I. Is there a basis in actual Roman prehistory? Possibly.
II. How Virgil appropriates Homer’s epics
A. Uses Homer’s way of organizing narrative
1. Long verse narrative (12 books vs. 24)
2. Overarching plot that organizes a variety of stories
3. Strong horizontal forward movement
4. Begins in medias res
B. Poetic style calculated to remind readers of Homer
1. Recurring adjectives and phrases, such as pius Aeneas, like Homer’s oral formulas
2. Long pieces of impressive oratory
C. Parallel elements in the stories
1. Same pantheon of gods, though with Latin names
a. Zeus and Hera – Jupiter and Juno
b. Aphrodite – Venus
d. Hermes – Mercury
e. Athena – Minerva
2. Invocation to Muse
3. Voyage to the hero’s “home”:
4. Visit to Hades
5. Odysseus had Athena for him, Poseidon against; Aeneas has Venus for him, Juno against.
6. Odysseus’ long recitation of the aftermath of
7. Dido is like Kirke and Kalypso.
8. Hermes brought message to Kalypso; Mercury, to Aeneas.
9. Epic games
10. Big storm narrated in grand style
III. How he tries to outdo Homer
A. Grand poetic effects not available to Homer: speeches; descriptions of storms etc.
B. Grander scale:
1. Geography: whole Mediterranean world
2. Time: all 12 centuries, right up to Virgil’s Augustan present
A nobler goal for
the hero: the destiny of
D. A theology: Anchises’ explanation of Hades
IV.The Aeneid is, essentially, imperial propaganda
A. Commissioned by Augustus, completed after Virgil’s death (19 B.C.) on Augustus’ orders
B. Chief theme: being pius (dutiful and loyal to one’s family, past and future)
1. Aeneas’ relationship with Dido
a. Passionate toward her, but obeys Mercury (“oak in a storm” – p. 660, l. 587)
b. Contrast with Dido
i. Kicks against fate (wants Aeneas to co-rule, kills herself, ignores demands of queenship)
ii. Alternating love/hate vs. Aeneas love/duty
iii. A woman who rules!
iv. Her destiny (husband Sychaeus) is really her past; Aeneas’ is his future.
2. On last night in
Message from dead
wife: leave now, re-start in
Contrast with the
bloodthirsty Greek Neoptolemus killing King Priam of
c. Carries father Anchises out of the battle on his back
3. Continual reminders of the glory toward which Aeneas’ sacrifices are leading
a. Anchises in Hades shows him a pageant of what is to come
The shield Venus
gives him, featuring
4. Impact on Roman readers:
a. Aeneas as role model of self-sacrifice
b. Aeneas and his companions were the ancestor of all the main tribes that made up the Roman people: one big family, with family obligations.
c. Justifies cruelty and conquest
A. The poem takes the gods down a bit, Augustus up a lot
a. Aeneas is son of Venus, father of Ascanius Iulus, ancestor of the Julian clan, which Augustus leads.
b. Virgil has less reverence for the divine than Homer did:
i. P. 644 l. 160 vague about Zeus’s interest in hospitality
P. 649 l. 87
criticizes “soothsayers” – in
c. These gods squabble and seem less worthy than Homer’s “gay gods.”
d. They are subordinate to Fate
e. Divinizing of the emperor
i. Augustus took the title Divus
ii. Cult soon involves making sacrifices to the emperor