The Goals of the Divine

February 1, 2019 by Essay Writer

In both Virgil’s The Aeneid and books Genesis and Exodus of the Old Testament, dreams, visions, signs, wonders and divinations serve as powerful testaments to the universal knowledge and might of the pagan Roman gods and the Jewish god. Revealing their wisdom and desires through these holy wonders, the gods of both Rome and the Israelites facilitate the progress of the heroes and chosen people in these epical and biblical stories. However, the intent of the Roman and Jewish gods in using symbolic signs and holy miracles differs greatly. While the gods in The Aeneid, in providing Aeneas with physical and spiritual signs, seek to further his founding of Rome and the fulfillment of fate, in Genesis and Exodus, God uses his powers to instill in earthly people proof of his existence, in addition to testing and rewarding their personal faith and love.In The Aeneid, Aeneas is from the start reminded through supernatural occurrences of his obligation to search for a new home. As he flees ruined Troy with his family, the apparition of his wife Creusa appears, asking him not to mourn a death that is “part of the divine plan” (74). In their short encounter, she foretells these things:You have to plough through a great waste of ocean to distant exile. And you shall come to the Western Land where the gentle current of Lydian Tiber flows between rich meadows where men are strong. There happiness and a kingdom are in store for you, with a queen for you to marry. (74)Here, Aeneas’ Trojan wife seems more like a messenger of fate who knows the future and reminds him to take care of their son Iulus than a wife who is seeing her husband for the last time. Her impersonal words are as calculated as they are clear and commanding: hurry away from this dangerous spot so that you may fulfill your destiny untouched by the Argive race. “Dispel your tears for the Creusa whom you loved,” for you must concentrate on the path set ahead (74). And though Creusa is not a god by any means, her words are nevertheless inspired by the Olympian divinities; Creusa would not otherwise have the ability to see the future.As Aeneas travels the land upon his arrival at Carthage, he again receives the aid of the gods through wondrous means. Venus, concerned for her son’s safety and, more importantly, conscious of his fate, is behind most of these signs and effects. She first appears to him as a beautiful maiden, “like some Spartan girl, or like Harpalyce the Thracian who outruns horses till they tire and outstrips even the winged river Hebrus” (37). Like Creusa before her, Venus appears under the specific pretext of describing the land and its ruler, Dido, so that Aeneas will feel compelled by curiosity and envy to approach the fledging city and its queen.Once again, the significance of Aeneas’ journey and his ultimate success overshadow his personal sadness and need for comfort. Venus has no desire to reveal her true form, since this visit is a “business only” affair to her. Her magical disguise is one way to keep her son mindful of his obligations toward searching for a new home, as it allows her (and Aeneas) to concentrate more fully on walking the path of destiny. For example, as Aeneas laments his troubles, “Venus would not listen to more complaints,” and she impatiently interrupts to show him the prophetic sign Jupiter has sent through the skies in the form of twelve swans representing Aeneas’ lost fleet, and also to advise Aeneas to venture toward the heart of Carthage (39). While it would be difficult for a mother to abruptly stop her son from recounting his grievances, for a roaming maiden ending the talk is not. Thus, for the goddess, the supernatural ability to change forms serves the purpose of advancing the process of Roman settlement in Alba Longa and upholding the predictions of the fates without the complications of the mother-son relationship.Aeneas’ travels later in the epic again involve divine intervention in the form of wonder and vision. In Book Six, Aeneas is instructed by the Sibyl to find the golden bough before he is to proceed in the underworld. Obtaining the golden bough is yet another goal Aeneas must reach in his drive toward finding a home for the Trojan gods. In fact, Aeneas finds the bough by the blessings of Venus, who sends doves, which “soared swiftly, skimming through the clear air, found the perch of their desire, and settled on a pair of adjacent treetops; and there, through the branches, shone the contrasting gleam of gold” (153). The miracle of Aeneas’ journey into the underworld, the dangers he encounters there, his discovery of the golden bough, and his later reunion with Anchises, are a microcosm of the godly signs and wonders that pervade all of the Trojan traveler’s experiences in carrying out fate.In books Genesis and Exodus of the Bible, God’s purpose in