The Aeneid: Virgil


Virgil and his context

- 2 September 31 BC Gaius Julius Octavianus defeated Mark Antony and Cleopatra at the battle of Actium

- He then emerged as the ruler of the Roman world. This was a decisive moment in history. A year later, Virgil began work on The Aeneid

- 27 BC Octavian recieved the title of Augustus, and established peace throughout the Roman world. For the Romans it was a true peace and marked the end of civil strife in Italy after decades of power struggles between rival leaders

- Augustus died in AD 14, after having established the Roman Empire

- The idea that Augustus was the 'promised saviour' of his people is firmly rooted in the various 'saviour cults' of the 1st Century BC. One was Hercules, where Augustus is quoted in the Aeneid. These saviour heroes laboured on behalf of civilisation, ridding the world of manifestations of evil and barbarism, they are sometimes called CULTURE HEROES and were eventually deified. All of the great culture heroes were notable for fighting against barbarism, on behalf of civilisation

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Virgil and his context

- The description of the battle at Actium in book 8 is presented as a fight between the Olympian deities on Augustus' side, and the dog - headed monsters of Egyptian worship on Cleopatra's

- Aeneas himself fits into the sequence of culture - heroes

- His principal enemy in the poem, Turnus, isn't a monster or barbarian, but he is depicted as irrational, hot - headed, selfish and self - vaunting. Virgil takes even further Homer's tendency to present both sides of a conflict with humanity and dignity

- The role of the saviour (Augustus and Aeneas) wasn't to just rid the world of evil, but to build positive and lasting good (peace)

- The real theme of the Aeneid, which its contextual audience would be very aware of, was the founding of Rome and its rise, under Augustus, to its greatest glory. Therefore, Aeneas can be seen as a prefiguration of Augustus himself

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Virgil and his context

- This is because Aeneas' labours are shown as the first stage of a mighty effort which will later call on the endeavours of Romulus and the great heroes of the Republic, culminating in the triumph of Augustus - Aeneid, Book 1, 'So great a toil it was to found the Roman nation'

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Life of Virgil

- His most famous compositions: The ECLOGUES, the GEORGICS and the AENEID

- Virgil began the composition of the Aeneid around 29 BC

- Its progress was so impressive that it roused many expectations

- The poet Propertius wrote:

- 'Something greater than the Iliad is in the making'

- Virgil died before he could revise the Aeneid, and he tried to persuade Varius to burn the manuscript of it if anything were to happen to him

- Varius ignored this and him and Tucca published the poem under Augustus' instructions. They didn't do much editing because it contains around 60 incomplete lines, showing Virgil intended to revise the whole poem, but although unrevised the poem was complete because we know Virgil wrote a whole prose draft of the whole work

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Virgil and Homer

- Virgil's masterstroke was to see in the story of Aeneas the opportunity to create a structurally and thematic work of both epics of Homer: The Odyssey and The Iliad

- The Iliad is a story set in the war amidst Greeks and Trojans, The Odyssey the story of one Greek hero's homecoming after the sack of Troy

- Virgil reversed this sequence of his Aeneid: The first half of the epic tells the journey of the Trojan hero Aeneas after the fall of Troy in search of a homeland, the second tells of Aeneas' arrival in Italy, and the war he had to fight to establish his settlement, and the victory over the local chieftain Turnus

- The opening of the Aeneid shows this : 'Arms and the man' - referring to a theme of warfare and the exploits of a single hero.

- Homer began the Odyssey with: 'Tell me of the man, O muse...' demonstrating how the Odyssey is represented in the Aeneid

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Virgil and Homer

- Homer alone offered true insight into humanity and in his two epics, he did more than just chronicle, but offered technically interesting structures and themes, and set a standars his successors couldn't match

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The Aeneas Legend

- It is made clear that not only will the hero survive the fall of Troy, but he will have a special, important future

- He is guided by his goddess mother, Venus, because like Achilles he is semi - divine

- The beginning of the legend of his pietas begins with him escaping Troy with his father ANCHISES on his back, his son ASCANIUS, wife CREUSA and his ancestral gods

- After much wandering about the Mediterranean world he reached Hesperia (Italy) where he settled in LATIUM, the region north of Rome

- In book 12 Jupiter reminds Juno that Aeneas is destined, like other culture heroes before him, and like Julius and Augustus and Caesar after, for deification:

- 'you know, and you concede the fact, that Aeneas is promised to heaven and destined for the stars'

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The Aeneas Legend

- Juno is Homer's Hera, the implacable foe of the Trojans, but even she cannot do anything about Aeneas' destiny

- The fall of Troy is probably the most famous event in the ancient world and Rome became in due time the new Troy, so in the historical perspective the fall of Troy could be seen as the necessary pre - cursor to the rise of Rome, and this sequence as part of a divine plan working out of fate

- Although the triumph of Augustus was a thousand years after the life and labours of the poem's legendary hero Aeneas, it is clear Aeneas' values reflect Augustus.'

