The Aeneid, originally published in 19BC, is a Latin epic poem, written by Virgil. Most likely penned between 29 and 19 BC, it tells the legendary story of Aeneas, a Trojan warrior who travelled the seas to Italy, where he became the ancestor of the Romans. It comprises 9,896 lines in dactylic hexameter.
This response will provide some incite and an in depth look at various issues within the Aeneid. An example, is how Vergil depicts Aeneas as a greater hero then some of the well known famous heroes and adventurers of that time such as Achilles and Odysseus.
Virgil states that, “Aeneas is not just a godlike tempestuous warrior like Achilles, who is gradually inducted into human culture with all its constraints and demands. He is not just a brilliant schemer like Odysseus, who simply wishes to return home after years of war and is buffeted by the tricks of gods and Fates and men.”
Instead we find a Trojan hero fleeing from his home of Troy as it burns behind him. Constantly, he is plagued by gods, ghosts, and kindred spirits who remind him throughout the day that he must endure. His fate seems etched in stone. His fate is written on the stony shores of Italy where his descendants will go on to eventually found Rome, and in so doing one of the great empires of ancient times.
Therefore Virgil’s claim can be argued against. It could be justifiable in saying that Aeneas is more like a bowling ball released down a lane with fully engaged bumpers. Is he more though? Yes, gods and ghosts continually urge him and help, but his fate is so important that it seems to outweigh this. We see in Achilles, a godlike persona. Achilles seems almost detached from much of humanity due his powers. In Odysseus we see a man who must use his brain and wisely figure a way home, all while Poseidon thrashes his ships about the Mediterranean.
Perhaps Aeneas encompasses something more in Virgil’s eyes because he isn’t squabbling over a prize, or trying to get home. Instead the fates have shackled him and bound him forth through the water ways of ancient Greece. It is in him which rests the fate of future Rome.
Aeneas is starting a new civilization, one that will bring order and law to the lands. Which makes his destiny a bit more expansive, spanning out through history and geography. This foreknowledge which is presented to us makes him indeed seem more then most, even in comparison to the godlike heroes of old.
A common question posed in regards to the Aeneid is if it seems a story of Irony. I think here it is important to keep an open mind, as indeed Vergil possibly did believe, or acknowledged the fact that civilization cannot be born from the wilds without blood shed. Therefore, I believe it is very possible the Aeneid was an ironic viewpoint of Rome’s founding. Whether Aeneas is truly imperialistic is debatable. I would make more of a reference to his reckless fury as he executes his defeated enemy as merely a flaw in humanity, a residue of human nature.
We as humans owe ourselves nothing more then dedication and effort. None of us are perfect, but as long as we reach for perfections elusive nature we are trying to better ourselves. Civilization reflects this grasping towards a better tomorrow.
It can be said that those who make up the state are the ones who should be held accountable to that particular civilizations shortcoming. So if one is wondering whether in today’s modern society true “Civilization” has been enslaved by nations as ‘propaganda’ to further enforce patriotism while covering up violent and malevolent plots, we must look inside each other for the answer.
What truly is the nature of civilization? I agree that “the works and ways of peace” are indeed always vulnerable and that if left in the wrong hands the art of ruling can easily turn to tyranny, which is a common theme in the ancient times. I think, here more then elsewhere, it is key to remember that there is good and bad in the world, and we collectively must support and push to develop the good in the world as much as possible, or we will fall prey to the portion of society in support of evil.
How does the idea of civilization relate to Aeneas personality? With his lust for vengence towards Helen for bringing upon his home bloodshed and destruction, his careless abandonment of his wife, as he runs from the city, resulting in her death, and his savage grief and rage as he sends his enemy Turnus to the “shades below”, you are left wondering what kind of world will this man create? You can see that he is not idealistic, and in multiple instances takes an uncivilized approach. Let it be remembered though that these were uncivilized times.
Vergil seems to harbor some hope when it comes to Aeneas, depicted in his courageous descent into the underworld where he talks to the shade of his father and sees the past, present, and future. Here his father gives him advice in ruling with law, and leaving his stamp on the works and ways of peace, urging him to spare the defeated and break the proud with war. In Aeneas you see a desire for eternal peace, courage, and compassion, which can be argued to be core aspects of civilization.
It is said that there was always a dream of Rome where the gates of war were wielded shut and mankind could truly relish in it’s earned civility. Yet, as we can see past the turn of the century, this is not reality. The vision reality paints is much darker, and war is ultimately inevitable when darkness blots the horizon. This vision makes the Aeneid strong, somber, and prescient. In this way the Aeneid exhorts empires to behave.
We as mankind should never dismiss the ideal of civilization, nor the labors demanded, should we wish to reap the rewards of heralding times of peace and content. We may end up forever working towards the goal of civility.
For even when all intentions are good, there will still be misunderstandings and quarrels to break the peace. It can be said that war and peace both readily exist, and that we must always work to ensure that peace is the victor in the two.