performing miraculous acts and signs stands in stark contrast to the intents of the Roman gods. For there is no fate in the world of the Jewish god; he is fate, and he decides what will happen in the lives of humans. God seeks to reinforce his own existence and magnanimity in the hearts and minds of his children, and through the performance of miracles and wonders rewards the devout and gains the recognition of others. In Genesis, when Abraham laughs at God’s promise of descendents through Sarah, he asks humbly, “Can a son be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah bear a child at ninety?” (12:17). Yet God, treasuring the faith and love of Abraham, keeps to his promise and miraculously, Sarah bears Isaac at an ancient age. Through this act, God not only performs his end of the covenant, he validates his own power in the mind of Abraham’s family and others who learn about this miracle. As Sarah comments later, “Got has given me good reason to laugh, and everyone who hears will laugh with me” (21:6).God also performs acts of unkindness that are effective in proving his great power and validating that power through punishing the unfaithful. When he “rained down fire and brimstone from the skies on Sodom and Gomorrah,” God warns Lot and his family to escape but not look back at the two cities, the objects of his wrath (19:24). “But Lot’s wife looked back, and she turned into a pillar of salt” (19:26). The two divine signs God reveals to earthlings, once again, establish a precedent for those with evil and doubt in their hearts. Through the miracle of turning Lot’s wife into salt and destroying a city full of wrongdoers and the sinful, God increases his fame throughout the cities and tribes around Sodom and Gomorrah, and sets fear in the hearts of those who would not listen to his mandates.This need for God to validate himself and test the faith of the people is revisited in Exodus, when he guides Moses through the struggle with Pharaoh. In retaliation for the Egyptian’s abuse of his people, the Israelites, and to show Pharaoh the terrible mistake he has made in opposing the Lord, God strikes down the Egyptians with plagues until finally the lord of Egypt releases the Jewish people from captivity. God’s intent is clearly stated when he speaks to Moses; he ruins the obstinate leader “so that I may win glory for myself at the expense of Pharaoh and all his army; and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord” (14:4). Here, spreading fame and recognition is the name of the game for God. Though his reaction to the Egyptian’s confinement of his people might seem harsh by some standards, God feels it is necessary so that more people are wary of his might and will seek refuge under the Jewish way of life. It is through this punishment, in addition to the miracle of Moses’ parting of the Red Sea, that God establishes his place in the world and the minds of those who have not heard of him. He also fortifies his position in the minds and hearts of the Israelites, who against all odds are rescued and brought to new settlements, although later they anger God by creating a bovine idol.The miracle of the burning bush of Exodus can serve as a focused contrast to the golden bough of The Aeneid. The golden bough in the Virgilian epic is a symbol for fate; Aeneas is compelled to search for it so that he may gain passage in the underworld and learn about his journey from his father, yet another prerequisite to his founding of Rome. It is an object to be obtained, to be found. The burning bush is God himself, in a form Moses can comprehend and accept. The discovery of the bush is like the discovery of the golden bough, a wonder that is crucial for later success, yet it represents a way for Moses to meet the Lord and solidify his faith and support for God’s orders, not the linear task that Aeneas is forced to undertake in his execution of destiny.In The Aeneid and the Bible, plagues, miracles, rewards, signs and predictions are performed by both the Roman deities and God as ways of furthering some goal; Aeneas must find a new home for his people and his gods, and the followers of God will someday have their own nation and be “kings of peoples” (17:16). Yet the gods from both sides are driven in different ways; the Roman gods perform miracles and wonders in order to facilitate a Trojan leader’s campaign, compelled by clairvoyance of his future. In Genesis and Exodus, however, a God unrecognized and angered by the people he created, through plagues and rewards, engages in his own campaign to restore recognition and devotion and punish sin. While the Olympian gods use their incredible powers to facilitate the inevitable, the Jewish God with his might quests to be known and be cherished by everyone he touches, whether he touches them in a malevolent or benevolent way.

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