Introducing Virgil’s Aeneid Aeneas is popularly depicted as carrying his father from Troy as it is being destroyed by the Greeks
Virgil (70 BC – 19 BC) • Publius Vergilius Maro, born in Northern Italy near Mantua • Son of a wealthy landowner
Virgil (70 BC – 19 BC) • Educated in Milan, Rome, and Naples • Studied mathematics, medicine, and rhetoric • Considered himself an “Alexandrian” poet (influenced by “Alexandrians” of 3rd century BC Greek writers)
Virgil (70 BC – 19 BC) • 42 BC Battle of Philippi – Virgil’s and many other wealthy Romans’ properties and wealth were confiscated to fund the army • At this time, Virgil pursued his writing career, composing pastoral poems called “Ecologues” (often considered “rustic poems” which romanced farm life and the countryside).
Virgil’s Fame Begins • Gaius Julius Caesar is killed in 44 BC when Virgil is a young man. His nephew and adopted son Octavian becomes Augustus Caesar. • Augustus asks Virgil to compose a poem that would glorify Rome under his rule. Virgil spends the last ten years of his life composing The Aeneid (30 BC – 19 BC). Augustus returns some of his family’s wealth.
Origins of Aeneas’ Story • Virgil directly composes his epic as a “sequel” to Homer’s epic, The Illiad, almost as a counter to Homer’s other follow-up, The Odyssey. • At the end of The Illiad, Troy falls to the Greeks under King Agamemnon. Just as The Odyssey follows Greek Odysseus’ journey after the war, The Aeneid follows Trojan Aeneas’ journey after his home is destroyed.
Our hero, Aeneas • Son of Anchises, a royal member of Trojan court, and the goddess Venus • Lost his first family to the Trojan war except his son Ascanius • Jupiter promises he shall rule the race of ‘future Trojans’ in a faraway land • Along with his common heroic qualities, he is also noted for his piety and familial loyalty
Similarities to Homer’s Epics • Humankind is directly influenced by two opposing sides of gods, each with a set of human flaws and characteristics • Each epic is centered around a protagonist warrior with divine parentage whose heroism embodies the values of their time • While considered an “epic poem”, each composition follows a prose rhythm and structure
Differences to Homer’s Epics • Virgil carefully edited and composed his epic, whereas Homer’s is derived from oral tradition • Odysseus searches for his homeland, whereas Aeneas searches for a new land promised to him by the gods. Odysseus is fated to fail; Aeneas is fated to succeed. • Odysseus combats monsters and deities to instill a fear and wonder in nature and godlike forces; Aeneas’ struggles are often with people, especially rulers and warriors, with a greater focus on dramatic and political ideologies
Our Sections of Focus Aeneas visits the land of Queen Dido Aeneas journeys into the Underworld Aeneas liberates “Latium” from disorder in a great battle
Pay attention to … • Virgil’s poetic descriptions of beauty • How he praises Rome and Caesar in his writing (and be prepared to see this again in Shakespeare’s Macbeth) • The motives and methods of various gods, especially Juno, Jupiter, and Venus • The attitudes between opposing armies in battle and how they feel about each other • The amount of animal sacrifices and when/why they do it • Characters’ flaws and characteristics • Depiction of women
“Why are we reading this in an American literature class?” • How has the Roman empire influenced Western culture? • What Roman political influences exist in American culture? • How does Aeneas and his journey reflect the early American hero? • How has poetry of the ancient world influenced European and American writers?