narrated. I especially found the duties depicted, the rituals so natural and comforting. I was wondering how I managed not to have any knowledge of Latium, honestly, I was disappointed in myself, and was relieved to read in the Afterword that there is indeed little to no record of the original Latins. Etruscans, yes and Magna Graecia too, of which I have some understanding. The auspices were rightfully given to an Etruscan character to read, but believably Latinus, Lavinia's father received omens from his forefathers in the sacred places. Overall, it was a delightfully woven tale of life in pre-ancient Rome.
Profile Image for Jennie.
277 reviews1 follower
July 23, 2009
Being a lady classicist often requires willful acts of cognitive dissonance. It's not just that nearly all your extant source material was written by men, about men, for men, it's also that Greek and Roman culture, particularly the culture portrayed in the great epics (the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Aeneid) is brutally testosterone-fueled and flagrantly anti-woman. In epic, the worst women are pure, unadulterated evil--monsters like Scylla, Charybdis, and the Sirens. Slightly less evil are those who use their sexual wiles to distract men from their noble purposes--Circe, Calypso, Dido. And "good" women are those who simply shut the fuck up, bear legitimate children, and get out of the way--Andromache, Penelope, Creusa. This makes reading epic a challenging experience for any woman who is looking for more than just a rollicking adventure story.

I read the Aeneid in high school, the whole thing in English and about half of it in Latin (skipping around for the best bits, or course), and I was a huge pain in the ass. I was convinced that Aeneas was a douche, that Creusa got screwed over, that Dido got royally screwed over and should have ripped Aeneas's balls off, and that Lavinia was a breed sow with pretty hair. My poor teacher tried again and again to calm me down, to remind me of the historical context and cultural differences that should have been informing my reading of the poem, to point out the elegance of the scansion or the cleverness of various poetic devices, but I just didn't buy it. I absorbed enough to ace the AP test, but the Aeneid left a bad taste in my mouth. When I got to college and read the Greek epics I was a bit better at detaching myself from the content of the poems so that I could appreciate their language and structure, but I still had to work hard to keep a lid on my roiling feminist ire. My biggest flaw as a historian, the reason why I decided to teach Latin to middle schoolers instead of going to graduate school, is that I get too emotionally invested in whatever I am studying, and am unable to confine my judgments to the appropriate historical context. I may acknowledge the fact that Aeneas was the model of pietas for his time and place, but in the here and now he'd be a douche, and I just can't forget that.

This is why Lavinia is such a wonderful book. Le Guin does that forgetting for me. She is able to immerse herself in a different time and place and culture in a way that is judgment-free, and she sells this world in such a way that I buy it. And like it. And enjoy it. The angry feminist pot ceases to boil. I actually like this Aeneas. He seems to be a nice guy. I really like and identify with this Lavinia, and I support her choices, whereas in the Aeneid I simply pitied her for not having any choices. I understand and appreciate a concept of pietas that is completely different from the kind of piety or rightness I seek in my own life, in a way that I was never able to understand it when I was reading the actual Aeneid. Part of what makes this novel work for me is the way she strips the story of Aeneas of its Augustan influences--Vergil originally wrote the poem as a propaganda piece for the emperor (okay, maybe that wasn't his only purpose, but he had to throw it in there to keep the people in charge happy), and the ostentatious wealth and fantastical religion it promotes help divorce it from reality and make it harder to relate to. Le Guin's simpler version feels much more authentic and relatable.

I did find the book a little hard to get into, and I had a hard time wrapping my mind around the relationship between Lavinia and Vergil. But overall, I found it an extremely enjoyable and readable story that left me with warm fuzzies inside. It may actually motivate me to reread the Latin Aeneid sometime soon-ish (if I can find my old book), and to not be full of fiery rage when I do. That's a good thing, right?
Profile Image for FotisK.
356 reviews158 followers
June 19, 2020
Η σχέση μου με την Le Guin έχει ξεκινήσει από τα πανεπιστημιακά μου χρόνια και έκτοτε διατηρεί την ίδια ένταση. Κι αν πέρασαν τόσοι συγγραφείς από τη ζωή μου και τα γούστα μου άλλαξαν –ενίοτε- ριζικά μέσα στον χρόνο, αυτή η αγάπη (από τις πρώτες!) παρέμεινε αναλλοίωτη κι εγώ της παρέμεινα πιστός.

