Rebirth Theme in Phaedo and The Aeneid
Reading these texts: The Aeneid and Phaedo, consecutively, one comes across a surprising amount of similarities; though the texts are vastly different in tone and ideology, both authors have some sense that the concept of “rebirth” is a present force in the universe. The theme of rebirth, or life after death is the single things that brings all humans who have lived together a common plight: “What happens after death?” Though Virgil and Plato would not agree on the majority of the other’s beliefs they can agree on the common ground, which just happens to be the concept of reincarnation. Of life after death.
Even today, there’s a constant argument over what happens when we die. When broken down to basic motives for action and reaction: Humans are more or less obsessed with death. There have been wars for as long as human memory can record over God. Still even today, people are dying over religious warfare. This is ironic, given the fact that Socrates’ belief was it was irrational to be effected by another human’s death, as the soul is the undying part of the human body. Why is it, that though there are modern day philosophy and religions that practice to a similar belief system as Socrates’s, there are, nevertheless, countless wars being fought over religious ideology. Is it that humans feel that just the concept of reincarnation is not enough? Do humans feel as if they deserve more, which prompted the conception of nirvana, heaven, and Valhalla, just to name a few examples. Living as a human is not enough, we must strive for something greater, more divine than ourselves. Finally coming to the end of a treacherous journey, only to wake up at the starting line, is not enough for the majority of human beings. For many that would sound like a nightmare. People believe that if they are good they are owed something.
In the Aeneid, Virgil writes Aeneas as this golden, pious, man. He’s strong and bold. A warrior, and though Aeneas is so perfect, he still requires guidance from the Sibyl. The Sibyl, possessed by Apollo, tells Aeneas what to do and how to do it. Though this man is a god among men, he still needs someone to hold his hand as he passes over the river Styx. What occurred during my reading, is that I began to infer than Plato and the other philosophers saw Socrates as their leader as well, someone with immense knowledge. Socrates was able to give them guidance, tell them what to expect after they died. Though much more gray than Aeneas and the Sibyl, these men still relied on Socrates to speak to them, to initiate a conversation about the afterlife. Both of these great men, though one fictional, needed someone there for guidance. Similarly, enough today to the existence of ministers, preachers, teachers and monks. Someone who the common man views as divine in a way, or intellectually superior for guidance through a conversation about what happens after we die.
The Greek Tartarus and Elysium are eerily similar to modern day renditions of the Christian Hell/Heaven respectively. Western culture is heavily influence by early Greeks and Romans, shown not only in political infrastructure, but in ideology, and even down to the way our cities are built. It only makes sense, logically, that the earliest conceptions of Christianity would be heavily influenced by Greek and roman mythology as well. In the Aeneid, as Aeneas and the Sibyl wander downwards into the underworld they come to a fork in the road. The left leads to Tartarus, or hell. The right leads to the home of the blessed, Elysium. This concept of judgment had never before been seen in myth. Separating the good from the bad, creating laws expecting some sort of moral obligation to do well. Now doing good deeds had an incentive behind it. “…the abyss, Tartarus itself plunges headlong down through the darkness twice as far as our gaze goes up to Olympus rising towards the skies…” The gods are above them, for they are just humans. This is where Virgil and Plato differ, for Plato believes that all people are equal and does not believe in the mythical gods.
Contrasting from western belief that the goal illustrated in the Aeneid was not to stay in paradise. The goal was to become reborn again, drinking from the River Lethe and being born anew into a new body. This concept of rebirth is similar to the Buddhist and Hindu belief of reincarnation. A surprising concept to find in the Aeneid was the concept of a life energy to even inanimate objects. When Aeneas meets his father in the underworld he explains that everything in this world is permeated with spirit, a concept which is similar to the Shinto belief in “Kami”. The concept of an undying life energy is a hopeful one. The chance to revise a life, perhaps, to become new again. In Phaedo, Socrates speaks about the undying spirit as well, he speaks on his death bed: “Then when death comes to man, the mortal part of him dies, it seems, but his deathless part goes away safe and indestructible, yielding the place to death.”
Socrates and Plato did not believe in a physical afterlife. There was no hell or heaven waiting for them, only the prospect of reliving a human life. Socrates did not fear death, he welcomed it like an old friend, embracing it with open arms. Virgil, with his more fantastical version of the afterlife, creates a justice system. One than judges the wicked, and rewards the virtuous. Virgil has an innate fear of death, assuming the justice system he envisioned to be a projection of his own insecurity in death. I found that both of these texts have had influence in modern day ideology and religion all over the world. Creating a conglomerate of ideas in many different manifestations.
Virgil’s Aeneid: a Character Analysis of Dido
Reason v. Passion
Throughout Ancient Greek literature, characters often act in extremes. Heroes find motivation through rage and act with blind, fiery emotion to win their battles; seers and leaders achieve success after reasoning through complex puzzles and problems. Both are usually praised and rewarded for such qualities, but in The Aeneid and The Bacchae, Virgil and Euripides, respectively, present alternative stories. They demonstrate the other side of lives lived with passionate recklessness or stubborn reason: lives that cause tragedy and end in ruin. Virgil and Euripides show the conflict that occurs when the two forces collide and only one can win. Choosing one over the other is always a difficult choice, one that Aeneas faced several times in The Aeneid, and while the Greeks themselves may have prized reason in a time of such new philosophical theories and thoughts, a life without passion was still not easy to achieve. The characters in these poems were depicted as impossible and exaggerated characterizations of people that were able to attain such lives of sole reason without passion or vice versa, and it did not end well. The question that the Greeks, and us, are left to ponder is which life is truly the better one to lead. The Greeks visibly struggled with this in their writing, and every individual who has lived since then has had to choose, whether consciously or not, which half of the dyad is most important to them according to their values and motivations. The answer to this question remains a mystery, because while those who lived by pursuing reason over passion may have appeared to have led better lives in The Aeneid than those who chose passion, the fate of Pentheus in The Bacchae teaches us that neither is better than the other, and that, instead, a life of balance and moderation together may result in the most pleasant and fulfilling life.
In The Aeneid, the force of reason is portrayed most clearly through Aeneas. Aeneas showed constant, strong devotion to the gods and fate without hesitation throughout his entire journey. While this enabled him to fulfill his destiny and complete his mission, it was not without tragedy and loss that may have been avoided if Aeneas had balanced his actions with a moderate amount of passion. When pondering whether to leave Dido, Virgil describes Aeneas:
This way and that
He let his mind dart, testing alternatives,
Running through every one. And as he pondered
This seemed the better tactic (105).
His thought process does not include any emotional influences, but instead is based on reason alone. Immediately after figuring out the best course of action, he sailed away from Carthage, leaving Dido in the dust. At first, he struggled with his decision to choose reason over passion each and every time he was faced with a problem. And while he made his decision rather quickly, it still caused him pain to disregard Dido’s feelings, as he had feelings for her as well. It is even noted that he “fought down the emotion in his heart,” before speaking to her (Virgil, 107). In this moment he is depicted more realistically than most of the other characters, because he actually stops to contemplate the question of the dyad. If he had complied with Dido’s pleas and stayed there with her, or even if he had just explained his decision to leave her with emotion and sympathy instead of solely defending his logic, Dido may not have killed herself. While Aeneas’ excessive reason was not his downfall, and he did fare better than those overly passionate, a balance of reason and passion may have saved him from some tragedy and the pain of ignoring his own desires.
Whether out of their control or not, many in The Aeneid suffered from too much passion. Dido was the most obviously overwhelmed with passion, although not all on her own. After being influenced by the gods, Dido fell in love with Aeneas quickly and deeply. When he decided to leave her, Dido did not know what to do with herself. She was overcome with emotion, wondering, “What am I saying? Where am I? What madness / takes me out of myself? Dido, poor soul, / your evil doing has come home to you” (Virgil, 117). As opposed to Aeneas reasoning through his choice, the grief of his decision robbed her logic and fogged her mind. Virgil states, “So broken in mind by suffering, Dido caught / her fatal madness and resolved to die” (113). Impulse decisions such as Dido’s suicide come straight from a place with no reason. If she had been acting logically, she would have realized she needed to look over her developing city and be there for them as queen. Instead, she ignored all of her progress and accomplishments and could only focus on Aeneas’ rejection, choosing passion over any sort of reason. In this, she demonstrates what Virgil clearly opined: that passion, when it overtakes logical reasoning, is self-destructive and overall less fulfilling. Later, Turnus, after being overtaken by a fury, lost his ability to be rational and began to act only out of rage, even if it meant danger or death. While preparing to face Aeneas, Turnus was described as barely human:
To this length driven by passion, he gave off
A sparkling glow from his whole face, and fire
Flashed from his eyes, as a wild bull at bay
Will give a fearsome bellow and whet his horns
To fury on a tree-trunk… (Virgil, 371).
