Aeneid by Virgil Literary Analysis Part II
Aeneid by Virgil Literary Analysis Part II
The Aeneid, a captivating tale of resilience and hope, revolves around a group of survivors who emerge from the ruins of their fallen city in search of a new homeland in a distant land. It is a profound work of fiction, intricately woven with elements of myth and legend, depicting a timeless quest for the perpetuation of the human spirit. However, it is crucial to recognize that Virgil’s contemporaries viewed this epic from a completely different perspective, shaped by their collective belief in its historical authenticity.
Romans and their Origin in Aeneid by Virgil
Long before Virgil’s era, the Romans nurtured a cherished belief that their lineage traced back to the legendary Trojans.
Under the courageous leadership of Aeneas, the Trojan ancestors embarked on an extraordinary odyssey, departing from their war-ravaged homeland of Troy in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). Their voyage spanned the vast expanses of the Mediterranean Sea, carrying them westward to the fertile shores of Italy’s Latium region, the future site of Rome’s glorious inception. This timeless narrative of Aeneas’s heroic journey resonated deeply with the Roman people, instilling them with a sense of pride and serving as a wellspring of inspiration. Its roots can be traced back to the fifth century B.C., meticulously chronicled by the Greek historian Hellenicus of Lesbos. In the following century, the tale of Aeneas’s establishment of the renowned city of Lavinium was recounted by another Greek scholar named Timaeus, an event alluded to at the very outset of the Aeneid.
Virgil skillfully weaves together the threads of this cherished Roman myth, infusing it with his artistic vision, poetic mastery, and profound insights into the human condition. Through his narrative, the Aeneid emerges as a powerful testament to the enduring spirit of a people and their unyielding determination to forge a new destiny in the face of adversity. It resonates as a timeless tale of rebirth, where life triumphantly emerges from the ashes of destruction and death. While we appreciate the Aeneid as a magnificent work of literary fiction, it is crucial to recognize the profound impact it had on Virgil’s contemporaries, who perceived the events depicted within the poem as veritable truths passed down through the ages.
The Aeneid stands as both a literary masterpiece and a testament to the indomitable spirit of a civilization, offering us a glimpse into the eternal yearnings and aspirations of humanity itself. According to the captivating Roman legend, the founding of Rome dates back to 753 B.C., orchestrated by Romulus, a descendant of Aeneas. Romulus had a twin brother Remus, and they were considered as the Mars’s children. Mars, as one knows, is the God of war in ancient mythology.
In order to bridge the temporal divide between the legendary downfall of Troy, believed to have taken place around 1184 B.C., and the eventual founding of Rome, the myth proposes the presence of intervening generations of kings. Among them are Ascanius, the son of Aeneas also known as Iulus, and Numitor, the grandfather of Romulus and Remus. This imaginative account weaves a narrative thread connecting the heroic lineage of Aeneas to the legendary beginnings of Rome.
Roman Population and Europeans Natives
In actuality, the Roman population can trace its roots back to Indian and European native people. Despite its legendary beginnings in the designated era, Rome many years ago was only a federation of pastoral villages. Before 509 B.C., these villages united as a confederation and were governed by kings, some of whom were of Etruscan origin. The Etruscans, believed to have originated from Asia Minor, akin to the mythical Trojans, played a role in Rome’s early history. However, in 509 B.C., Rome experienced a pivotal shift as the final Etruscan king, Tarquin the Proud, was deposed, ushering in the era of the Roman Republic. The dominance of the Etruscans gradually waned following their defeat, and their influence diminished over time. In Virgil’s Aeneid, Etruscan warriors rise against their malevolent ruler, Mezentius, and join forces with the Trojans in their conflict against the Latins.
This interplay between historical reality and mythical narratives showcases the Romans’ seamless integration of legend and history. Virgil likely presumed that his contemporaneous readers would regard the prominent legends surrounding their national origins, particularly those centered around Aeneas, as genuine accounts. Additionally, he likely anticipated their recollection of Book XX of Homer’s Iliad, where Aeneas, proudly recounting his noble lineage to Achilles and engaging in a fierce battle with the formidable Greek warrior, is ultimately saved from certain demise by Poseidon, the god of the sea (known as Neptune in Roman mythology). The prophecy had foretold Aeneas’s destiny to lead the surviving Trojans.