Και στην περίπτωση της "Λαβίνια", ενός από τα τελευταία έργα της, όχι μόνο δεν με απογοήτευσε, αλλά πέτυχε να με συνεπάρει ως την τελευταία σελίδα. Εμπνευσμένη από το έπος του Βιργιλίου, διόλου ανταγωνιστικά αλλά μόνο επ' αφορμή, η Le Guin εμφυσά ζωή στη γυναίκα Λαβίνια (μετέπειτα σύζυγο του Αινεία), για να διηγηθεί με τον μοναδικό της τρόπο την ιστορία της. Απολαυστική, αυθεντικά θηλυκή και ακριβώς γι' αυτό αγαπημένη.
Profile Image for Repellent Boy.
488 reviews508 followers
March 4, 2021
"El nombe del mundo es bosque" me impactó tantísimo que no pasaron ni dos semanas cuando ya estaba leyendo "Lavinia". En este caso la temática es completamente opuesta, y es que en esta novela vamos a asistir a una narración apasionante donde Ursula K. Le Guin dota de una nueva vida a los personajes de la Eneida de Virgilio, narrados desde el punto de vista de una mujer, Lavinia. Esta predijo la llegada del troyano Eneas a Lacio, después de 10 años navegando los mares tras huir de la guerra de Troya, y todo lo que cambiaría con esta.

Lo primero que destaca es Lavinia, su gran protagonista. Es ella el eje de toda la historia y todo gira en torno a sus decisiones. A través de las páginas vemos a una mujer apasionada, luchadora y dueña de sus acciones. Me ha encantado ver como la autora dota a la protagonista de ese toque feminista, donde lucha por no ser silenciada por ser mujer. En muchísimas escenas logra darle la vuelta a eso, en una época donde las mujeres nada podían objetar. Un acierto total que la autora haya decidido coger a un personaje secundario dentro de la obra de Virgilio y centrarlo todo desde su óptica.

Otro de sus puntos fuertes es que está mucho más centrado en temas como la tradición y los ritos propios de las costumbres de los pueblos de la época, que en mostrarnos los combates propios de la guerra que se desencadena. También se muestra, pero tiene menos peso. La autora trata de reflejar como pudieron ser todas estas costumbres tanto en referencia a los latinos como a los griegos, y el choque entre las de unos y otros. Por ejemplo, la libertad y los derechos más equitativos de mujeres y hombres en la antigua Italia, chocaba con como los griegos trataban a sus mujeres como seres inferiores. Este choque me ha parecido muy bien tratado a través de Lavinia.

Me he quedado con ganitas de saber algo más de la historia de amor entre Ascanio y Atis, ojalá un libro sobre eso. También he disfrutado mucho de las descripciones de los distintos lugares que aparecen y la naturaleza que les rodea, todo muy evocador. Y por supusto el "detalle" del poeta en la novela y su significado me ha parecido increíble. Ya estoy pensando cual será el tercer encuentro con esta autora maravillosa, que desde ya apunta a convertirse en una de mis predilectas.
Profile Image for Mareike.
Author 4 books55 followers
April 16, 2020
"In truth he gave me nothing but a name, and I have filled it with myself. Yet without him would I even have a name? I have never blamed him. Even a poet cannot get everything right."

If you were looking for a quote do describe the central concern of this book, the above might do it.

I was deeply moved by this book and the tale it weaves and the respect with which it treats its characters and subjects like love, fate, and the power of stories. I love its intertextuality and how much it is in conversation with its source text (and other works) and how vividly a picture it painted of pre-Roman Italy. (Le Guin, unsurprisingly, really did her research and brought it to bear masterfully.)

I thought this might be a 5-star read in the beginning, but there was a part in the middle that made me tend towards 4 stars. And then the ending once again pushed it back up to 5 stars.
Profile Image for DivaDiane.
948 reviews90 followers
May 29, 2020
I think I'm incapable of disliking a Le Guin book. So, 5 stars it is.

I'm not a huge fan of the retelling of mythological stories and the like from the stand point of a woman. But this was written by Le Guin and here I am. I have had this on my shelf since shortly after it was written. I bought it in hardcover in Missoula, where my brother lives. But the real reason that I've waited so long to read it is because I only discovered UKL in my early to mid twenties. Back then she was already 60-something and after I devoured quite a lot of her core oeuvre, I realized that if I read all of it, I may have quite a lot of my own life during which I wouldn't have a "new' Le Guin to read. So, I've been "hoarding" her books for the past 15 - 20 years. Now I only have 2 more novels to read, plus a couple short story collections, her older poetry collections and most of her non-fiction. So, what does this have to do with this book? Not much, I suppose, but it may explain my unmitigated love for this book. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. And reconnecting with Le Guin's writing made my heart sing.

The story itself follows Virgil's Aeneid, but only the part when he lands in Italy near-ish Rome and settles there, fights a war, and marries a Latin girl named Lavinia. The story is told from Lavinia's perspective. and the conceit that she is someone the Poet created and to whom he gave very little time in the Aeneid. She is self-aware which makes for an interesting twist in the story. She's filling in the details, the structure and what Aeneas does are all set. The beginning and the end, before and after Aeneas are perhaps the most interesting parts for me, but I enjoyed the middle just as well.

