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Vergil: The Aeneid
by John Porter, University of Saskatchewan

Notice: This material is the copyrighted property of the author and should not be reproduced without the author's permission.

Brief plot outline of the Aeneid [SparkNotes]

Read Books 1, 2, 4, 6, 7 [esp. lines 1-640], 8 [esp. lines 93-end], 9 [esp. lines 176-449], 10 [esp. lines 362-605 and 689-end], 12 [esp. lines 791-end]

A number of features of Vergil's early career might have suggested that, like Horace, he was destined to become a poet laureate under the Augustan regime — a bard whose verses would celebrate the glories of Augustus' reign in terms recalling Augustus' own self-presentation in the Res Gestae. First there is Vergil's early association with Maecenas and Octavian (41 BC) occasioned by the loss and restoration of his family estate near Mantua, an event recalled so effusively in Eclogue 1. Then there is the portrayal, at the end of Georgics 1 (published in 30 BC), of chaos loosed upon the earth by the heinous assassination of Julius Caesar — a passage that directly recalls the version of events promoted by Octavian and that cries out for the advent of a leader who might save Rome from its corrupt and self-destructive ways. Finally, there is the opening of Georgics 3, where the poet alludes to a future poem that will celebrate "Caesar's fiery battles" and, comparing this poem to a grand temple dedicated to Caesar's triumphs, suggests a work fashioned in the manner of earlier Hellenistic poems celebrating the triumphs of contemporary generals. (Compare, e.g., the epics of Naevius and Ennius celebrating Rome's history.)

The work that Vergil left behind upon his death in 19 BC was of quite a different character. Rather than a poetic account of Philippi, Actium, the settlement of the eastern provinces, the institution of the principate, and other achievements of Augustus, the Aeneid deals with the mythical journey of Aeneas and his followers from Troy to Italy and the further travails that confronted them when they attempted to settle in Latium. While this tale is told in such a way as to suggest numerous connections with the career of Octavian/Augustus (some of them quite overt), the precise relationship of the poem to contemporary events is far from straightforward. As a result, the Aeneid has been read both as an imperialistic tract, designed to validate Augustus' usurpation of traditional republican institutions and the further expansion of Roman imperial authority, and as a profoundly pessimistic work that questions Augustus' claims to being the rational, beneficent savior of Rome while raising troubling doubts about the true nature of the "golden age" that he claims to have established.

This ambiguity is due in large part to the multiple levels of discourse at work throughout the poem. There are three principal contexts that must be kept in mind when attempting to make sense of the Aeneid:

  1. The Mythical/Literary Context
  2. The Philosophical Context
  3. The Historical Context

1a) The Mythical Context

The Aeneid assumes a readership that is familiar with the myth of the Trojan War and the early history of Rome: the Greek expedition against Troy to seek revenge for the kidnapping of Helen by the Trojan prince Paris; the eventual fall of Troy through the cunning of Ulysses (Gk. Odysseus), who devises the stratagem of the Wooden Horse; Aeneas' escape from the city with his father Anchises, his son Ascanius/Iülus, and a small band of other survivors; their eventual arrival in Latium, where Aeneas marries Lavinia, the daughter of the local king Latinus, and establishes the city of Lavinium; the later founding of Alba Longa by Ascanius; and, several generations later, the founding of Rome by Romulus and Remus.

[For a general account of the background to the Trojan War, see the relevant course notes on Homer's Iliad. For Aeneas' journeys and the eventual founding of Rome, see the selections from Livy's account (which presents a slightly different version of events) in the Resource Booklet.]

[An outline of the essential plot of the Aeneid, along with a list of the main characters, can be found in the Resource Booklet. For a fuller account, see the introduction to West's translation (pp. x-xlii).]

1b) The Literary Context

Although Vergil occasionally incorporates elements from less familiar versions of Aeneas' story, and even introduces some new wrinkles of his own, the most striking feature of his narrative for a contemporary audience would have been the manner in which he structures his account to recall earlier (Greek) literary models and to generate interesting parallels and contrasts between different sections of the poem.

Although we are using a prose translation in class, it is important to remember that the Aeneid is a poem, composed in a Graeco-Roman tradition of epic heroic verse that reaches back to the beginnings of the Greek literary tradition. Like Lucretius' didactic poem, it is written in dactylic hexameter, the characteristic meter of epic verse. Unlike Lucretius, however, Vergil operates within the tradition of heroic epic: i.e., a lengthy poetic account of the struggles of a valiant but far from perfect hero, whose adventures in some way highlight profound truths about the human condition.