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The 'Odyssean' Aeneid

- It is obvious that Virgil wanted his poem to fall into 'two halves'

- Structurally, this is like the Odyssey, which also cuts into two.

- 1 - 12 of the Odyssey describe Odysseus' NOSTOS or homecoming from Troy

- 13 - 24 of the Odyssey describe Odysseus' actions after arriving home in Ithaca, like the killing of his wife's suitors

- 1 - 6 of the Aeneid describe Aeneas' journey from Troy to his new home in Italy

- 6 - 12 describe his actions in Italy, the killing of Turnus, a rival suitor to the italian princess Lavinia who is destined to marry Aeneas

- The whole Aeneid reflects both the theme and structure of the Odyssey, begins IN MEDIAS RES like the Odyssey and Iliad, and includes a 'flashback' in which the hero narrates his previous adventures to a royal host who has sheltered him

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The 'Odyssean' Aeneid

- The second half of Virgil's poem is about war, so Virgil turns from the Odyssey to the Iliad and modelled his last 6 books on Homer's tragic war poem

- However, the funeral games celebrated by Achilles in honour of his dead friend Patroclus in book 23 of the Iliad are also used in Virgil's Aeneid in book 5, held to honour Aeneas' father Anchises after he died on the westward journey, in Sicily

- In book 5 Odysseus is caught in a storm, and fears his death approaches, and in a soliloquy he wishes he died with so many of his comrades in Troy:

- 'O thrice and four times blessed those Danaans who died in Troy'

- In book 1 of the Aeneid Aeneas is also caught in a storm and echoes the words of Homer's Odysseus, wishing he had died at Troy:

- 'O thrice and four times blessed those whom it befell to die at Troy'

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The 'Odyssean' Aeneid

- In both the Odyssey and Aeneid the hero appears at the mercy of an angry god, is shipwrecked and cast ashore on a friendly hospitable coast, hospitably recieved and entertained at a feast, is asked to tell the story of his adventures, and does so in the following books in a 'flashback'

- The true value of the Aeneid lies in the transformation of Homer, where the larger themes and values of the Homeric world are modified by the 'later' sensibility of the Roman poet

- Virgil saw Homer as a remote ancestor

- Odysseus getting home to Ithaca was presented by Homer as nostos/homecoming, so Virgil presents this tradition by using DARDANUS, the founder of the royal Trojan house, to be born in Italy and so book 6 could also be seen as a homecoming, not an invasion

- Aeneas came as a man claiming his rightful heritage, not a usurper, for he was the foreign chief who was destined to rule Italy, as Virgil consistently refers to throughout the epic

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The 'Odyssean' Aeneid

- The 1st half of the Aeneid reaches three great emotional climaxes

- In book 2 Aeneas narrates to Dido the events of the last night of Troy, he continues the first person narrative of his journey into book 3, while in book 4 Virgil resumes authorial narration and describes the fatal passion of Dido for Aeneas and her subsequent suicide

- In book 5 the Trojans continue their journey to Italy, where they arrive at Cumae, on the gulf of Naples

- In book 6 Aeneas visits the Sibyl of Cumae, a prophetess, who leads him to the underworld where he meets his father, who reveals to him the future greatness of Rome

- Anchises doesn't reveal to Aeneas his immediate future, but the heroes and events, remote from him in time, from Romulus to Augustus, the story of the foundation and preservation of Rome

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The 'Iliadic' Aeneid

- Book 6 of the Aeneid is the pivotal point of the whole poem

- It is the transition of the 'Odyssean' to the 'Iliadic' Aeneid, as it is Aeneas' personal transition from the role of wanderer to that of DUX (commander, leader)

- He has gone from exile and near - despair to a sense of mission and responsibility, as a result of meeting Anchises in the underworld

- The Sibyl reveals her mission to him, warning him that he will have to fight to secure his right to settle and found a dynasty in Italy, then he is told by Anchises, who shows him 'the cave of the unborn souls' and unborn heroes of Rome

- Anchises' prophecy not only addresses his son, but the Roman audience of the poet's own day.