At this point, nothing mattered to him except fighting the man who wanted to take Lavinia. Adding together the threat Aeneas posed to his reputation, his possessiveness of Lavinia, and the fury instilled in his chest was a recipe for blind rage. Primarily because of influences out of his control, he had no choice but to assume passion was more important than reason. While Aeneas had near-invincible armor and fate on his side, Turnus did not have the logic to avoid what would most likely be death in a one-on-one fight. He pleads, “let me bid my death for honor” just to get the chance to wound Aeneas (Virgil, 369). His passion for war and for Lavinia were his downfall, and, like Dido, inevitably led to his death, reinforcing Virgil’s stance on the mystery of the dyad.
In The Bacchae, there is widespread madness and chaos. However, Pentheus, while attempting to be the voice of reason, was actually ruined by his close-mindedness to the wild and unbelievable. Dionysus advises him:
So you are not moved, Pentheus, by any words of mine!
Nonetheless, in spite of all you’ve done to me,
I cannot help but tell you,
You must not take up arms against a god (Euripides, 428).
No matter what Dionysus says or does that can prove that he is, indeed, a god, Pentheus will not believe. His reason says that this man is not immortal and that it makes more sense that his mother was simply a liar. After believing this for long enough, Pentheus was not even open to consider the obvious displays of Dionysus’ power. He shoved his passion away until he could not hold it back anymore and gave in to his desire to see the Bacchants in person. This demonstrates how difficult it is for those who desire reason to eliminate emotion from their ideas and decisions. However, it was his stubbornness to disregard his own emotions that led to Dionysus’ anger with him and eventually his death, proving that excessive reason can be just as destructive as excessive passion, and perhaps demonstrating the opinion of Euripides that the logical half of the dyad is given too much importance.
While it was not passion out of her own will, Agave, Pentheus’ mother, was completely driven by passion after being possessed by Dionysus. She and the other Bacchants were stripped of any reason and cognition at all and left to wander madly through the forest. This complete possession was the only way to accurately depict someone who has eliminated all reason. Euripides describes her before she killed Pentheus:
She was foaming at the mouth.
Her dilated eyeballs rolled.
Her mind was gone—possessed by Bacchus—
She could not hear her son (441).
Agave did not even have enough reason to listen to and recognize her own son. This was a
punishment given by Dionysus after she had exhibited the same type of reasoning that Pentheus held by believing that Semele, Dionysus’ mother, could not have possibly been with a god. After choosing the life of reason over passion, her punishment was a life of the opposite. This passion, instilled in her to the point of madness, was, like in Dido and Turnus, her downfall. While it did not lead to her death, it resulted in the even greater punishment of murdering her son. Like Agave, throughout the play, Dionysus also acted on passion alone. In his overwhelming need to avenge and redeem his late mother, he harmed several people and created chaos throughout the city. He has one and only goal, as he claims, “I’ll show myself to him and all of Thebes / a god indeed” (Euripides, 397). He is blind to everything else in his passionate pursuit of this goal and did not stop until it was fulfilled. Like Aeneas, he completed his mission but caused tragedy in the process. He also struggled, like Aeneas, to choose passion over reason, as he attempted to understand and save Pentheus until Pentheus’ stubbornness was too much for him to ignore. It may have caused him some pain to give up on this cause, but his focus on the goal was too overwhelming to leave Pentheus to his own mistaken ideas. Thus proves that Euripides was less decisive than Virgil regarding the dyad, perhaps believing that reason and passion alike were destructive when each acted undiluted.
In both works, the characters struggle to find the perfect balance between reason and passion. While passion ultimately proved to be more destructive of a quality than reason, as Dido and Turnus both died and Agave murdered her son, readers learn that excesses of both should be avoided, because Pentheus also could not escape death. In most instances as well, those who thought logically tended to be male and those who acted emotionally tended to be female. While this may or may not have been intentional, either way it demonstrates the perspective of the Ancient Greeks, and Euripides in particular, on masculinity and gender roles. It seems that females were always susceptible to madness and passion and never logic and reasoning. Because of the lesser view of females at the time, it also may have represented the authors’ opinions on which part of the dyad was most important to them. The two forces in each work tended to be in conflict with each other as well. In The Aeneid, Aeneas and Turnus were obviously against one another and were physically fighting, and Aeneas and Dido also ended up at odds. In The Bacchae, Pentheus and Agave, although mother and son, were in conflict at the end of Pentheus’ life. Pentheus was also the main antagonist to Dionysus and the primary obstacle in his mission. These conflicts in both works represent the constant internal struggle between reason and passion in everyone. Humans naturally think logically and act emotionally, and the embodiments of these qualities are personified as the characters in the poems. Many people in reality, although not as extremely as Dido or Agave, tend to lean more on one side than the other, and still have yet to figure out how to use both in moderation. However, after reading both works, readers have reason and motivation to act differently than the characters who so tragically met their ends after mistakenly living such pleasure-filled or logically-driven lives. While Virgil and Euripides both made clear in their works their decisions, or indecision, surrounding the debate on reason and passion, the mystery of the dyad remains unanswered.
The Aeneid by Virgil and The Bacchae by Euripides: a Comparative Study
In Virgil’s Aeneid, we follow the journey that Aeneas makes from Troy to found Rome. Along the way, he comes to Carthage, which is a rapidly developing city that serves as a model for what Aeneas wants when he comes to founding his own city. At the head of Carthage is Dido, a beautiful young woman who has captured the attention of large throngs of young men. By looking at the sequence of events that follows the meeting between Aeneas and dido, we can determine what our overall opinions are of Dido, and whether we feel sympathetic towards her.
It seems logical to suggest that Virgil uses Dido as a vehicle for portraying the disputes between Venus and Juno. Virgil does not appear to care for Dido’s wellbeing or wishes. Not only does Venus force Dido to fall in love with Aeneas by sending down her son, Cupid, who shoots Dido with his arrow, but Venus deceives Dido by disguising Cupid as Ascanius, Aeneas’ son. This seems a particularly malicious thing to do because Ascanius is only a young boy at this stage, so the effect created is one that an innocent child is performing the will of an evil goddess. Juno also puts her own agenda before Dido. Juno’s favourite city is Carthage, and the problem that she has is that the fates have decreed that Rome will be more powerful than and will eventually defeat Carthage. Therefore, Juno takes it upon herself to hinder Aeneas in as many ways as she possibly can. As the goddess of marriage, she thinks to force Aeneas to stay in Carthage (which would subsequently prevent him from founding Rome) on account of his marriage and commitment to Dido, because Juno knows that, up until now, Aeneas has been a very pious man.
We are encouraged by Virgil to feel a degree of sympathy for Dido based on her back story as well. Virgil tells us that Dido is a widow, and also that it is her controlling brother that has made her so. We feel sorry for Dido because the fact that Aeneas leaves her means that she, having done nothing wrong, will never find love again. Furthermore, Aeneas plans to leave Dido in a very harsh manner. After the scene in the cave, we are given the impression that Dido and Aeneas are married, from the description of the wailing nymphs acting as a chorus, and when Virgil seems to use a reverse form of antonomasia as he refers to Aeneas as “leader of the Trojans” and Dido by her name. This could serve to highlight the differences in their fates as she is (just) Dido, she will remain in Carthage, whereas, because he has the responsibility of the Trojans, Aeneas must move on eventually, thus provoking sympathy for Dido as the emphasis is on the fact that Aeneas will leave. This technique may also refer to the idea of a couple sharing their names at a wedding. Where Virgil would otherwise refer to Dido as “regina”, he chooses to name her here which seems to show her vision of them being married. Although Aeneas does not seem to acknowledge that they are married, we must feel that his initial plan to leave Dido without telling her is far away from the pious hero to whom we have become accustomed so far in the epic. There is a lot of sympathy to be had for the emotional trauma and madness that Dido is subjected to due to Aeneas’ plan to leave without so much as a goodbye.
Virgil does also give reasons for us to feel no sympathy for Dido. After all, Aeneas is the hero and it is Virgil’s duty to paint Aeneas in a good light because of the link that he makes to Augustus. All things considered, Dido does give in to her lust. While it is not up to her whether she has fallen in love with Aeneas, she did swear an oath that she would never remarry after the death of her husband and then go on to break that oath as she is described as a “slave to lust”. This is not the behaviour that we expect from a queen and the fact that she neglects the needs of her city and her people adds to the idea that we should not see Dido as an innocent victim.
Dido continues to win no favour from the audience as she leaves Aeneas feeling guilty for what could be described as no good reason. As she throws herself onto the funeral pyre, Dido curses Aeneas and his lineage. This forces the Roman people to dislike her as, by cursing Augustus, she is cursing Rome.
On top of this, Dido seems to waste the huge opportunity that she has in the form of Carthage. While Aeneas is really struggling to find a location to build Rome, Dido has the privilege of being at the head of such a successful city. Virgil uses the simile with the bees to emphasise the efficiency of the work that is happening at Carthage and the fact that Dido neglects the responsibility that she has over the people of Carthage causes the audience to regard her less highly than the initial portrayal of her. Virgil continuously reminds the audience of Dido’s power through his referring to Dido as “Regina”. The idea that it is lust that causes this decline in Dido’s capabilities as a leader is likely a reference to Augustus’ attempts to reduce the amount of adultery in Rome at the time and the image of a great leader being overthrown by her adulterous desires is surely a motivation for the people of Rome to be pious and good citizens.