[For the Roman background, see the discussion of Early Roman Literature in the introduction to Roman New Comedy. On Homer's verse, see the course notes on the Iliad as Oral Formulaic Poetry.]

The two most influential epics known to Vergil's audience were the Iliad and the Odyssey of the Greek poet Homer, which were probably given their final shape in the mid- to late eighth century BC (i.e., some 600 years prior to Vergil's day). Both of these are lengthy and complex works that tell exciting stories, but (in the case of the Iliad in particular) with tragic overtones.

The Iliad: the Iliad is a lengthy poem of some 15,693 lines, divided into 24 books (cantos) and has as its theme the anger (menis) of the Greek hero Achilles, the greatest of the heroes to sail to Troy. In the tenth year of the war, Achilles quarrels with the leader of the expedition, Agamemnon, over a slight to Achilles' honor. In his anger, Achilles withdraws from the fighting and wins the aid of Zeus, the king of the gods, to see to it that the war turns against the Greeks. Eventually (Book 9) things begin to go so badly that Agamemnon sends a delegation to Achilles to offer him compensation and ask him to rejoin the fighting. In an effort to make good the slight to Achilles' honor, Agamemnon promises an immense amount of treasure, but Achilles still refuses to help the Greeks. In the anger of the moment, he declares that he will only fight once the Trojans attack his own ships: at that point, he feels, he will be able to rejoin the battle as a point of personal honor rather than as Agamemnon's hired lackey. In the course of Book 12 (the center of the poem) the Trojans bring the war right up to the fortifications surrounding the Greek ships. Under the leadership of the heroic Hector, they manage to breach the Greek defenses and are soon in a position to destroy the Greek fleet. At this point, Achilles sees the weakness of his plan: should the Trojans destroy the fleet, the Greek forces would be placed in a vulnerable position and could potentially be wiped out. Unable to rejoin the battle himself without losing face, he is persuaded to allow his loyal friend Patroclus to join the battle, disguised in Achilles' armor, in order to win the Greeks some breathing room. Unfortunately, Patroclus gets caught up in the fighting and, contrary to Achilles' instructions, attempts to take the city of Troy himself, only to be killed by Hector with the aid of the pro-Trojan god Apollo (Book 16). At this point, Achilles falls into an inhuman rage: his former anger at Agamemnon and the Greeks is forgotten in his grief at the death of his friend and his desire to take revenge on Hector. In his anger, Achilles slaughters Trojans by the dozens and in a heartless manner that indicates his own despair: not only has he allowed his friend to die; he now realizes that, in avenging Patroclus' death, he will be sealing his own fate, since his mother Thetis has told him that his own death is destined to follow soon upon that of Hector. Rather than winning glory by taking Troy, Achilles realizes that he is doomed to perish along with the men he is slaughtering, all as a result of his quarrel with Agamemnon. (At this point in the poem, the reader gets the sense that the humane qualities of the formerly noble Achilles have perished along with his friend.) Eventually (Book 22) Achilles and Hector meet and the latter is killed, prophesying Achilles' own death with his last words. Achilles holds elaborate funeral games for Patroclus (Book 23) but is still overwhelmed with anger, grief, and despair at the unexpected turn his fate has taken, and expresses this despair by continuing his excessive mourning of Patroclus' death and by mistreating the corpse of Hector, which he repeatedly drags around Patroclus' funeral mound. The poem concludes (Book 24) with the elderly Trojan king Priam, Hector's father, coming in person to Achilles' tent and begging for the return of his son's body for due burial. Rather than killing Priam on the spot, as might have been expected, Achilles joins Priam in his grief: the elderly Trojan king, who has seen so many of his sons slaughtered and knows that both he himself and his city are doomed, finds common ground with the brilliant young Greek hero, who has lost his best friend and knows that he too soon will die. Thus the poem concludes with Achilles' anger having been assuaged, but not in the way the audience might have expected: where the initial focus was on concern for personal honor and social standing, the poem's conclusion reflects on the way in which suffering and grief bind the poem's human agents together in a manner that transcends their political and cultural differences.