That this book is soooo good is no surprise to me. She could've written a grocery list and I'd love it, but I do wonder why this didn't get many awards? Just the Locus award, as far as I can tell.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for saïd.
6,165 reviews705 followers
March 31, 2023
First of all, let’s just be clear that I think academic drama and interdisciplinary infighting are hilarious. Often incredibly silly and petty, yes, but hilarious. So as soon as I figured out that this book was written as a direct response to Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad, and Le Guin’s intention was to posit her own theory of how to read and retell ancient literature (in opposition to Atwood’s), obviously I had to read it.

Lavinia is quite different from many other classics retelling centred around female characters in Greco-Roman history and/or mythology in that Le Guin explicitly states in the afterword that the story was intended as a “love offering” to Vergil. She didn’t change Vergil’s portrayal of Lavinia, didn’t find fault with it, didn’t poke holes in it, just took it as it was and deepened it. This is in direct contrast to Atwood’s Penelopiad, which is very bitter, very resentful of Penelope’s (and the twelve maids’) effacement from the story by Homer and most retellings after him.

Le Guin said in an interview:
But, you know, this book was not written, like Margaret Atwood’s “Penelope” book, to sort of right or wrong or set Homer straight. You don’t need to set [Vergil] straight on women. I mean, look at Dido. Everybody knows Dido for goodness sake. She’s much more famous than Aeneas, really. [...] Lavinia was my way into [Vergil’s] world and his discourse about power and about war. Because what [Vergil] is talking about in those last six books, I think, partly is what makes a real hero and what is the moral cost even of heroic victory. And that seemed a really relevant question to me.
(Yes I sic’d the misspellings of Vergil’s name, sue me.) I’m not sure I’d agree with any of that, but it’s helpful in elucidating Le Guin’s perspective. Most of the classics retellings of the past decade or so—at least the ones I’ve read or seen my friends read—have been marketed as “feminist.” These retellings seem to be coming from a place of rage, bitterness, resentment that male poets and male audiences and male adaptors have been content to write and to read women as voiceless objects. Dr. Carson, for example, when discussing the role of the translator in regards to Antigone, wrote, “Dear Antigone: I take it as the task of the translator to forbid that you should ever lose your screams.” I find Dr. Carson’s interpretations of the classic Greek tragedies incredibly interesting, and I particularly appreciate her commitment to transliterating the inarticulate inhuman noises made primarily by the women in those plays; Dr. Carson referred to these screams as “bones of sound,” which I think is apt. Of course, in this instance, Antigone does have a voice (the play is named after her—suck it, Kreon!) and is not a minor character, but the same sentiment is replicated in a lot of these purportedly feminist retellings. There would have been screams, these retellings say, in reference to minor characters; the task of the person retelling this story is to fill in the gaps to imagine what those screams would have been. I’m not entirely sure how to feel about all of this. I don’t think the best way to do a “feminist” retelling of a classic story is to retroactively apply agency to a female character. That sort of flawed logic is why we get endless remakes of classic stories where Belle invents a washing-machine and Emma Watson refuses to wear a corset or hoop skirt with her dress, or the Little Women wear men’s clothes and have their hair down in public, or Jasmine sings a song about being a girlboss, because these are all things that are considered “progressive” or “feminist” in the modern day, and the majority of the audience for these retellings isn’t going to know enough about historical women’s suffrage and the fight for gender equality to be able to recognise that corsets were no more inherently anti-feminist than bras are or just because women didn’t overtly own shops didn’t mean they didn’t work in business.

Le Guin doesn’t do any of this. She consciously doesn’t give Lavinia agency—instead, she points out that Lavinia very distinctly lacks agency, because none of her choices are her own: they’re Vergil’s. By pushing back on Atwood’s premise that the character exists outside of the text to the extent that there can be a tension between the character and the text in which she’s imprisoned, she proposes that the character is the text in which she’s imprisoned. Separating Lavinia from her context strips her of what makes her Lavinia. A female character playing a role in works written by men is not going to be able to rise above the story in a modern, progressive, feminist way, because (as Le Guin sees it) the story is what the poet says it is, because that is how a story functions. Saying it isn’t the true story or the whole story is missing the point.