Overall, I believe that Dido is unfairly portrayed by Virgil. The fact that Aeneas has already been presented as a pious descendant of the gods means that, no matter how noble Dido is, she is likely to struggle to match Aeneas in terms of respect. Therefore, I think that the audience is largely supportive of Aeneas’ decision to leave Dido and the level of concern for Dido as a result of Aeneas’ departure is low as, particularly at the time of Virgil’s writing, the people of Rome are not likely to give too much thought to the mental health of a woman and they are obviously going to be on Aeneas’ side because they need him to found Rome.
Odyssey by Homer and the Aeneid by Virgil: a Comparison Piece on Both Literary Works
Although Influenced by different times, different cultures, and different writers, The Odyssey and the Aeneid, which have their differences, still coincide and relate beyond the influence of the surroundings. Virgil, the author of the Aeneid, undoubtedly influenced by Homer’s, the author of the Odyssey, works and Virgil seems to draw themes and events into his story throughout his epic. The cultures around the two authors, although extremely different, had underlying themes that helped in the similarity of these two literary works.
Virgil’s Aeneid and Homer’s Odyssey and both epics, both giving the story of their heroes in the form of poems. Homer, a wondering muse, seems to always to include ways in his poems to get hospitality from his listens. One way was his flattery of his audience’s ancestry, making them seem brave and important historical figures. Homer also would promote hospitality as a noble endeavor and lift up muses, singers, and poets as honorable and worthy of that hospitality. Virgil also used flattery in his poem to get favors. Caesar Augustus, the Caesar of rome at the time, was especially praised in Virgil’s Aeneid, and Virgil did this for the benefits of Caesars good favor. Virgil, being a roman, and Homer,. being a Greek, also shared ideas that their societies shared. The Romans had adopted many of the Greek’s aspects, such as their gods and goddesses, military tactics, and some of the architectural aspects. Along with these connections, The Greeks put a reputations and glory of oneself on a high pedestal, which is often shown in Homer’s writings. Similarly, The Romans strived for the glory, reputation, and honor of Rome, and this sense of duty and glory is strongly displayed in Virgil’s work.
The Odyssey and the Aeneid begin in similar ways: “Tell me, Muse, of the man of many ways, who was driven far journeys, after he sacked Troy’s sacred citadel..” (Homer, 27) “I sing of warfare and a man at war. He came to Italy by destiny.” (Virgil, 3). They should indeed start by coinciding, sense the story lines are very similar. The Odyssey is a tale of the hardships that befall of a great Greek hero, Odysseus, after the trojan war, and the story of his journey back home. The Aeneid is very similar, it tells the story of a great Trojan hero, Aeneas, after the Trojan war and the hardships he faces on his journey to find a new home. During their adventures, both of the heroes face similar adventures. They are both aided and hindered by different gods and goddesses. Odysseus is aided by Athene, who loves him like a son, and opposed by Poseidon, whereas Aeneas is aided by his mother, Venus, and opposed by Juno. This comes into to play with striking resemblance in the two poems. But Odysseus and Aeneas are beset by fearsome storms sent by the gods opposing them. In addition, one instance in the Aeneid resembles the Odyssey strongly: In the Aeneid, Venus appears to Aeneas in the vise of a young girl, who this disguises the hero with a mist before sending him to the palace of Dido, lest he be recognised and beset on the way and to allow the hero to discover if Dido will we a friend or a foe to the Trojans. There are two similar events in the Odyssey, first at Phaiakia, Athene meets the hero in the form of a little girl and disguises Odysseus with mist so that he will not be beset on his way to the castle.. The second being when Athena disguises Odysseus when he reaches his home, so he may observe those who are loyal to him, and those who are not.
The events and geographical locations of these ancient works coincide as well. Both Aeneas and Odysseus have an experience with Circe, Aeneas just passing by the sorcerous’ island and escaping Odysseus fate there. Aeneis also visits the island of the Cyclopes, hearing the story of Odysseus’ adventure from a man stranded on the island. As well as terrifying adventures, the two hero’s are intertwined in their romantic intercourse. Aeneis is delayed by Dido, whom Venus has put under the spell of Cupid, making her fall deeply in love with Aeneas, though he leaves her because he is duty bound to go to Italy. Odysseus is likewise detained my Calypso, a lesser goddess, but leaves her because he longs for his family and home. He is also detained by the love of Circe, who Athene helps him seduce so that he can save his men and himself from her spells, yet he leaves her as well. One last striking comparison can be seen in these two epics: The hero’s adventure into Hades. Both men give blood to achieve their goal in Hades well in process meeting acquaintances. Odysseus talks to Elpenor while Aeneas with Palinurus, who are both unburied friends of the hero’s who beg to be buried. They both have encounters with Agamemnon and Achilles, Odysseus greeting them as friends, while they run from Aeneis in fear of his strength. Along with encounters with friends, Odysseus sees his mother, and tries to hug her three times, but fails. Likewise Aeneis tries to embrace his dead father but, like Odysseus, he can not.
The Odyssey and the Aeneid have many differences, so do the authors who wrote them. But the historical events and cultures of the two writers brought these two memorable works together in a interesting and study-worthy manner, making the two stories even more enthralling. Once you see these similarities, you can realize much about the authors who wrote them and the civilizations in which they take place. With these bridges, you can paint a mental image that can take you on an imaginative eye-opening adventure which has been read and loved throughout the centuries.
Emotions of Anger in Aeneid
The idea of piety in Ancient Rome is not the same idea of piety that we have today. To the Romans, piety, or “pietas” in Latin, describes a set of social constructs that governs what makes a respectable person. Piety encompasses one’s devotion to the gods, love for one’s country, respect for one’s family, and understanding of fate. These characteristics are essential for a great Roman leader, so there’s no question as to why Virgil calls Aeneas by “Pious Aeneas” in his epic The Aeneid. The mythical ancestor to Romulus and Remus should possess these qualities; otherwise, he wouldn’t be able to command the hearts of his men in their search for their new home.
If there are to be pious people in this world, there also must be the impious. Impiety is easily defined as the opposite of broad-reaching virtuousness. Fury, or “furor” in Latin, “connotes a frenzied derangement of the mind and spirit, something akin to madness,” in which the behavior of the individual is often brash, violent, or impulsive (Boyle 88). Those who are impious lead themselves to make foolish, uncharacteristic choices with severe consequences. In The Aeneid, characters in power such as Dido, Turnus, and Camilla find themselves giving in to their impious furor, ultimately hindering their own progress or leading to their demise. Virgil uses these stories of piety and impiety to paint a picture of the legendary history of Rome, inspiring his audience to admire Augustus, the heroic Roman leader of Virgil’s own time, and to legitimize Augustus’s rule.
Turnus appears in the seventh book of The Aeneid, and is introduced to us as Livina’s suitor, one who will eventually produce heirs for the throne of Latium. When Aeneas arrives in Latium, King Latinus promises him land for a new city as well as his daughter’s hand in marriage, following Anchises’s prophecy to have the daughter of Latinus marry a foreigner. Allecto, a Fury summoned by Juno, inspires Turnus to grow angry at his King’s decision, setting the seed if impiety within Turnus.
Over the course of the next four books, Turnus fights against Aeneas in a war for Lavinia’s hand. In Book IX, Turnus has assembled his troops to attack the Trojans and eventually find a way into their camp. Virgil notes that Turnus could have opened the Trojans’ gates to let in his troops, but that his erratic, furious behavior kept him from thinking clearly and strategically. Turnus then takes Pallas’s belt at the end of Book X, showing his reckless pride. This belt eventually leads to his death, because when Aeneas sees it he forgets his thoughts of sparing Turnus and flies into a furious rage, killing Turnus with a spear.
Turnus perhaps sealed his own fate when he defied his king’s wishes and continued to seek the hand of Lavinia. This lapse in piety led to a war that he could not win because Aeneas was destined to found a new city in Latium. It is worth mentioning, however, that Turnus is not a character entirely without piety. In fact, in the last book of the epic, as Aeneas is seizing an opportunity to attack the undefended city, Turnus hears the news of his queen’s suicide and sees his people’s suffering. This reminder of the pain he’s causing his own people by continuing this war provides a moment of clarity, a moment in which he could escape his impious fury. But just as quickly as Turnus comes to his senses, he gives in to his fury by challenging Aeneas in single combat. He knows that Aeneas must win, but he realizes his wrongdoings, succumbs to his fate and dies. In the end, he realizes his wrongdoing too late: his undesirable impiety was his biggest weakness. Any future leader must not behave as carelessly as Turnus did.
Dido is another central character who experiences a lapse in piety. While she was the queen of Tyre, her brother Pygmalion murdered her husband and compelled her to go with some of her citizens to found the city of Carthage. She vows not to marry again, in honor of her husband, and instead vows to place her priorities in governing. Dido is represented as a dedicated, and pious, leader. Her flaw is that she’s earned the epithet “infelix,” which is defined as “ill-starred, unfortunate, and unhappy,” (Covi 57).