The Odyssey: the Odyssey is a somewhat shorter work than the Iliad (12,110 lines) and seemingly lighter in tone. It too is divided into 24 books. The Odyssey tells of the struggles of the Greek hero Odysseus to return home from Troy and regain his position as king of Ithaca, an island off the west coast of Greece. Unlike the darkly tragic Achilles, Odysseus is much more the cunning hero of folktale, a survivor who is forced to deal with a series of monsters and supernatural creatures. The challenges facing Odysseus are two-fold, but both require cunning and finesse of the poem's hero. On the one hand, he has to negotiate the various dangers and temptations that confront him in the course of his wanderings as he attempts to make his way home from Troy. The situation in Ithaca itself is equally problematic, however: in the course of his twenty-year absence, a group of suitors has gathered at Odysseus' palace seeking the hand of his wife Penelope and, with it, the throne of Ithaca. The suitors have established themselves in the palace and refuse to depart until Penelope accepts one of them as her husband. Neither Penelope nor Odysseus' son Telemachus (who is just on the verge of adulthood) are able to compel the suitors to leave. As a result, Odysseus must confront a double danger upon reaching Ithaca: as part of their ambitious schemes, the suitors are openly seeking his death; on the other hand, the experience of Agamemnon (who was murdered by his adulterous wife Clytemnestra upon his return from Troy) has warned Odysseus to take care to test Penelope's loyalty as well.

Books 1-4 deal with the youthful Telemachus' attempt to ascertain his father's fate. Guided by Athena, Telemachus journeys to the Greek mainland to visit Nestor, king of Pylos, and Menelaus, king of Sparta and husband of Helen. Neither can tell him anything specific about Odysseus' current whereabouts, but Menelaus relates a prophesy that promises Odysseus' eventual return. Book 5 turns to Odysseus himself, who has been stranded for some years on the island of the sorceress-goddess Calypso ("the hider"), who wishes to keep Odysseus as her lover. The messenger-god Hermes is sent by Zeus to command Calypso to release Odysseus: he builds a raft and nearly makes it home before the sea-god Poseidon (who is angry at Odysseus for reasons we will see in a moment) raises a storm that whips him away helplessly to the land of the Phaeacians, a blessed people who live in cultured ease on a mystical island. There Odysseus is graciously received by the youthful princess Nausicaä (who clearly sees him as potential husband) and, subsequently, by her parents, the pious king Alcinoös and queen Arete. Eventually, Odysseus' identity is revealed and he gives a lengthy narration (Books 9-12) of his adventures upon leaving Troy.

Among the various trials he faced: the Lotus-Eaters, who kindly offer his men some of the magical lotus plant, which immediately reduces anyone who tastes it to a state of blissful torpor and makes them forget all else; the Cyclops, a one-eyed giant who traps Odysseus and his men in his cave and begins to devour them raw, one-by-one, until he is eventually blinded by Odysseus: as a result, the Cyclops prays to his father Poseidon to bring revenge on the hero and his men — the source of Poseidon's anger mentioned above; Aeolus, king of the winds, who traps the adverse winds in a bag, thereby assuring Odysseus of a swift return home, until his crew (thinking there is wealth in the bag) open it and send Odysseus' ships careening back to where they had begun; the Laestrygonians, a race of savage giants who destroy all of Odysseus' fleet except the ship on which he is sailing; the enchantress-goddess Circe, who magically transforms Odysseus' men into pigs until Odysseus (who has been warned in advance by Hermes and given a magic herb to protect him) defeats and beds her; the land of the dead, where Odysseus consults the spirit of the Greek seer Teiresias and meets the souls of various Greek heroes, who warn him about the situation back in Ithaca; the Sirens, who sing a magically alluring song that lures sailors to their doom; Scylla and Charybdis, a man-eating monster and deadly whirlpool between which Odysseus must sail; the Island of the Sun, where Odysseus and his men are marooned: faced with starvation, Odysseus' crew defy his commands and slaughter some of the sacred cattle of Sun, thereby assuring their doom in a subsequent shipwreck; Odysseus survives, and finds himself on the island of Calypso, who holds him prisoner as her mortal lover — the point where Odysseus' tale began.

Having told his tale, Odysseus begs for assistance in returning home, using great tact in declining the implied erotic interest of Nausicaä. The Phaeacians conduct him to Ithaca on one of their magical ships and thus Book 13 (the middle of the poem) finds the hero confronting the second element of his trials, the situation in Ithaca. Having been magically disgused by Athena, he bands together with a loyal servant Eumaeus and his son Telemachus. He enters the palace disguised as a beggar and witnesses first-hand the treacherous arrogance of the Suitors. Finally, he and Telemachus slaughter the Suitors (Book 22); Odysseus is restored as the lawful ruler of Ithaca and is reunited with Penelope.