Now, I don’t want it to seem like I wholeheartedly agree with Le Guin’s stance on the matter, because I don’t, and there are also other aspects of Lavinia with which I take issue. One of those is her treatment of sexuality, specifically homosexuality, specifically in regards to her treatment of Ascanius. Her portrayal of Achates and his affection for Aeneas (and Lavinia’s reaction to that affection) was fine, in my opinion, but Le Guin does leave it uncomfortably open-ended whether certain aspects of Ascanius’s character (neglecting his wife, accusing Lavinia of adultery, generally not caring about women, etc.) are just who he is as a person or are because he is gay. Although it’s loosely implied that these traits are not characteristic of all queer men (Achates displays no interest in women, but still respects them, for example), but Lavinia’s—and, indeed, the text’s—view seems to perceive Ascanius’s negative view of women as resulting from his sexuality. I also didn’t care for the treatment of Drances. Le Guin was notably not a fan of Cicero (apparently she dropped out of Latin as a teenager in order to avoid having to read his works), which is fine because Cicero is the absolute worst, but her stance on Drances was confusing at best. Drances has long since been treated as a satirical jab at Cicero, and the portrayal of Drances in relation to homosexuality (particularly given how Cicero’s own sexuality has been treated) made me incredibly uncomfortable.

Personally I don’t think Le Guin is correct when she says that you don’t need to set Vergil straight on women. (I also think it’s a bit ironic of her, given the ultimate confrontation of this novel.) Of course the point is, to an extent, moot, seeing as Vergil himself is long dead, but it’s more or less obvious from the writing of his we have that Vergil simply did not care about women to the extent that he cared about men. This is not inherently a problem (again: Vergil does not currently exist as a living being), because the value of Vergil’s writing is that it tells us more about the characters he did choose to write about. I don’t think Vergil was malicious or even necessarily misogynistic—keeping in mind that misogyny in his day looked quite different from how it does in ours—he was just not very interested in women. Arguably that could be viewed as a form of misogyny in and of itself, but if we’re going to start arguing that gay men (for example) are misogynistic because they don’t want to have sex with women, I’d rather not be in the room.
Profile Image for Marie Saville.
187 reviews104 followers
November 9, 2020
"Eneas se había mantenido en la sombra del portal, silencioso e inmóvil, observándome. Al terminar mis ofrendas, me quedé quieta y levanté la mirada hacia él. Formuló entonces la pregunta que se ha de formular:
—¿Quién eres?
Y yo le di la respuesta que se ha de dar:
—Si tú eres Gaio, yo soy Gaia.
Entonces, con una repentina y amplia sonrisa, se adelantó, me cogió en brazos, cruzó conmigo al otro lado del umbral y me depositó allí. De este modo me convertí en su esposa y en la madre de nuestro pueblo, el suyo y el mío."
— Ursula K. Le Guin, 'Lavinia'.

A veces, cuando acabo un libro, no puedo remediar el impulso y lo abrazo. Lo abrazo con cariño en agradecimiento al maravilloso momento de lectura que me ha proporcionado, y en homenaje al escritor que le dio vida.
'Lavinia', mi primera incursión en la obra de Ursula K. Le Guin, ha sido uno de esos libros que he terminado abrazando.

Si conocéis a grandes rasgos la historia de la Eneida, quizá resuenen en vuestra memoria algunos episodios del periplo vivido por Eneas y sus acompañantes, desde que salieran de la destruida Troya, hasta su llegada al enclave del Lacio que más tarde vería nacer a la legendaria Roma.

En 'Lavinia' Ursula K. Le Guin recupera los hechos narrados en los últimos seis cantos del poema épico original, pero dándoles un punto de vista completamente distinto. Si en la Eneida, la joven Lavinia no pronuncia ni una sola frase, ahora es ella quien toma la palabra para narrar, en primera persona, su historia. El resultado es tan hermoso que no creo poder hacerle justicia.

La profecía dijo a Lavinia, hija de un respetado rey latino, que estaba destinada a rechazar a todos sus pretendientes para casarse con un hombre extranjero. Uno de esos hombres que ella misma, a escondidas, ha visto remontando el curso del Tíber. Una guerra estallará entonces entre su propio pueblo y los recién llegados...tras la destrucción llegará un matrimonio y, entonces, la profecía estará cumplida.

Con qué placer he seguido los pasos de Lavinia, desde los días de su niñez, correteando entre colinas, bosques y playas, hasta el momento en que se convierte en esposa, madre y leyenda.

Su precioso testimonio está plagado de vívidas descripciones de la vida cotidiana en el palacio de su padre y de los parajes que lo rodean.
Conforme avanza la narración somos testigos de antiguas creencias y costumbres; de las tareas que cambian con el paso de las estaciones; y, en cada escena, nos perdemos con deleite en una atmósfera única que tiene el aura de las antiguas narraciones míticas.