These intertwined accounts reflect the intricate interplay between legend and history within the Roman psyche. Virgil masterfully incorporates these elements, evoking a sense of national pride and resonating with the readers’ deep-rooted beliefs in their ancestral origins. The Aeneid serves as a testament to the power of myth and its enduring influence on the shaping of Roman identity.
Romans and the Greek Culture in Aeneid
The Romans were not only familiar with Greek literature but also Greek religion, which they assimilated and blended with their own beliefs. They identified Italian deities with their Greek counterparts to such an extent that they considered them essentially the same, albeit with different Greek names. Virgil’s contemporary readers possessed a profound understanding of the gods and goddesses, who played significant roles in the Trojan War and numerous other Greek legends and myths, serving as driving forces behind the narrative.
Therefore, when Virgil introduces the “judgment Paris gave” in the opening section of the Aeneid, known as the judicium Paridis in Latin, his contemporary readers would have immediately recognized this concise yet powerful allusion. It served to explain why Juno, the queen of the gods, harbored unwavering enmity towards the Trojans, making her a formidable antagonist throughout the epic poem. The significance of Paris’s judgment, which involved the awarding of a golden apple in a divine beauty contest presided over by Paris himself, the son of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy, cannot be overstated. It was this very event that sparked the Trojan War and ultimately led to the downfall of Troy, an event intricately tied to the founding of Rome.
The interweaving of Greek mythology and Roman history in the Aeneid underscores the deep-rooted connection between these two cultures. Virgil skillfully draws upon these shared narratives, invoking a sense of familiarity and tapping into his readers’ profound knowledge of the Greek pantheon. By integrating these elements into his work, he not only connects the origins of Rome to the grand tapestry of Greek mythology but also engages his audience through their shared cultural heritage, creating a rich and resonant epic that captures the essence of both myth and history.
Golden Apple for the Fairest in Aeneid
The seemingly insignificant golden apple, bearing the inscription “For the Fairest,” held tremendous significance as it became the catalyst for profound consequences, igniting the passions of both mortals and immortals. The goddess of discord, Eris, fueled by her anger at being excluded from a wedding, flung the apple into the midst of the gathered guests, sparking a fierce dispute among three goddesses: Venus, revered as the very embodiment of love’s enchanting allure, saw herself as the undeniable recipient of the golden apple’s coveted inscription. Juno, majestic and commanding as the queen of the gods, firmly believed that the apple, gleaming with divine radiance, could only be intended for her regal embrace. As for Minerva, embodying wisdom’s profound intellect, she was convinced that the apple’s true destination was none other than her worthy and discerning hands. Thus, these formidable goddesses stood locked in an eternal struggle, each fiercely asserting her claim to the illustrious prize.
Jupiter aims to Resolve the Dilemma
To resolve the contentious dispute, Jupiter, the mighty ruler of the gods, appointed Paris, a mortal prince of distinguished charm, as the impartial judge. Renowned for his unparalleled beauty, Paris faced the weighty decision of awarding the golden apple to one of the three goddesses. After careful deliberation, Paris bestowed the coveted prize upon Venus, captivated by her irresistible allure. In gratitude for his choice, Venus pledged to bestow upon him the most exquisite woman in all the realms—a promise that stirred Paris’s heart more than the enticing offerings of Juno and Minerva. Juno, stung by this perceived personal slight, nurtured a deep-rooted animosity, knowing all too well that her cherished city of Carthage would one day fall to the conquering might of Rome, its people destined for enslavement.
The woman Paris acquired as his reward was none other than Helen, the wife of Menelaus, the valiant Greek king of Sparta. Their elopement sent shockwaves through the realm, prompting Menelaus to initially seek a peaceful resolution for the return of his beloved wife. However, when diplomatic efforts faltered, Menelaus joined forces with his formidable brother Agamemnon, the king of Mycenae. Together, they assembled a colossal fleet of a thousand ships and a formidable army, marking the commencement of the legendary Trojan War. This momentous conflict would shape the fates of Greeks and Trojans alike, unleashing a torrent of epic battles, heroic deeds, and heartrending tragedies.