The Aeneid: if you consider the basic structure of the Aeneid, you can see that it is divided into two halves:

Books 1-6 deal with Aeneas' wanderings in a manner that repeatedly suggests parallels with those of Odysseus. Like Odysseus, Aeneas is plagued by a hostile god (Juno), who repeatedly frustrates his efforts to reach his promised destination. Like Odysseus, Aeneas finds himself stranded in the realm of a powerful female individual (Dido) who develops an erotic interest in him and also threatens the success of his mission (compare Calypso, Circe, Nausicaä). Like Odysseus, Aeneas must deal with recalcitrant elements among his crew, who disobey his wishes and place his mission in jeopardy (e.g., the burning of his fleet by the Trojan women in Book 5). Also like Odysseus, Aeneas journeys to the underworld, where he meets with various figures of the past and is given information regarding his future travails.

Books 7-12, on the other hand, deal with events in Italy, in a manner that repeatedly recalls Homer's Iliad. Like the Greeks at Troy, Aeneas leads an invading fleet against a walled city. Once again the conflict concerns a woman (Lavinia) and a dispute as to who might be her lawful husband. As in the Iliad, Aeneas' forces fare poorly in his absence and face a desperate battle for their ships. Like Achilles, Aeneas loses a dear friend (Pallas) and, in his rage, kills his chief opponent (Turnus).

In modeling his poem in this way, Vergil displays a great deal of daring: many poets had employed Homer's works as a source of inspiration, but none had done so in a way that so directly invited a comparison with Homer himself. On one level, Vergil's decision sends a clear and quite daring message: the Aeneid is to have the same import for Augustan Rome as Homer's epics had for Greece — a foundational text that captures the essence of the spirit of his age. (In that sense, Vergil lives up to the grandiose billing presented in Georgics 3 [above].) Vergil's use of Homer is not slavish, however: he does not, as it were, attempt to "re-tell" the Iliad and Odyssey in a Roman context. For one thing, he invokes a number of other literary models in the course of his poem beside the Homeric epics, three of the most prominent being Greek tragedy (especially Euripides), Hellenistic epic (especially Apollonius of Rhodes' Argonautica), and early Roman epic (especially Ennius). In this sense, the Aeneid is very Hellenistic in nature: it constantly invites its well-read audience to notice ways in which the poet has employed various literary models and recast them, so as to color the readers' response to his work. Thus, for example, the nature of Aeneas' mission — and of the trials and temptations that distract him from it — are quite different from those of Homer's Odysseus, while the wrath of Aeneas in the latter sections of the poem again carries very different connotations from that of Achilles in the Iliad.

The most notable difference lies in the conception of heroism that informs Vergil's poem. His hero Aeneas is compelled to live up to different standards from those of Achilles, who pursues personal honor and glory through the demonstration of valor on the battlefield, or, again, those of Odysseus, who is very much the cunning folk-tale survivor. Instead, Aeneas is called upon to meet a selfless standard of endurance and duty to others. He has been promised a glorious future, but is confronted by repeated setbacks and personal losses (Creusa, Anchises). Repeatedly, the carrying out of his duty seems to entail the death of noble, sympathetic characters (Dido, Turnus, Lausus). And always there is the sense of his duty to the larger community — both that of his contemporaries and that of future generations to come. As a result, in the case of Aeneas we are constantly aware of a distinction between the inner and the outer man, between the public face and the private individual (something that never occurs in the case of Homer's Achilles, and only superficially in the case of his Odysseus). Thus, for example, our first view of Aeneas in Book 1 is that of an individual in despair who nonetheless does his duty by his troops.

In order to understand character of Aeneas, and of the problems confronting him, one must deal with:

2) The Philosophical Context

The most important of the contemporary philosophical traditions to inform Vergil's poem is that of the Stoics, who advocate an intellectual system first developed in Athens by the Greek philosopher Zeno in ca. 300 BC. The Stoics believe that the universe is fundamentally rational and orderly, and that it is guided by an ethereal fire at its periphery which constitutes the rational element in all things — not only humans' ability to reason but the orderly progress of the constellations and the planets, the revolving seasons, etc.