La vida de Lavinia está marcada por el amor de su padre y de su tierra; por una extraña profecía y por las conversaciones con cierto poeta, que misteriosamente conoce los entresijos de su propia vida y la del hombre que se convertirá en su esposo...un poeta que aparece cada noche entre las sombras para contar a la joven lo que fue, es y será...

No quiero contaros nada más, os dejo el privilegio de adentraros, casi a oscuras, en esta maravillosa novela que ha resultado ser un enorme coup de cœur para mi.

Entre mito, historia y leyenda, Ursula K. le Guin consigue recrear a la vez un tiempo mítico y un tiempo histórico perdidos; el tiempo mítico de la Eneida de Virgilio, que L. Guin alarga más allá de la última línea en que calló el poeta (para así poder narrar la vida completa de Lavinia); y el tiempo histórico de aquellos pequeños reinos y aldeas del Lacio de la Edad del Bronce, por los que andaron dioses y héroes; mujeres y hombres de carne y hueso.
Los antepasados de un gran imperio, que nació en una pequeña aldea dormida entre siete colinas...
Profile Image for Iris ☾ (dreamer.reads).
443 reviews889 followers
April 21, 2021
★★★☆☆ (3,5/5)

«Lavinia» fue publicada en 2008, y en ella Úrsula K. Le Guin, basándose en el poema "Eneida" de Virgilio, nos brinda una visión anterior a la fundación de Roma por parte de Lavinia. Dota de una nueva vida y perspectiva de los personajes que formaron parte de los escritos en los que se narraba la llegada de Eneas a Lacio tras huir de la guerra de Troya.

La historia se centra en nuestra protagonista Lavinia, ella nos relatará en un tono confidencial y personal retazos de su pasado y secretos inconfesables que se ofrecerán en un conjunto de armonía y confianza al lector. La mirada hacia su infancia, pasando por la turbia relación con su madre y la singular y especial cercanía con su padre realzan ese poder íntimo que representa la novela.

En un comienzo, la obra nos seduce por su familiaridad y su narración quizá demasiado sencilla pero directa en la que debo destacar esas conversaciones apasionantes entre Lavinia y Virgilio, noches de confesiones, de relatar historias y de evocar un futuro que llegará inevitablemente. La atmósfera que se crea es sencillamente preciosa.

En este retelling mitológico, Úrsula juega con los saltos temporales en varias ocasiones, nos muestra ritos, costumbres y creencias de la época y los contrastes que había entre las culturas de latinos y griegos. Más allá de eso, se centra en las vidas y experiencias de las mujeres de la época; una visión que encierra grandes pensamientos.

Así como sentí fascinación y curiosidad mientras descubría sus primeras páginas, también siento decir que la historia pierde intensidad, centrándose en un ritmo lento y desprovisto de emoción. Llegando a la conclusión y de manera general he disfrutado de conocer la historia de Lavinia, de la magia que envuelve la mitología pero en definitiva no ha sido un libro inolvidable.
Profile Image for Sarah.
237 reviews1,096 followers
February 2, 2018
The late Ursula K. Le Guin hits it out of the park, as always, with Lavinia.

Our heroine is the human MacGuffin from the second half of Virgil’s Aeneid. The beautiful young princess of Latium (one of many petty kingdoms in the mythic age of pre-Roman Italy), she was betrothed to the warlord Turnus, but an oracle told her father that her rightful husband was in fact Aeneas, the last scion of the royal house of Troy, who had just landed on their shores. These being Greco-Roman mythological figures, what followed was a horrifically bloody war. Virgil’s poem ends abruptly with an uncharacteristically violent act from Aeneas. The poet died with his work incomplete; he asked for his work to be burned, and he was not obeyed.

Le Guin makes Virgil a key character in the novel, a ghostly and wise observer whom only Lavinia, a shrewd and spiritually-minded girl, can see. He tells her what will happen up to a certain point of her life, but cannot see beyond that. He also fusses that he got her hair color wrong and references Dante, the latter being a T.H. White Merlyn moment that had me howling. But Le Guin’s delivery, in Lavinia’s solemn voice, renders the flashes of humor extremely subtle.

In the original Aeneid, Lavinia is given no lines and no hint of personality save that she is a good kid who does what she’s told. Le Guin infuses her with intelligence and courage, but never breaks character with what little was established in Virgil.

There is a lot of woman power in this book—not girl power, which conjures images of a feisty princess on horseback defeating men in battle. There’s a number of books reimagining mythological/legendary characters—Helen, Cassandra, Polyxena, Guinevere—like this, and it is far out of character for any of them. Those roles belonged to Amazons and huntresses; queens and future queens had a different calling. Lavinia emerges from this text with palpable dignity, as a queen, a wife and widow of a king, and a mother of kings and emperors.