This picture of a perfect ruler changes when Venus allows Dido to fall in love with Aeneas. Dido forgets her promise not to marry and grows close to Aeneas, but most importantly she begins to neglect her duties as a queen. She admits to her shortcomings, and therefore she accepts that she isn’t acting with piety. As Madeline Covi explains in her essay “Dido in Vergil’s Aeneid,” at this point in the text, “the language used in connection with Dido again suggests a guilty conscience: she is not moved specie famave (4.170)—but it must by implication be on her mind,” (58). In other words, the rumor of Dido’s “furtivum amorem,” or secret love, and its subsequent confirmation after her metaphorical marriage to Aeneas weigh heavily on her mind (Covi 59). Her people feel betrayed by her broken promises and her decreased attention to governing, ultimately a result of her failure to stay pious.
Dido, like Turnus, became aware of the mistakes that resulted in a lapse of piety. But also like Turnus, Dido realized her mistakes and did not correct her shortcomings. Following the trend of the impious, Dido begins at act impulsively when Aeneas tells her that he must leave her and follow his own destiny. Dido calls out to the gods, “may he never enjoy his realm and the light he yearns for, never, let him die before his day, unburied on some desolate beach,” cursing Aeneas, and asking for “war between all our peoples, all their children, endless war,” (Virgil 4.771-782) This impulsive curse would not have been uttered by Dido had she not succumbed to her fury. In fact, in the eyes of Virgil’s Roman audience, the careless Dido may have tragically doomed her people to years and years of aggression, namely the Punic Wars that they would fight with Rome many centuries later.
Ultimately, Dido kills herself on her own funeral pyre using Aeneas’s own sword, showing the power of a mind that is acting under the influence of furor. Later, we see her in the Fields of Mourning in the underworld of Dis, where she is doomed to eternal suffering because of her lapse in judgment. But again, much like Turnus, Dido was not completely without piety. At one point, she was a good enough leader to convince swaths of people to follow her to a strange land to found their own city—calling to mind the mission pious Aeneas has set out to accomplish. In the end, it was her inability to stay pious, to stay committed to her late husband or to keep the interests of her people at hand, that led to her desperate situation.
Even Camilla, a warrior maiden and a general of Turnus’s army, lets impiousness enter her life, leading to her quick death in Book XI. While on the battlefield, Camilla is a force to be reckoned with. Then she notices a man wearing particularly fancy armor and forgets herself. Remember, an aspect of piety is that one puts the gods, country, and family before oneself, and Camilla abandons her companions in order to track this man and win a trophy to show off her skill and glory. So “Camilla, keen to fix some Trojan arms on a temple wall or sport some golden plunder out on the hunt…she stalked him wildly, reckless through the ranks, afire with a woman’s lust for loot and plunder,” lost track of what was going on around her, and inadvertently allowed Arruns to throw his spear, blessed by Apollo, which impales and kills her, (Virgil 11.914-918).
This is by far one of the quickest examples of inattentiveness to staying virtuous getting the better of one of Virgil’s characters. Not too much earlier in the same battle, Turnus puts Camilla in a position of power while he goes to set a strategic ambush; when she forgets about her fellow Volscians and the Latins that she is fighting alongside, she leaves herself vulnerable to attack.
Not everyone in the epic, however, succumbs to impious fury. Aeneas remains relatively unscathed by the tragic circumstances that fall on those who let fury take over their minds. Aeneas’s epithet of “pious” is quite the clue: he is considered he quintessential image of piety in a ruler. As mentioned earlier, Virgil may be writing this epic as a form of political propaganda in which he draws parallels between pious Aeneas and the emperor Augustus. According to Sabine Grebe, “Vergil celebrates and, more importantly, legitimizes Augustus’s power,” (Grebe 35). Both the epic hero and the actual ruler fought in wars to legitimize their claims to the land they ruled, Aeneas against the Latins and Augustus against Caesar and Mark Antony. Both men were trusted as leaders “who can create order out of disorder, with divine support,” (Grebe 39).
Virgil takes this connection a step further, even including references to Augustus’s “divi genus,” or his divine connection to Julius Caesar as his legitimate heir within Anchises’s prophecy in book VI, (Grebe 58). If Augustus is truly of divine lineage, connected to Venus through Julius Caesar and Aeneas himself, as he is purported to be in the text of the epic, this fact would entirely legitimize his claim to rule the Roman empire. If Augustus is a mirror of the fictional Aeneas, he must also share in Aeneas’s famous piety as well, right? That’s the idea behind Virgil’s poetry.
Aeneas runs into many obstacles during this epic poem, including his evacuation of Troy, the journey to Italy, and the deaths of his father and of Pallas. Even though these events anger Aeneas, he is still able to control himself and does not give in to his rage, nor does he forget his piety, his duties, or his purpose. He even offers a twelve-day-long truce to the Latins so that they may properly bury their dead after learning the news of Pallas’s death, a respectful gesture that impresses even his enemy’s emissaries. This fact is important, especially with regard to the Roman Epire. If a ruler of a powerful people is to conquer a nation and add it to their empire, as the Romans were doing as this time, their leader needs to possess the qualities that would allow their conquered enemies to respect a new ruler.
Aeneas’s only major run-in with true fury is when Turnus is injured during their one-on-one battle. Aeneas spots Turnus wearing Pallas’s belt as a trophy, and “Aeneas, soon as his eyes drank in that plunder—keepsake of his own savage grief—flaring up in fury, terrible in his rage,” kills Turnus on behalf of his late friend, “blazing with wrath,” (Virgil 12.1102-1109). This wave of fury caught Aeneas as he was feeling a moment of mercy, and the scene begs the question of how the epic could have ended differently (and if Turnus could have remained alive). However the narrative might have run, Aeneas seems justified in his actions, and is able to keep his untarnished reputation. After all, his motives for fighting were to establish a new land for his people and to keep his pious promises.
It is apparent that the idea of piety was extremely important to the Romans, and that for them the absence or lapse of piety leads to “impius furor,” a state of mind in which individuals find themselves making irrational decisions and meeting untimely demises. Dido, Turnus, and Camilla are all examples of people in positions of power who let their own motivations — whether love, power, or glory — get in the way of their ability to effectively lead. Only a true, respectable leader can set aside furor and let “pietas” govern his or her actions — a leader like Aeneas or Augustus.
Boyle, Anthony James. The Chaonian Dove: Studies in the Eclogues, Georgics, and Aeneid of Virgil. Leiden: Brill, 1986. Print.
Covi, Madeline C.. “Dido in Vergil’s Aeneid”. The Classical Journal 60.2 (1964): 57–60. Web.
Grebe, Sabine. “Augustus’ Divine Authority and Vergil’s “Aeneid””. Vergilius (1959-) 50 (2004): 35–62. Web.
Virgil. The Aeneid: (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition). Trans. Robert Fagles. N.p.: Penguin, 2006. Electronic.
An Analysis of the Contrast of Beliefs Between the West and East in The Epic of Gilgamesh, the Iliad, and the Aeneid
A Contrast Between Beliefs
Spirituality, religion, and the divine creation of humans have been central topics for many years. From the texts we have read, we see a major distinction between Western and Eastern society’s viewpoints. Western philosophy, as we have seen through our Ancient Greek texts, was focused on the divine, spirituality, and gods. Eastern Philosophy and views from philosophers such as Confucius, revolved around ethics, one’s self, and connecting with nature.
Within The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Iliad, and The Aeneid, gods and spirituality are prevalent and given the utmost importance. Odysseus, Achilles, Gilgamesh, and more characters within Homeric texts relied on the gods for almost everything. The gods were in charge of nature, mortals, actions, cities, etc. The gods had the ability to bring about natural disasters and determine a persons place in the afterlife. This gained the gods a tremendous amount of respect and adoration. In Book 24 of the Iliad, when King Priam is speaking he says, “Revere the gods, Achilles! Pity me in my own right….” (145). This quote shows the respect that is expected for the gods during that time. All of the actions of the Trojan War were due to the gods themselves and the roles they played.
As we have read from the texts, we see that there isn’t really a clear outcome for the future of the characters within the Iliad and Aeneied. The future was set to be controlled and predetermined by the gods. No matter how hard people tried, the gods were to decide on everything. A Greek poet named Hesoid who lived around the time of Homer, briefly touched on the importance of gods as well. Hesoid claimed that, “First there is emptiness, then earth, and only then do the gods appear. And, when the gods do appear on the scene, they behave in a rather disorderly way, and often bend the operations of nature according to their whims.” These explanations for the gods can be seen as both philosophical and religion based. It is known that Greek philosophers during the Western time period were focused on primarily both of those two things.
Confucius and most Eastern philosophical teachings weren’t ever too focused on the divine and gods. As mentioned prior, Confucius believed solely on “the realm of the concrete and human” (380). Going more into depth about this, Confucius believed strongly in morality and how humans were the ones who should be in touch with themselves. There were to be no other gods or spirits controlling things. We are in charge of our human capacities and everything that happens to us. He believed that it was crucial to be in tune with our selves and the nature around our Earth. We as humans in nature are all alike but, can be known for the habits of doing good or doing evil. Despite the evil doings of others, Confucius reflects on the love for humanity that we should have. He talks about this many times in The Analects while also further discussing the importance of human nature in humanity. “What nature puts together, habit separates.” (392). I feel as though many Eastern philosophers saw things in that way and how they correlated so they sought out the pursuit of happiness through nature and discovering themselves.