The proper goal in life, then (according to the Stoics), is to live in accordance with the principles that govern this universe — i.e. in accordance with reason. For the person who conducts his life in this way (and the Stoics do tend to focus on the male as the truly rational member of the human species), nothing bad can occur: since everything in the universe is governed by rational forces, any events that happen to us must be either good or, at worst, irrelevant. For the Stoics, then (as for Socrates), virtue is firmly associated with knowledge and reason, and the good man is he who lives his life firmly in accordance with this principle.

The principal threat to virtue and happiness, on the Stoic view, is the irrational — i.e., the emotions. The irrational comes to be associated in particular with *ira, which is technically a savage anger or rage (since this is the emotion that the Romans most feel the need to be on guard against) but for the purposes of this course will serve as a symbol for all of the passionate emotions that might lead an individual to stray from the path of reason.

In its broad outlines, and stripped of its more impractical excesses, this philosophical system is congenial to the Romans, who adopt a modified form of Stoicism that serves to justify their passion for doing their duty to the gods, the state, and one's family. (The individual who is largely responsible for this recasting of the Stoic system is Panaetius, a member of the Scipionic Circle: under his influence, the principle of reason comes to be associated more closely with devotion to one's duty — recall, e.g., Horace's portrayal of Regulus in Odes 3.5.) The term for this sense of duty — to gods, state, and family — is *pietas, which gives us the English "piety" but has a much broader and, in many ways, deeper meaning for the Romans. This virtue is epitomized by the image of Aeneas escaping from the ashes of Troy in accordance with the gods' commands, with his elderly father Anchises on his back (the latter carrying the family's household gods or penates) and leading his young son Ascanius by the hand: here we see a man literally carrying his family's history and religious traditions on his back, dutifully obedient to the gods' commands, and leading by the hand the future hope not only of his family but of his entire community.)

In accordance with Stoic principles, the Aeneid presents a world that is very much governed by a rational order, embodied in the figure of the chief god Jupiter and associated with the fated future of Aeneas and his people, but one where that order is constantly being challenged or undermined by the forces of irrationality. As a result, the poem presents a series of interrelated polarities: male vs. female; rational vs. irrational; fate vs. chaos/destruction.

On the one hand we find a group of male authority figures, each of which is associated with the forces of reason and the orderly accomplishment of Aeneas' mission: Jupiter, Neptune (who calms the storm in Book 1), Anchises, Evander, Turnus (initially, at least).

On the other hand is a group of female figures, each of whom is associated with irrational forces that threaten to stymie Aeneas' destiny: Juno, Dido, the Trojan Women (in Book 5), Allecto, Amata.

Caught between these two poles is the character Aeneas.

Note once again how the poem divides into two halves. The first half is dominated by the figure of Dido, who is prey to the irrational passion of amor; the second half is dominated by the figure of Turnus, who falls victim to the passion of ira proper (i.e., martial rage). The similarities between the two halves is highlighted, e.g., by the similar interventions of Juno in Books 1 and 7: in each instance, all seems to be going well for Aeneas and his mission when mindless chaos suddenly erupts once Juno and her agents interfere. (Here Vergil seems to be following good Stoic doctrine: while the emotions of love and hate may seem to be opposites of one another — the one apparently positive, the other negative — they are regarded as identical in the Stoic scheme of things, since both involve straying from the path of reason. Note, e.g., the unwholesomeness of the union between Juno and Venus in Book 4, which tends to point to the same conclusion, as these two goddess team together to bring about Dido's ghastly end.) [FN 1]

In the course of the poem we find an Aeneas who attempts to live in accordance to the dictates of reason or fate, to do his duty and fulfill his destiny, but who is constantly frustrated in these efforts. He is also very human in his weakness (again, a trait that distinguishes him from the Homeric Achilles), yielding in turn to the "temptations" of amor and ira.

Books 1-4 present an Aeneas who is worn out with cares and wandering, and who is tempted to settle with Dido and her people. Dido is an altogether sympathetic figure, an individual who herself has suffered deeply and who has undergone a fate very similar to that of Aeneas. It is altogether natural for him to want to give in — to simply stop struggling to fulfill his as yet only vaguely defined destiny — yet in the end he is compelled by Jupiter and by his fate to go on, thus condemning Dido to a grisly and ignominious end and leaving the formerly peaceful and harmonious Carthaginians in a state of civil disarray.