About halfway through, the book goes past the point where the original poem ended, but the transition is seamless. Le Guin understands the character well enough that nothing of her doings after the cutoff of the first story seem unreal. To use my favorite Virgilian metaphor, the book could pass through the Horn Gate of true visions, not through the Ivory Gate of false dreams as Aeneas and the Sybil were compelled to do (I will always wonder what that means).

This book is meant for adults, but could easily appeal to teens who are slogging through the Aeneid in English class, so here’s a

Content Advisory

Violence: A fair amount of gory, Virgilian descriptions of battle. Also lots of animal sacrifices, which are upsetting to read about but almost never graphic.

Sex: There are two very brief descriptions of marital sexual activity between Aeneas and Lavinia, poetic and abstract. A kid reading this would learn absolutely nothing about sex that they didn’t already know. There’s fleeting references to sexual rumors about other characters—about a pederastic relationship that continued long past the socially acceptable age back then, and a woman in love with her nephew. A festival is described where the old women sing ditties about male and female private parts—none of the songs are in any part written down. Lavinia notes that kneeling for supplication is degrading, and the nastier warlords might think the supplicant is offering them a sexual favor.

Language: Nothing.

Substance Abuse: Amata and her acolytes get raging drunk for their festival on the mountain, and it causes them to act mad.

Anything Else: There’s a troubling, albeit compassionate, portrayal of a gay male character who hates and mistrusts women. He marries a woman to keep up appearances, but humiliates his wife and accuses her of infidelity to hide his own. This character was a sweet little boy in the Aeneid, and this interpretation is almost unrecognizable—but necessary for the story. Rather like the darkening of Colonel Fitzwilliam’s character in Death Comes to Pemberley.


This is a beautiful companion to one of the best books I ever read for school. I came away inspired by the nobility of Le Guin’s Lavinia. Recommended for adults and mature teens who love the Great Books. You’ll be sorely missed, Ursula K.
Profile Image for Nick.
Author 21 books102 followers
July 1, 2008
I'm a huge fan of Ursula K. LeGuin, but this is not her best book. She is a giant in the fantasy-sci-fi field, with books like The Left Hand of Darkness and The Earthsea Trilogy, but Lavinia is only the second half of a great story. It's a brilliant concept; she takes a character mentioned in passing in Virgil's Aeneid, the wife of Aeneas, and creates a story around her. But she should have jumped in with both feet and defined a whole world, as only she can do. Instead, the story keeps nervously returning to Virgil, and Lavinia is somehow aware she's only a character in a book some of the time and a full character in her own right at other times. The whole thing has a cursory feel, like the treatment for a novel in places. In fact, had she focused on the 3 years that Lavinia and Aeneas were together, and made that the whole novel, she could have created near-unbearable tension as we build up to Aeneas' death. Instead, we get a summary of her life, a nod to Aeneas, and an even quicker summary of her life after. Wonderful idea, not quite a book.
Profile Image for Clouds.
228 reviews632 followers
May 26, 2014

Following the resounding success of my Locus Quest, I faced a dilemma: which reading list to follow it up with? Variety is the spice of life, so I’ve decided to diversify and pursue six different lists simultaneously. This book falls into my LOCUS FANTASY list.

As the Locus Sci-Fi Award winners list treated me so kindly, I figure I’ll trust those same good folk to pick me some stars in their sister-list, the Locus Fantasy Award winners.

Having never read any Le Guin before, I was a little unsure about where to start. I didn’t want to dive straight in with a big series, which ruled out her most celebrated works, the Earthsea Cycle and the Hainish Cycle, and then Lavinia popped up on my radar as the 2009 winner of the Locus Fantasy award. At the time I was working my way through every winner of the Locus Sci-Fi award (and loving it) so I decided to branch and I try a couple of the fantasy winners.

With the clarity of twenty-twenty hindsight, I can say that this probably wasn’t the right Le Guin for me to start with. Underwhelmed is the key word.

I was excited by the concept – taking a classic like The Aeneid as a launch point to tell the story of a key, but underexplored character. Dan Simmons’ Illium is one of my all-time favourites, and the sci-fi twist he puts on the Illiad is mind-blowing so I guess I was hoping for echoes of that here. Comparing these two books is like comparing chalk and cheese but far more extreme, like comparing chalk and cybernetic A.I.

Words that come to mind around Lavinia are “meandering”, “dreamy”, “floaty”, and “gentle”. Reading this book is no thrill-ride. It’s like carefully folding paper boats and setting them to sail on a quietly babbling brook, under the serene glow of a late spring sunset, while the breeze whispers through the droopy willow branches.