Eastern and Confucian philosophy wanted to emphasize behavior and how an individual should act. For example, it was known that a child should respect their parents and superiors. “A man who respects his parents and his elders would hardly be inclined to defy his superiors. A man who is not inclined to defy his superiors will never foment a rebellion. A gentleman works at the root. Once the root is secured, the Way unfolds. To respect parents and elders is the root of humanity.” (380) Eastern philosophy was also intently focused on maintaining a set balance of life that they completely disregarded outside forces or anything else as having control over every day things. Ideal relationships were seen as balanced and ethically moral if followed by the system and what Confucius talked about.
Unlike what I mentioned before with Western philosophies, Eastern philosophy believed that your future was determined by the choices you made in your daily life and not by gods. There is a very ethical and “zen” way of thinking behind what Confucius and many other Eastern philosophers like Cheng Yi and Gandhi thought. With virtue and piety on the top of the mind, Eastern society realized that life was a journey not meant to be taken lightly. Everything in the universe was somehow connected to each other and you had the ability to change whatever you wanted about it.
Confucius’ Analects dealt with the inner and outward life of a human. The aesthetic that understanding yourself and one’s surroundings led to a happier life was outplayed a lot. Morality and doing “what was right” wasn’t focused on as much in Ancient Western Greek philosophy. We saw heroes defying gods and ultimately facing the consequences. We saw characters begging to gods for a desired outcome. Even the gods themselves begged to other gods. Take for example: in the Aeneid when Venus, Aeneas’s mother, begged Jupiter, king of the gods, to end the Trojans’ suffering. Overall behavior and moral ethics were put aside and were of less importance for the Greek characters within our texts. A lot of pride, arrogance, greed, and power-hungry events took place that the Eastern philosophy would not approve of. Moral power was more significant in Eastern philosophy than the term “power” in Western aspects. Confucius said to, “Put loyalty and faith above everything, and follow justice. That is how one accumulates moral power.” (389). In the Epic of Gilgamesh, power meant everything, but, not in terms of moral power. Gilgamesh wanted to be known as the highest and most admirable man there was. This need for importance was why Gilgamesh set out to kill Humbaba and prove himself to his people. In Eastern philosophical aspects, the need to “prove oneself” would not even be prevailing in the first place.
As you can see, although both Western and Eastern philosophies had common values, the two were very different in a multitude of ways. Eastern philosophy established the real reason behind human existence and what a person’s purpose in the world was. All the while in Western Philosophy, starting off with the Greeks, there were only a few aspects that touched on the human condition and where it all began. Whether a person believed in multiple gods, the divine, or the realm of human nature- there is no denying that a lot can be learned from ancient times and applied to our daily modern life.
Separating the Fiction From Reality in Aeneid
Virgil’s Aeneid is one of the seminal works of the antiquity which offers us a lens into the life and art of ancient Romans in the era of 1 BC – the year the epic was written. A reading of the epic shows that Virgil’s attitude towards fact and fiction is one of complexity. He does not see the two as binary and opposite, but looks at them as tied up in a dialectical relationship. I will show that this is noticeably manifest. The way in which the two are meshed together presents most clearly in Virgil’s treatment of dreams and reality, earthly existence and the afterlife as well as history and fable, which each hold the same binary connotation of fact and fiction. Through a discussion of the dreams and their role in the epic, I will explore how the influence each has on the other supports this assertion. This will be shown by further considering the way Virgil depicts the dead and their interaction with the living, which is deeply entwined with dreams and reality. I will then turn to a discussion of the historical basis of the epic and the way it is in conversation with fable, in the form of myth. The entirety of this will serve to exhibit the way Virgil has kneaded together fact and fiction.
Virgil obfuscates the boundary between dreams and reality by showing the occurrences in dreams to be intricately linked to the occurrences in reality. There are three main instances of this in the epic. In Book II, Hector comes to Aeneas in a dream and tells him of the sack of Troy, warning him against fighting. When Aeneas awakes, he runs to fight against the Greeks as they pillage his city. The information he received in the dream was factual – the Greeks are pillaging Troy – and the assumption that dreams are of the world of fiction does not hold. Aeneas uses the information from the dream to inform his waking action. In Book IV, Aeneas is drawn away from his duty to establish the Roman people by his affair with Dido. Mercury, sent by Jupiter, appears to Aeneas in a dream to remind him of this duty. Awakening from this, Aeneas soon abandons Dido to return to his duty. It is what takes place in Aeneas’ dream that compels him to neglect Dido and continue with his charge. In Book VI Aeneas descends into the underworld of Dis to meet his father in Elysium. Many interpretations of Virgil’s Aeneid hold that this is a dream (McNeely, 1997). The ethereal nature of the entities Aeneas encounters as well as the process by which Aeneas makes his way into Dis both indicate that the journey is a dream. As soon as Aeneas leaves Elysium, he makes haste to continue on his journey to establish Rome. Once again, the information Aeneas receives via dream directly influences his behaviour in reality. We see that in all three cases, dreams have an immediate effect on Aeneas’ actions. There is no clear distinction separating the incidences of dreams from the events of reality as dreams are often seen to impact on waking life – the world of fact. Virgil is indicating that there is a murkier relationship between the two where dreams inform the real world and Aeneas’ actions in it.
Similarly, Virgil indicates that dreams are dependent on reality. At the time Virgil was writing the Aeneid, there was a typology of dreams that classified them into one of five categories; the enigmatic, the prophetic, the oracular, the nightmare or the anxiety-dream and the apparition or wish-fulfilment dream (Calcidius, 1992). McNeely (1997) also considers the incubation dream. This is similar to the prophetic dream but emphasises that the dreamer follows certain practices so as to be given some sort of prophecy. McNeely claims that Virgil’s dream of the underworld is primarily an incubation dream with aspects of the anxiety-dream and oracular dream (McNeely, 1997). He argues that with the Sibyl, Aeneas goes through several processes so as to communicate with his father through the dream. He attempts to incubate a certain dream. However, I believe that the dream is in fact anxiety driven. As McNeely discusses, Aeneas confronts Palinurus, who dies after going overboard on Aeneas’ ship, without a proper burial and suffers in Dis because of this. Aeneas also meets Dido, who he abandoned in Carthage – as he was told to do in the Mercury dream. He feels guilt for leaving her in his attempt to fulfil the will of the gods. He also sees all the men that died in the Sack of Troy. Aeneas is clearly confronting sentiments of guilt that are manifesting in a nightmare or anxiety-dream. Aeneas’ reality has intimately affected his dream. It is clear that dreams also affect reality. The dream also has oracular aspects as Anchises tells Aeneas about the lineage of Rome which inspires him to act with more resolve when he wakes (McNeely, 1997). It seems that there is a dialectical relationship between the two as the Mercury dream impacts Aeneas’ actions which lead to guilt, subsequently shaping his dreams.
Virgil further emphasises the muddying of the boundaries between the two when he tells us that Aeneas leaves Elysium through the gate of Ivory. The gate of Ivory is said to be the gate of false dreams or deceit in contrast to the gate of Horn which represents truth. McNeely looks at several purported reasons for this, concluding that the most convincing argument states that it is because ‘no-clear images of his dream reality will remain in his memory’ (McNeely, 1997, p. 122). The claim is that by having Anchises take Aeneas out of the gate of Ivory, Virgil is suggesting a sense of uncertainty; that Aeneas will awake with a resolve that originates from the dream without recalling the dream itself. I approach it with a slightly different take which is based in the same uncertainty. Aeneas in fact wakens able to remember what has taken place in the dream, but is unsure of whether or not it is real – dubious about its factual basis and how reliable the information is in waking life; in reality. The fact that it is Anchises who leads Aeneas out the gate rather than him leaving of his volition does not detract from this. As mentioned above, the dream is in a sense partly a product of Aeneas’ psychological state. As such, Anchises is a reflection of Aeneas’ psyche and emotional state. Hence, it is still plausible that the Gate of Ivory symbolises Aeneas’ uncertainty with the dream and his duty to establish Rome (the uncertainty can also be read in Aeneas’ wavering commitment to his duty when in Carthage. Unsure of his duties, he turns to pleasure with Dido). The reader is aware of the tangibility of the dream of Dis, but for Aeneas it is far more unclear, and Virgil is trying to convey this uncertainty. It may have merely been a device by which Virgil emphasised Aeneas’ piety – another central aspect of the epic – by showing Aeneas’ conforming to the will of the gods despite his uncertainty. Many argue that Virgil’s agenda in composing the Aeneid was to affirm the genealogy of Rome (O’Meara, 1988). The issue of the Ivory gate challenged this as it suggested that the dream was false thereby undermining Virgil’s project. However, it is shown above that in fact the use of the Ivory gate does not do so as the reader is still led to believe in the immutable truth of Anchises’ exposition of Roman lineage. Once again, Virgil shows that the boundaries between dream and reality are indeterminate – this time by showing how Aeneas himself struggles with this distinction.