Dido's fate, in particular points to a question that frequently arises in the course of this poem (and one that must have been very much on the mind of Vergil's contemporaries as they contemplated the Golden Age that Augustus was crafting): does the end justify such costs along the way? Aeneas' mission will eventually lead to the founding of Rome and the flourishing of the Roman empire — a source (in the Romans' eyes, at least) of ordered culture and civilization for the peoples of the world. While the Aeneid repeatedly reminds us of this glorious future, it seems constantly to focus upon the terrible costs entailed by Aeneas' destiny — the human loss and suffering that is the apparent cost of his grand mission being accomplished.

Similar question arise in regard to the noble Turnus, who is another sympathetic figure who comes to be utterly ruined as Aeneas' destiny reaches its fulfillment. As we will see, however, Books 7-12 are much more troubling in their implications: as Aeneas himself succumbs to the forces of ira, he seems to become all too like the "irrational" opponents against whom he is fighting. Book 10 of the Aeneid, in particular, offers a profoundly troubling vision of the potential moral confusion inherent in war and of the way in which hatred can reduce individuals to a lowest common denominator. The Stoics' belief in an essentially rational universe, and in humanity's ability to live in accordance with the dictates of such a rational world order (if it exists), seems to come ever more into question as the poem progresses.

3) The Historical Context

The Aeneid deals only with the story of Aeneas' journey to Italy and the initial conflicts that await him there. But there are many references to later events that serve to tie Aeneas' story directly to the later history of Rome and, more particularly, the age of Augustus. Some of these are quite overt. In Book 8, for example, Aeneas visits the future site of Rome and is given a tour of Rome in its humble, pristine state, recalling Augustus' attempt to foster a notion that he had restored the straightforward, antique virtues that had inspired the Romans in the early days of the city's existence. In Book 6, the spirit of the dead Anchises gives Aeneas an overview of his descendants' future achievements, told (as so often in the Roman historical tradition) via a series of biographical vignettes, with that of Augustus prominent among them. At the conclusion of Book 8, Aeneas — like Homer's Achilles — is presented with a glorious shield that is a gift from the gods: on it, we find the history of Rome inscribed, with Augustus' victory at Actium very much front and center.

Other references are more subtle. When, for example, Aeneas settles in Carthage as the consort of a foreign queen and begins to "go native" (as evidenced, for example, by his adopting elements of the local dress) the Roman reader would inevitably have sensed an uncomfortable resemblance to Antony's relationship with Cleopatra, a connection that helps to suggest how misguided and ill-fated is Aeneas' all too human desire to put an end to his wanderings and settle down with the hospitable Carthaginians.

It is necessary to remember that the Aeneid was written in ca. 29-19 BC. It was begun at the time of Octavian's triumphant return from the East and composed in the period when the Principate was first being established. Again and again, we find a correspondences between Aeneas and Octavian/Augustus: both, for example, are founding fathers of the Roman state; both are champions of pietas; both have to endure a lengthy struggle to bring order to a chaotic world.

This last similarity is particularly striking: repeatedly, the Aeneid presents a world caught up in mindless slaughter, in a manner that directly recalls the civil wars of the Late Republic. (Note, e.g., the murky confusion, savagery, and futility that mark the fighting on the night of Troy's fall.) In this regard, the conclusion of the poem and the death of Turnus are particularly important. In contrast to the Iliad, which ends on a note of reconciliation and a somber sense of shared human suffering, the Aeneid concludes with the killing of the helpless Turnus by an enraged Aeneas. Scholars have long been divided on how to explain this ending. Is it merely a striking conclusion? — a logical place to end the poem, with the death of the last opponent of Aeneas' destiny? Or does it represent an indictment of Octavian/Augustus and his claims to have established a rational and pious Golden Age, a betrayal of the Roman mission to "impose a settled pattern upon peace, to pardon the defeated and war down the proud" (Book 6, lines 852-53)? (For the latter reading, one might compare the conclusion of Jesus Christ Superstar, which ends with Christ's final words ("Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.") followed immediately by utter darkness and silence: is the conclusion of Vergil's poem intended to convey a similarly bleak shock?)

The safest conclusion would seem to be that Vergil's interests are much broader than mere politics (whether pro- or anti-Augustan). His poem offers a troubled view of a world where noble intentions and the forces of rationality constantly are assailed by irrational, destructive forces to which all — even the most noble and kindly intentioned individuals — eventually succumb. In the end, the Aeneid reflects the angst-ridden outlook of the generation that came of age in the era of the civil wars.


[FN 1] Here it is important to recall as well that amor for the Romans is not simply "affection" but, in this context at least, a powerful erotic passion such as that decried in Lucretius, Book 4. [Return to text]

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