Le Guin's novel tells the story of Lavinia, the daughter of an ancient Italian king. The characters, settings, and surrounding events are based on the Aeneid, an epic poem written by the ancient Roman poet, Vergil. In contrast to Lavinia's literary origins, the focus of Le Guin's novel is centered on the character of Lavinia, who only plays a peripheral role in Vergil's poem. The narrative is told in the first person from Lavinia's point of view. Her experiences converge on the themes of womanhood, agency and fate, religious piety, and duty.