I can’t fault the writing – Le Guin is a quality wordsmith with a keen eye for character – but the overall experience just wasn’t my thing. It made me drowsy. Once I’ve started a book I always see it through, because even the most mediocre of tales might have a sting in its tail that makes it worthwhile, but no such luck here. It was like listening to pan-pipe music; inoffensive, but basically dull.

There were some very pretty passages of description, and some dramatic tension did creep in as we went along – but by that point I’d already missed my window to emotionally invest in the outcome. There’s some solid research gone into the world building and it’s all very well constructed and convincing – but it just didn’t move me.

The story revolves around Lavinia’s (harridan) mother pressuring her to marry a local lord (who’s a bit of a psycho), but she knows (through dreams and prophecy) that she will marry a foreigner (Aeneus). Low and behold, Aeneus rocks up, she loves him, and war breaks out with the jilted other blah. There are some nice metafic touches with Lavinia talking direct to the reader and chatting with the ghost of Virgil, but not enough to stop my eyes sliding off the page.

2 stars – Lavinia is not terrible, but I can’t really recommend it.
Profile Image for Tatevik.
457 reviews90 followers
November 13, 2018
I don't read a lot of YA books and can't say for sure if they are similar to this book, but during the reading I was thinking - this is how YA should be: with deep meaning, with characters as model roles to learn from, and if it's historical - help to learn something you won't maybe sit down to read yourself.
But bear in mind that this is not a kind of YA only YA readers would read. It's kind of Harry Potter-ish or Lord of the Rings-ish YA that everyone would enjoy.
Actually, the writing was a little difficult. I was catching myself sometimes with thoughts understanding that I had just read about a page or two mechanically. It felt like reading classics. Well, it should be taking into account the background of the story and the source of the writing. What I liked was how the author was showing the role of the woman in society no matter what century it is. It wasn't a kind of book saying women are better, they should rule the world, bla bla bla... No, it was about equality of genders in its own way with strong characters.
Three stars, because maybe I was expecting more...

Ok, updating and rating 4 stars!
Profile Image for Teresa.
1,492 reviews
July 22, 2018
A "Eneida", de Ursula K. Le Guin...

Na Ilíada, Helena foi causa de uma guerra entre Gregos e Troianos.
Na Eneida, Lavínia foi causa de uma guerra entre Latinos e Troianos.
Enquanto Homero deu importância a Helena, Virgílio menosprezou Lavínia. No entanto, segundo a lenda, serão os descendentes de Lavínia, que criarão uma grande civilização: a Romana.

Os acontecimentos narrados neste romance - que originaram a guerra - são fiéis aos da Eneida, omitindo a participação dos deuses, e resumindo as descrições das batalhas. A vida de Lavínia, dos seus amigos e família, assim como o que sucede após o fim da guerra, são da imaginação de Le Guin.
Profile Image for Paula.
417 reviews246 followers
March 26, 2021
LeGuin alterna el pasado, el presente y el futuro en una narración en primera persona que es objetiva y, sin embargo, tremendamente emocional. Lavinia se duele por la guerra pero es ecuánime en el tratamiento de los personajes que la rodean. No hay héroes ni villanos en los textos de LeGuin, solo hombres con aciertos y errores, valentías y miedos. Con una majestuosa reina Lavinia observándolos a todos y pidiéndole piedad al poeta.
Profile Image for Roxana Chirilă.
1,009 reviews127 followers
June 6, 2021
I found "Lavinia" dull, despite believing, at the same time, that it's masterfully written. Square that circle, if you can.

About three quarters of the way in, I wondered what was left to tell of the tale, and finished it simply to finish it.

"Lavinia" is a story based on Virgil's "Aeneid" (which I still haven't read) - more precisely, on the story if Aeneas's wife in Italy, when he finishes his epic quest that led his people from Troy to Carthage to the province where his descendants will, eventually, found Rome.

I picked it up because it's written by Ursula K. Le Guin, without bothering to read the summary and see this is yet another retelling of an ancient tale from a feminist perspective (I've read Atwood's "Penelopiad" some years ago, and Madeline Miller's "Circe" a couple of months ago) and was somewhat surprised to open it and see it wasn't science fiction or fantasy. Well, never mind that - it's the best retelling I've read so far, because it stands quite well on its own.

I love what Le Guin did with Lavinia: as Virgil wrote nearly nothing of her, Le Guin was free to write anything she wanted of the princess, later Aeneas's queen. After interacting with so many of the stories told today (on TV, but not only) of women disliking their roles, or being oppressed by virtue of their womanhood in the same way we would feel to be oppressed in their shoes, Lavinia was a breath of fresh air. She's a woman of her culture. She upholds values foreign to us, such as piety. She honors the gods and looks for guidance and tries to follow fate. She doesn't chafe under restraints, nor is she powerless under the heavy boot of the men in her life.