The deep-seated enmity that permeated the relationship between the Greeks and the Trojans proved inscrutable to Virgil without the inclusion of a supernatural element. Virgil’s contemporaries would have readily discerned that in Book IV, when Queen Dido of Carthage utters her curse upon the Trojans, she unwittingly invokes the indomitable Carthaginian general Hannibal. It was Hannibal, accompanied by his fierce warriors and formidable elephants, who laid waste to Italy for more than a decade during the harrowing years of the Second Punic War. These historical references would have resonated deeply with Virgil’s readers, as they were intimately familiar with the chronicles of the Punic Wars, a sequence of conflicts that shaped the fate of nations.
A total of three Punic Wars unfolded between Carthage and Rome, leaving an indelible mark on history. The First Punic War raged from 264 to 241 B.C., followed by the Second Punic War spanning 218 to 201 B.C. Finally, the Third Punic War erupted from 149 to 146 B.C., culminating in the destruction of Carthage itself. For Virgil’s readers, these three monumental conflicts embodied the realization of Dido’s ancient curse upon the Trojans, albeit in a far distant era.
Carthage’s Demise Explained in Aeneid
In the wake of Carthage’s demise, Rome’s military might continued unabated as it confronted and triumphed over other foreign powers hindering its relentless march towards supremacy. Notably, Rome clashed with the realms once encompassed within Alexander the Great’s empire, including Syria, Macedonia, and Egypt. The Macedonian wars, a series comprising four engagements, ultimately resulted in Greece falling under the complete dominion of Rome, solidifying its imperial reach.
The growth of Rome’s empire brought about significant consequences for its republican government, plunging the republic into a period of internal unrest and upheaval. Numerous factors contributed to this turbulent era, including economic inflation, the widening wealth gap caused by the concentration of agricultural land in the hands of wealthy landowners, the demands for Roman citizenship from non-Roman Italians, the devastation suffered by Italy during the Second Punic War, the pervasive corruption among provincial governors in newly acquired territories, and, perhaps most profoundly, the sheer magnitude of Rome’s expansive dominion.
As Rome evolved from a modest city-state into a sprawling empire, the traditional republican system faced mounting challenges. The governance structure relied on two consuls sharing power annually, with the authority to veto each other’s decisions. However, the vastness of the empire and the complexities of administration made effective governance increasingly arduous. The republic struggled to adapt to the demands of governing such an expansive realm, resulting in internal divisions, political rivalries, and a breakdown of traditional checks and balances.
End of Roman Republic in Aeneid by Virgil
As the Roman republic neared its end, a tumultuous period of political unrest and power struggles ensued, with ambitious and ruthless leaders vying for dominance over the state. Despite their efforts, none of these leaders were able to effectively address Rome’s challenges or establish lasting authority for themselves and their factions. The First Triumvirate, consisting of Crassus, Pompey, and Julius Caesar, exemplified this struggle for supremacy. In 49 B.C., Caesar led his legions to Rome and emerged victorious over his rival, Pompey. The power dynamics shifted once again with the formation of the Second Triumvirate, composed of Mark Antony, Lepidus, and Octavian. Eventually, in 31 B.C., Octavian, later known as Augustus, achieved triumph over Antony and Cleopatra at the decisive Battle of Actium, solidifying his position as the dominant leader.
Following his rise to power, Octavian, Rome’s first emperor, received the official title of Augustus from the Roman Senate in 27 B.C. This esteemed name, meaning “revered,” symbolized his elevated position. Throughout his ascent, Octavian demonstrated a calculated and shrewd approach akin to his fellow leaders. However, unlike those before him, he possessed the ability to restore stability and harmony to Rome. Octavian implemented significant reforms, restructuring the Roman bureaucracy and expanding its membership to include individuals from diverse backgrounds such as commoners, freedmen, and even slaves. Cleverly concealing his absolute authority, he maintained the outward appearance of a republican government, carefully balancing the traditional institutions with his centralized power.
Virgil, a renowned poet who witnessed the waning power of the Roman republic, observed the fading glory of a once-mighty state. Amidst this backdrop of decline, Virgil yearned for the promised tranquility and prosperity that Augustus brought to Rome. With unwavering support for the emperor’s policies, Virgil recognized the fortuitous union between a visionary ruler and his own poetic genius. This convergence culminated in the creation of the Aeneid, a magnum opus with a twofold purpose: to resurrect the memory of Rome’s illustrious and heroic past, which formed the very essence of the city’s foundation, and to ignite the aspirations of its people for a future filled with grandeur and heroism. In an era of profound societal transformation, Virgil’s work aimed to instill hope and forge unity, serving as a beacon of inspiration for a Rome in transition.
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