Correspondingly, Virgil treats the ideas of earthly existence and the afterlife and in so doing intertwines these two concepts. Despite death, characters in the Aeneid continue to play fundamental roles in the epic. Hector, who has died, comes to Aeneas to warn him of the sack of Troy. Anchises, Aeneas’ father has died, but is crucial to inciting Aeneas to continue on his duty to found Rome with fervour. Aeneas comes across both Dido and Palinurus when in Dis, causing him great emotional discomfort. Aeneas is also confronted by his dead wife, Creusa, who ‘mitigates [his] distress’ after her death by telling him it is of no use to ‘indulge in such mad grief’ and that he is still to find ‘kingship and a royal wife’ (Virgil, Bk II, 76-77, 83). Virgil is clearly indicating that the divide between earthly existence – Aeneas’ existence – and the afterlife – Hector, Anchises and Dido’s existence – are not so divided. In fact, those that have died, and now inhabit the afterlife have major effects on the living world. Yet, the dead are still somehow separate from the living. ‘In the Aeneid there exists more than one [cosmos]: it is clear that the souls in the seses beatae of Aeneid 6 inhabit their own cosmos, with its own celestial bodies outside of time’ (Mittal, 2011). The dead are part of a different realm but are still able to significantly interact with the living. They are not grounded by corporeal issues of time and space, but still interest themselves in the issues of the living. Death in the Aeneid is not terminal – it signifies a transition to the afterlife which is merely a different realm. Virgil makes it impossible to claim that the afterlife and earthly existence are entirely separate. The impact that the one has on the other, the way the one flows into the other, exhibits the blended view Virgil held of the concepts.
The afterlife and earthly existence are deeply related to dreams and as such reflect that same disorientation between the two. It is in a dream that the dead Hector comes to Aeneas. Aeneas is also in a dream when he meets his father, Anchises, in the underworld, as is true of his encounter with Palinurus and Dido. As the line between what is dream and what is reality is blurred, one can no longer distinguish clearly between those that are dead and those that are alive. Instead of such discrete categories, the dead take on a life of their own in the epic. Virgil has subtly blended earthly existence, reality, dreams and the afterlife in such a way that it is not possible to observe them as isolated from one another.
Equally, Virgil conflates the concepts of history and fable by making use of both to achieve the same end – legitimating Roman genealogy. ‘Augustus wanted Virgil to tell a story that grandly mythologized the founding of Rome’ (Vandiver, 2008, p. 65). Merely telling the history of Rome would not have achieved this – it would have been a simple recounting of history and not a story. In order to ‘mythologize’ Rome and do so ‘grandly’, Virgil needed to add elements of fable. Not only does this give new meaning to history but it also draws the audience in and allows further engagement with the history which has been intertwined with fable. Virgil used ‘myth as a vehicle for expression’ (Mittal, 2011, p. 1). I argue that the use of myth represents, in the Aeneid, what we term fable. There is no shortage of mythological instances in the Aeneid. When Laco?n throws a spear at the Greek horse in Book II, we see a mythical event:
‘See, a pair of serpents with huge coils, snaking over the sea from Tenedos through the tranquil deep (I shudder to tell it), and heading for the shore side by side: their fronts lift high over the tide, their blood-red crests top the waves, the rest of their body slides through the ocean behind and their huge backs arch in voluminous folds.’ (Aeneid, Bk II, 203-208)
The serpents are daunting beasts sent by the gods to punish Lacoon for his actions. Rather than merely expressing the story of the Trojan horse, Virgil glorifies the history with images of godly intervention and magical beasts. By including gods and myth in his recounting of Roman history, Virgil gives greater import to the story. In a sense, it serves as divine sanction that heightens the epic’s worth in the eyes of the pious. This is just one of many instances of mythical events in the epic. The prevalence of these events adds to the marvel that Virgil imparts on Roman history. He does this by clouding the distinction between history and fable by making them cooperate to achieve his aims.
Likewise, the presence of historical fact serves to ensure the epic is seen as valid. There is myriad archaeological evidence which supports the events in the epic. There are ruins attesting to the Sack of Troy in 1180 BC which Virgil explores in Book II. This is an important aspect to consider. Without this historical accuracy, the Aeneid may have been dismissed as no more than fable. It would not have been able to serve its function. It is also noteworthy that Virgil based a large part of the Aeneid on Homer’s Iliad. Homer’s work acted as the historical source upon which Virgil built his grandiose vision of Rome by infusing it with aspects of fable and Roman myth. Virgil has incorporated history and closely followed Homer’s epic which legitimises both Roman and Greek myths as well as the history of Rome itself. Once again, the synthesis of history and fable into one are employed by Virgil, indicating that he saw them not as distinct but as intertwined.
Conflation of fact and fiction is an eminent feature of Virgil’s Aeneid. Dreams impact reality and reality impacts on dreams in such a way that it is impossible to differentiate the two into distinct categories – Aeneas’ action is continually driven by his dreams and his waking life has a major impact on the dream worlds he inhabits. It is often the dead that cause him to act through these dreams and it is evident that the afterlife is merely a different realm which overlaps with the earthy existence of Virgil’s characters. It is similarly exposed that Virgil’s approach to history and fable as interdependent and equally important for his agenda reflects his attitude towards fact and fiction. I have conclusively shown that Virgil views fact and fiction not as antagonistic binaries but rather as overlapping and interdependent aspects of life.
Calcidius. (1992). Commentary on the Timaeus: Dreaming in the Middle Ages. In S. Kruger (Ed.). Cambridge University Press.
McNeely, S. (1997, September). Vergil’s Dreams: A Study of the Types and Purpose of Dreams in Vergil’s Aeneid. Kingston, Ontario, Canada.
Mittal, R. P. (2011). Time and History in Virgil’s Aeneid.
O’Meara. (1988). Virgil and Augustine: The “Aeneid” in the “Confessions”. Maynooth Review, 13, 30-43.
Vandiver, T. (2008). Revelations fo Rome in Virgil’s Aeneid. Hohonu: A Journal of Academic Writing, 6, 65-69.
Virgil. (n.d.). Aeneid.
Stylistic Analysis of Aeneid: Repetition
Repetition in the Aeneid
Ancient Rome was highly dependent on repetition; a repetition of Greek Architecture, repetition of the Olympian Gods, and even a repetition of Greek Literature. This is not to say that Roman culture was a cheap knock-off of the Greece, for Romans strived to not only match Greece’s rich culture but to rise above it. Virgil’s The Aeneid is a fine example of the manner in which Romans aimed to glorify Rome by imitating Greece. The theme of repetition is crucial to Virgil’s poem, particularly in Book VI, where history, myths, and tales reoccur or foretell an occurrence.
Near the beginning of Book VI, we enter a temple dedicated to Apollo, and upon entering, our narrator reiterates the history that gave rise to this temple. It is significant that the history of a shire is described so meticulously, and in the beginning of the book—in a manner, interrupting the reader, and Aeneas (for he stops to admire the gates) from continuing on with the story. Not only does this bestow the notion of history with a sense of great importance in the poem, it insinuates that everyone must yield to history, even a great hero such as Aeneas. This brief history begins with the tale of the inventor/artist Daedalus, who escapes Minos’ Kingdom by using a pair of man-made wings. Upon landing, he builds this temple and dedicates it to Apollo. The gates of the temple also feature many carvings depicting their history. What is most peculiar about that history is that it does not relate directly to Apollo or the temple’s location, but to an altogether separate narrative and mythos.
The historical account of Daedalus begins with the death of King Minos’ heir, Androgeos. Upon the death of Androgeos at the hands of Athenians, King Minos punishes the citizens of Athens by demanding the sacrifice of seven young men and seven young women every year. The concept of a blood sacrifice appears multiple times throughout the Aeneid, as every book mentions at least one blood sacrifice performed to the gods. However, the sacrifices performed by Aeneas characterize him as a pious and grateful servant to the gods because they are performed in honor of the gods. King Minos’ human sacrifices are not performed in honor of the gods, but made to relieve his own grief and feed a monster conceived by sin. By demanding these yearly sacrifices to satisfy himself, Minos not only proves to be a cruel and brutal leader, but ascends (or seeks to ascend) to the status of an angry god. The scene of the “seven bodies” (Book VI, ln. 31) of the Athenian boys meant to feed the hungry Minotaur alludes to an earlier episode in Book I where Aeneas hunts seven stags to feed his hungry crew men. The language of the poem describes the stags as “seven giant bodies along the ground” (Book I, ln 267-8) and reveals that the stags were not only sacrificed to quit the hunger of his men, but also to “[soothe] their melancholy hearts” (Book I, ln. 275). The demand for the sacrifice of seven lives occurs once more while Aeneas is still before the carvings on the gate of Apollo’s temple. Here, Deiphobe demands that Aeneas sacrifice seven steers from “a herd the yoke has never touched”(Book VI, ln. 55). This request refers back to the carving of the Athenian sacrifices, as the individuals sacrificed were young — like the steers — and perhaps even too young to truly partake in hard manual labor.