Lavinia is unyielding when she decides something must be done, and she takes gods and men on her side. Her motives are, perhaps, alien - she wants to do the right thing, the preordained thing, the things gods want - and her methods are rarely those of open conflict, but she gets the job done through the means she has, within the role she has, maintaining the respect of those around her. You have to respect that.

Another thing that's interesting is that Lavinia is real, but also aware that she lives in the mythological world of Virgil, while musing on what that means to her and contradicting him about the world he has created.

And yet another thing is the setting: a rural, pretty primitive world of kings who rule over towns and endless small conflicts, while obeying the familiar gods.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
425 reviews182 followers
September 12, 2021
DNF 25% - not terrible and rather nicely written, but I'm over stories that are mostly about women listening to men tell stories. I might have tried harder had it not been due back at the library or if I had not been reading Murderbot. Apparently I identify more with depressed misanthropic robots than obscure women of antiquity. What a surprise!
Profile Image for Laura.
950 reviews20 followers
May 27, 2022
Me fascina la mitología, especialmente la griega, y este retelling me ha parecido la mezcla perfecta entre el pasado y el presente. Por una parte, la esencia del mito antiguo se mantiene, pero por otra a los personajes se les dota con ciertos rasgos y carácter más modernos y actualizados. Se siguen comportando como personas de la época que corresponde, pero son capaces de razonar y ofrecer argumentos (sobre todo los personajes femeninos) que se pueden considerar típicos de nuestra actualidad. Ha sido todo un viaje, me ha gustado mucho.
Profile Image for Robert.
816 reviews44 followers
May 19, 2010
Why do Americans write "Vergil" and the British write "Virgil"?

This book is something of a metaphysical head-scratcher; it is the first person narrative of the life of a woman who knows she isn't real! This appears to be a refutation of Descartes' famous "cogito ergo sum" (as if any more such were required).

It's an interesting tale with convincing characters but perhaps too much time spent dwelling on childhood (something that LeGuin has done repeatedly in my view). LeGuin claims to have been inspired directly by the Aeneid, rather than making a feminist polemic a la The Penelopiad but Lavinia laments her powerlessness in a Patriarchal society. This seems realistic rather than overtly feminist in that she doesn't have whole-sale 21st Century Western liberal attitudes; she's not agitating to abolish slavery and create a democracy, just responding in a believable manner to the situation she finds herself in - unable to choose her own husband. Lavinia rebels against her own powerlessness, however.

At the end, Lavinia is transformed into an owl; this immediately made me think of Blodauwedd from the Mabinogion, who also is the creation of another (a magician, not a poet) and unable to choose her own husband and who also rebels - and is also transformed into a owl after the fighting is over. I wonder if LeGuin had that in mind?
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Shayne.
Author 12 books344 followers
January 3, 2010
I gave this book four stars for its credible evocation of a very different time and place; for the feeling it gave of research thoroughly done but applied with a light hand; and most of all for the beauty of Le Guin's prose. The lady simply has a way with words.

Lavinia never speaks a word in The Aeneid; Le Guin gives her a voice. She also has Lavinia muse on her own status as the creation of a poet, and the form of limited immortality her incomplete rendering gives her. The book can be read as a simple narrative, and as an invitation to the reader to muse on the roles of creator and created.

Le Guin's cool, detached style meant I wasn't moved by this story, even when it was recounting tragic loss. Lavinia tells us she adored Aeneas, and I believed her—because she's an honest girl, not because I felt her emotion. Her Lavinia reminded me quite a lot of Tenar, who is one of my favourites of Le Guin's creations. They have much of the same strength, patience, and devotion to duty.

This is a fine piece of work, and a pleasure to read.
Profile Image for Alberto Delgado.
582 reviews106 followers
April 30, 2018
Ursula K. Le Guin era una de mis autoras pendientes de leer por ser de esas escritoras de las que solo leo buenas criticas. Y me he ido a estrenar con una de sus obras que se salen mas de sus libros habituales de ciencia ficción y fantasía con una novela que se mueve entre la novela histórica y la mitología greco-romana . Justo me ha pillado su lectura en el momento en el que las mujeres están reivindicando en todo el mundo ocupar el lugar de igualdad con los hombres que por justicia merecen y me encuentro este libro en el que la autora da protagonismo a un personaje femenino que en la Eneida de Virgilio no deja de ser un personaje secundario para convertirse aquí en protagonista absoluta de la historia. Una maravilla de novela a la que no doy 5 estrellas porque en mi forma de puntuar eso solo lo reservo para libros que considero obras maestras que deberían ser leídos por todo el mundo y en este caso no creo que sea así por la temática y por la forma en la que está escrito.
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