- 'Remember, Roman, your task is to rule, to establish peace and civilisation, and to put down the proud and spare the defeated'

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The 'Iliadic' Aeneid

- The second Achilles who awaits Aeneas is Turnus, and the Latin camp in Latium will replace the Greek one in Troy

- The cause of all this misery is Lavinia, betrothed to Turnus until Aeneas' arrival caused her father King Latinus to change his mind, seeing that Aeneas is the foreign king promised by the oracles

- Therefore Lavinia is like Helen, wife of Menelaus, taken by Paris

- In contrast Lavinia is taken rightfully by Aeneas

- But just as the story of Helen is not the principal theme of the Iliad, the story of Lavinia is not the principle theme of the Aeneid

- Homer's principal theme was the wrath of Achilles, his quarrel with Agamemnon, commander in chief, his withdrawal from war and its dire consequences on the Greeks. Patroclus' death brought Achilles back into the action and his killing of Hector is the climax of the poem

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The 'Iliadic' Aeneid

- Virgil himself signals early in book 7 that a greater matter is his new theme, the theme of war:

- 'I shall tell of dreadful war..for me there begins a greater order of things, I start a greater work'

- The 'greater work' refers to the Iliad, for it dealt with the tragic theme of war

- Virgil felt that Augustus would break the recurring cycle of evil and good with the defeat of Antony and Cleopatra, and more permanent peace would follow

- Therefore Aeneas arrives in Latium on a mission of peace, wishing only to found a settlement for his exiled Trojans

- The war which our hero is forced into is caused by Turnus, who is angry at being rejected as a suitor in favour of the newcomer. Aeneas is forced to seek allies and visits one of Anchises old friends, old king EVANDER, who entrusts Aeneas with his young son PALLAS for protection:

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The 'Iliadic' Aeneid

- In the war Turnus kills Pallas, who assumes the role of Patroclus in the Iliad, the killing of Turnus by Aeneas forms the climax of the Aeneid just as Achilles killing Hector forms the climax of the Iliad

- While Aeneas is enlisting the support of the Etruscan king Tarchon, and he is absent from diplomatic missions, the war starts and goes badly for the Trojans, just as how in Achilles' absence in the Iliad the war went badly for the Greeks

- The difference is Aeneas is not absent out of anger or hurt pride, Virgil transformed the old Homeric heroic code into something new and wholly Roman

- The motive that bring Achilles back into the war is revenge against Hector, when Aeneas returns to the war at the head of the Etruscan allies, Pallas is still alive. Although Aeneas bitterly regrets not being able to prevent his deathm he throws himself into battle, fighting with renewed vigour, killing the tyrant MEZENTIUS and his young son, which could be seen as revenge for Pallas' death

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The 'Iliadic' Aeneid

- Aeneas feels a debt to Evander after the killing of his son, because Evander had put Aeneas in LOCO PARENTIS to Pallas

- This debt is repaid in the killing of Turnus. Therefore dynastic motives do include some of Aeneas' personal motives as well

- Aeneas does have anger, FUROR, the madness of war of which dominates the last 4 books of the Aeneid, and this does spread through Aeneas' actions on the battlefield as it does his opponents

- Homeric heroes fought for their own personal glory, there was barely any sense of collective patriotism or divine mission. Throughout the 'Iliadic' Aeneid, the reader is aware of the goal for which all the fighting takes place for: not the destruction of a city, but its eventual founding

- Virgil takes the sympathy expressed by Homer for the doomed Trojan Hector much further, Homer nor Virgil are narrowly supportive of their countries, and the ultimate fall of Troy is viewed sadly by Homer, not gloatingly.

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The 'Iliadic' Aeneid

- Virgil expresses a huge amount of empathy for the young men on both sides, who fall as a result of war

- Many of the young men fighting in Latium are untried and tested warriors, whereas in the Iliad they are experienced

- Virgil recognises the pity of war, but doesn't reduce the grandeur of the individual heroic prowess

- In book 9 the ARISTEIA of the young Trojan heroes NISUS and EURYALUS, killed on a mission to recall Aeneas to the battlefield, are treated Homerically, their mutual affection and self - sacrificing deaths draw from Virgil some of his most emphathetic verses

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