The carvings on the temple’s gate continue with the story of Pasiphae and the Minotaur. The story of Pasipha? is the story of a woman’s extreme infatuation with a male, though not a human male, which leads her to commit the unthinkable; the narrator refers to this as a “polluted passion” (Book VI, ln.37). This unyielding passion leads Pasiphae to act unreasonably and parallels the passion of Dido for Aeneas in Book IV. (Spurned by her lover, Dido’s passion becomes polluted and lures her to indulge in her own emotions which yield her decision for suicide without regards for her kingdom or people.)
Carved next on the gate is the story of Ariadne and Theseus. The scene depicts the intricate labyrinth crafted by Daedalus, and the manner in which Theseus manages to escape — using a solution proffered to him by Ariadne. It is important to note, however, that it is not merely Ariadne’s love for Theseus that saves him, but Daedalus’ pity for that love. (Daedalus is persuaded by it to disentangle the thread to lead Theseus out of the Minotaur labyrinth.) This episode portrays a triangular plot, as Theseus is trapped by Daedalus’ creation, Ariadne attempts to help him out of it, and Daedalus helps Ariadne help Theseus. Other triangular plots occur throughout Aeneas’ wanderings: the struggle between Venus, Aeneas, and Juno, to find and prevent Aeneas from finding Rome, and the love triangle between Aeneas, Turnus, and Lavinia.
Although Ariadne’s story as depicted on the gates ends with the release of Theseus, Ariadne’s tale in its entirety is highly reminiscent of earlier events in Aeneas’ journey. The story, according to Ovid, continues as Ariadne and Theseus sail off to the island of Dia. There Theseus, either by mistake or by technique, leaves Ariadne on the island while he sails away home. Upon watching him sail away without her, Ariadne utters a speech much like the one executed by Dido on Aeneas’ departure in Book IV, in which she attempts to place a vengeful curse on Aeneas. Ariadne’s story also alludes to the story of Creesa’s attempted escape from the burning Troy. When Aeneas leads his family out of the burning city, he has his wife Creesa follow behind them; however, in the panic of being overtaken by Romans, Aeneas frantically flees from the aggressors without once thinking of Creesa. It is not until he has secured his own safety and the safety of his father and son that he attempts to find the woman he left behind. (Another who perished in the escape from his city is Daedalus’ son, Icarus, whose wings melt apart when he flies too close to the sun. The narrator refers to Icarus with great regret, for Daedalus is too overcome with grief to carve his achievements into the gate. This is not the only regret however, as the narrator states that Icarus could have had a “great” [Book VI, ln.44] part in Daedalus’ work — insinuating that Icarus too could have grown up to be a great artisan/inventor like his father.)
The themes of history and legacy are both very present in the artwork carved into the gates of Apollo’s temple, as well as throughout the poem. The concept of immortalizing the history of one’s people is especially important to the end of Book VIII, when Aeneas receives an “indescribable” (Book VIII, ln. 809) shield. This magnificent piece of armor is forged by Vulcan and offered to Aeneas as a gift from his divine mother. In this respect, the shield and the temple gate are very similar: both are gifts exchanged between gods and mortals. Just as the carved gates depict the story of Daedalus’ people, so does Aeneas’ shield illustrate the story of his future people and his future nation. What is significant about the timeline of both artworks is that Daedalus’ art shows the past, insinuating that history is all he has or will ever have. With the death of his son Icarus also died his future and his legacy. Aeneas on the other hand, carries a shield which shows only the future — insinuating that his Trojan history has no part in the future of his people or his nation.
The Platonic Soul in the Aeneid
While many scholars are of the belief that Vergil penned the Aeneid to provide the Roman people with a propagandized epic glamorizing their own history, there is great evidence for Vergil’s intending the Aeneid to be something vastly more valuable: a parable on the powers of the Platonic soul. In his Republic, Plato outlines the different elements of the soul: appetitive, spirited, and rational. As the lowest part of man’s soul, appetite desires temporal things, lowest according to the hierarchy of being. The spiritedness of the soul is that from which the soul derives its energy in struggling to overcome challenges. Intellect governs man and is served by appetite and spiritedness according to its place of primacy among the powers of the soul. Throughout the Aeneid, Vergil endows the epic’s significant characters with the task of portraying the powers of the Platonic soul and revealing how such powers are ordered toward the virtue of justice.
Before examining exactly how the Aeneid’s characters portray the different powers of the soul, it is necessary to discuss the nature of the soul according to Plato. In his Republic, Plato writes on the kallipolis, the ideal city comprised of three major classes: the producers, the guardians, and the rulers, all of whom depict a particular power of the soul. Each class, along with its correlative power, finds its perfection in a virtue peculiar to its operation. It is for the producers, those who aid the city in acquiring resources necessary for survival, to exercise the virtue of moderation in declaring a ruler. It is for the guardians, who embody the spiritedness of the empire, to cast aside the false allures of foolhardiness and put on courage in their defense of the kallipolis. The rulers of the city cultivate wisdom that they may rationally govern the city. All of the classes of the city fulfilling their societal obligations, rendering to each class its respective due realizes justice, that virtue paramount throughout antiquity. Just as Plato describes the rulers of the city as necessarily aiming to promote justice among themselves, so does Vergil endow Aeneas with a growth toward justice throughout the whole of the Aeneid. Despite Aeneas’ efforts in such growth, the lower powers of his soul often hinder him and cause him to falter.
In her embodiment of the soul’s appetitive power tragic Dido, queen of Carthage, plays a critical role in Aeneas’ falling short of justice. Vergil shows that the relationship Aeneas shares with Dido does not promote justice, but selfish immoderation. Concerning Dido’s unmitigated passion Vergil writes, “She thought no longer of a secret love but called it marriage. / Thus, under that name, She hid her fault.” Just as Dido leads Aeneas into serious fault, so does the appetite, when operating in a manner wholly unchecked by the intellect, lead the individual toward unbridled pleasure. In falling relentlessly into such imprudent pleasure, Dido loses her reputation among neighboring rulers. Lamenting her tarnished character, Dido exclaims to Aeneas:
Because of you, Libyans and nomad kings
Detest me, my own Tyrians are hostile;
Because of your, I lost my integrity
And that admired name by which alone
I made my way once toward the stars. (4.290-342)
Such immoderation, such carelessness with regard to integrity, instigates in both Dido and Aeneas an attitude focused principally on taking from, rather contributing to their respective governances. Dido neglects her duties toward Carthage, where Aeneas remains throughout the winter, having lost sight of his mission to found a new kingdom. On Dido’s negligence, Vergil writes:
How Dido in her beauty graced his company,
Then how they reveled all winter long
Unmindful of the realm, prisoners of lust. (4.175-234)
Appetite dominates such behavior, totally disregarding one’s duties toward society and embracing disordered indulgence.
Like appetite, spiritedness when in total domination of the soul, leads to disorder. Turnus, Aeneas’ rival in taking control of Italy and winning the hand of the beautiful Lavinia, embodies spiritedness, and the unfortunate consequences of his rash decisions illustrate how, when a soul is under the reign of spiritedness, disorder arises. In his essay “War and Peace” K.W. Grandsen writes on Turnus’ overarching tendency toward spiritedness, “He is prepared to take risks.” Such is certainly true, for Turnus’ imprudent judgements are often based solely on his desire for war: his bloodlust. When describing Turnus’ character, Vergil writes, “lust of steel raged in him, brute insanity of war, and wrath above all” (7.634-636). Through the sorry consequences of his vainglorious actions, the character of Turnus symbolizes the necessity of channeling the spiritedness of the soul and holding fast to the virtue of courage: courage that seeks to defend the rights of others, rather than amass worthless glory for oneself. One particular incident in which Turnus distinguishes his foolishness is that in which he mindlessly ceases the wrong weapon before making for battle, such is his thirst for the conquests of battle. The scene during which Turnus brutally kills Aeneas’ comrade, Pallas, also signifies spiritedness, poorly controlled — an outburst which consequently causes Aeneas to allow his own spiritedness to rise above the authority of his intellect. From Turnus’ ill-judged actions in battle, especially his inhuman killings, emerge a great lack of justice. Such is displayed when Turnus, locked alone within the gates of the Trojan encampment and consumed in his own pursuit of glory, thrashes his sword about wildly rather than open the gate and enable his comrades to enter. That Turnus experiences an intense temptation toward suicide points the reader to the ultimate deprivation of such justice: robbing oneself of one’s own life.
Just as Aeneas must conquer Turnus in order to take control of the barbarism that so pervades primitive Latin society, so also must the intellect take control of spiritedness and appetite. Yet unlike Dido and Turnus, who portray their corresponding powers of the soul so flawlessly, Aeneas’ portrayal of the intellectual power of the soul seems at first to be riddled with imperfection. Frequently in the Aeneid does the epic’s hero fail to tame his appetite and spiritedness. His behavior with Dido and disproportionate course of action in response to Turnus’ killing of Pallas reveals his weakness in governing his lower faculties. Yet the lack of order in Aeneas’ soul points toward growth in the power which ought to be present in all of his actions: intellect. Just as the whole of the Aeneid is a gradual journey towards establishing the land fated to become the Roman Empire, so is Aeneas’ interior growth a process which encompasses the whole of the epic, and Aeneas, like Vergil’s readers, has yet to discover how this process will end. As Harold Bloom writes, “Virgil’s Aeneas is a man set apart by a destiny of which he himself seems uncertain.” Aeneas actualizes his potential for interior growth in intellectual control over his appetite upon making the decision to leave Dido. Aeneas, though wishing to remain with Dido, understands his duty to establish a place of settlement for his people. Concerning Aeneas’ struggle to leave Dido, Vergil writes:
Aeneas, though he struggled with desire
To calm and comfort her in all her pain,
To speak to her and turn her mind from grief,
And though he sighed his heart out, shaken still
With love of her, yet took the course heaven gave him
And went back to the fleet. (4.545-551)
Thus does Aeneas accept the difficult duty given him, and in doing so achieves rule over his appetite. Aeneas’ wrestling his spiritedness into submission to his intellect is shown vividly when he defeats Turnus in battle. The Aeneid’s last scene, in which Aeneas addresses Turnus before dispatching him in battle, portrays Aeneas’ spiritedness at last in submission to his intellect. Aeneas addresses Turnus before administering the deathblow:
You in your plunder, torn from one of mind,
Shall I be robbed of you? This wound will come
From Pallas: Pallas makes this offering
And from your criminal blood exacts his due. (12.1291-124)
Aeneas’ final words in the epic direct the reader to the justice he is about to render on behalf of his dead friend. Such justice reveals the proper ordering of his soul, at long last achieved. The culmination of the Aeneid in the virtue of justice, the crowning virtue in Roman society, shows the corollary ordering of the soul of the Empire’s first ruler: Aeneas, who portrays the importance of the intellect’s predominance and correlative wisdom in every individual soul.
Vergil, in outlining the organization of the Platonic soul’s powers in the Aeneid, illustrates such powers as embodied in the work’s key characters: Dido, Turnus, and, of course, the poem’s hero, Aeneas. Vergil directs the reader’s gaze to the virtues emerging from the different powers of the properly ordered soul: moderation, courage, and wisdom. In the soul perfected by its appropriate virtues is realized the virtue of justice, the outward manifestation of which denotes order in the soul. The lack of such justice is clear in the consequences of Dido’s actions and the madness which ensues from her allowing appetite to surpass the intellect in control of her being. Similarly, Turnus’ spiritedness eventually leads to his own rightly warranted demise at the hand of Aeneas, who in administering justice executes the power of the soul corresponding to his role in the Aeneid: the intellect. In the demise of the characters representing and dominated by the lower natures of the soul, Vergil points his reader toward the primacy of intellect, and its necessary function in governing the soul. Yet Aeneas’ movement toward interior order and its parallel justice represents the right operation of the intellect in the human soul. Aeneas’ gradually conquering the lower parts of his soul lays out the journey fated for every human soul and the decisions necessary in traveling upon it well. Man has either to allow his appetite and spiritedness to rule him or to use his intellect in exercising his actions aright. Vergil presents man with this universal choice, reminding him that it is only through proper ordering of the powers soul that justice can be achieved.
Feldherr, Andrew. “Viewing Myth and History on the Shield of Aeneas.” Classical Antiquity vol., 33, no. 2 (2014): 281-318.
Grandsen, K.W. “War and Peace.” In Modern Critical Interpretations of Vergil’s Aeneid, edited by Harold Bloom (New York, NY: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987), 127-147.
Plato. Republic. Translated by G.M.A. Grube. Revised by C.D.C. Reeve. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1992.
Vergil. The Aeneid. Translated by Robert. Fitzgerald. New York: Vintage Books, 1984.
Image Creation in Aeneid
An important recurring image throughout Virgil’s Aeneid is that of the serpent, which appears both realistically and metaphorically. The serpent icon is a harbinger of death and a symbol of deception. These two elements represented by the snake are important to the whole epic, but even more so to Book II because it describes how the Greeks, in order to finally take Troy, used deception to gain access into the city.
In spite of the mighty Greek heroes like Achilles and Ajax and the sheer numbers in their army and navy, in the end it was the snake-like craftiness of Sinon combined with an omen of death embodied in twin serpents that proved to be the downfall of Troy. Aeneas recounts,
“This fraud of Sinon, his accomplished lying,
Won us over; a tall tale and fake tears
Had captured us, whom neither Diomedes
Nor Larisaean Achilles overpowered,
Nor ten long years, nor all their thousand ships.” (II:268-272)
Virgil does not directly utilize snake imagery with Sinon’s character, but he emphasizes the concepts of lies and deception, which are associated with the serpent metaphor. By speaking in lies, Sinon takes on the characteristics of Virgil’s serpent images. While Sinon’s acting was very convincing in favor of bringing the horse within the city walls, two real snakes from the sea serve to complete the ruse and convince the Trojans to accept the horse.
Even though Laocon was the only man whose insight into the true nature of the horse was correct, the twin snakes kill him and his two sons. “Laocon had paid… For profanation of the sacred hulk.”(II:308-310) Since he had flung a spear at the horse in contempt prior to being attacked, the Trojans assumed that the horse was a divine object protected by the gods, and so they felt obligated to pull it into the city. The men become so blinded by Sinon’s lies and the deceptive behavior of the serpents, that they do not notice the “four times the arms/ In the belly thrown together made a sound,”(II:325-6) each time that the horse halts. Unbeknownst to these men was the fact that these snakes were an omen that represented the utter destruction of their city. In describing the death of Laocon and his sons, Virgil is preparing the reader for the snake that will be the death of Troy itself.
The serpent that does destroy the city is not an actual snake, but the wooden horse, which Virgil imparts with snake-like qualities. He describes its movement, “Deadly, pregnant with enemies, the horse/ Crawled upward to the breach.”(II:317-318) Like a venomous snake laden with deadly offspring, the deceptive contraption moves into the heart of the Trojan City. The horse has taken on the role of the twin serpents, while Troy, whose destruction is imminent, assumes the role of Laocon and his sons.
Virgil uses snake imagery one last time in Book II by giving serpentine qualities to the Danaan Pyrrhus, who appears to Aeneas,
“As a serpent, hidden swollen underground…
Renewed and glossy, rolling slippery coils,
With lifted underbelly rearing sunward
And triple tongue a-flicker.”(II:614-619)
This description of Pyrrhus foreshadows death to come as it is this very same Greek who becomes the bane of Priam and his son Polits, “That was the end of Priam’s age, the doom that took him off.”(II:722-723) Virgil subtly sets the reader up to expect the worse from Pyrrhus’ actions because up to that point, every snake image the reader has encountered has been followed by death and destruction.
Sinon’s lies, the snakes from the sea, the wooden horse and Pyrrhus all reflect the qualities of death and deception that Virgil associates with the serpent. Throughout the remainder of the epic, the snake image retains these symbolic characteristics. Virgil uses the imagery to bring a lust for war onto Amata and to predict the death of Rome’s future enemies.
The fury Allecto, who single-handedly incites war between the Trojans and the Latins, is, by her physical and character description alone, one of Virgil’s serpents. She is,
“Grief’s drear mistress, with her lust for war,
For angers, ambushes, and crippling crimes.
Even her father Pluto hates this figure…
For her savage looks, her head
Alive and black with snakes.”(VII:445-450)
Allecto’s persona reeks of death and she is employed by Juno precisely for this trait, because the goddess knows that this serpentine creature will gladly and effectively stir up war among the Latins and Trojans. Considering the mass amount of tragic deaths that result from the war, Allecto can be classified as a harbinger of death, which her snake-like qualities already suggest.
Allecto uses one of her serpent tresses to fuel the anger already harbored by Amata towards the Trojans to the point of uncontrollable rage. This snake is similar to the wooden horse, because it came upon its victim insidiously and resulted in destruction. While Troy is burned as a result of the horse, Amata’s mind is corrupted by the snake to the point of insanity, “The serpent’s evil madness circulated… And with insane abandon (she) roamed the city.”(VII:517-520) The queen’s mind has been destroyed and remains in ruins like the Trojan City.
While the reader witnesses the destruction wrought by Allecto and the other serpent images within the context of the story, Virgil also uses snake imagery to comment on forthcoming events. Aeneas’ shield, which is crafted by Vulcan, depicts many accomplishments of the future Roman Empire, not the least of which is the defeat of Marc Antony and Cleopatra. In order to convey the future victory of Rome over the Egyptian Queen to the reader, Virgil uses serpents to represent death once again. He describes Cleopatra as, “Never turning her head as yet to see/ Twin snakes of death behind.”(VIII:944-945) The snakes precede other icons of death such as the furies, Mars and Bellona, which demonstrates their importance to Virgil as a true harbinger of death.
The serpent is a necessary element of the Aeneid, because the death and deception that it represents are essential to the events that take place within the epic. If the Greeks had never sacked Troy, Aeneas would never have left, and Rome might not have been founded. Deception is what brought victory to the Greeks and Virgil realizes this fact, so he chooses the snake to represent this concept. By remaining consistent in his use of the image, Virgil helps the reader to identify the presence of deception and looming death.