Virgil, Aeneid I.198-207

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Aeneas tells the Trojans of their promised land in Latium

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29 BCE to 19 BCE
Literary genre: 
Epic and Poetry
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Having fled Troy after the city has fallen to the Greeks, Aeneas and the rest of the surviving Trojans are sailing in search of Italy, where the gods have decreed they will settle and rebuild their kingdom – the future Rome (I.1-8). Out of her hatred for the Trojans, Juno has petitioned Aeolus, ruler of the winds, to assist her by creating a great storm, which sinks several ships in the Trojan fleet (I.82-123). This passage, containing one of Aeneas’s first speeches of the epic, sees him rallying his terrified men, instilling courage by referring to two former occasions on which they have prevailed over danger thanks to the gods: namely, their encounters with the dreaded six-headed monster, Scylla, and the giant, man-eating Cyclopes. Both references contribute to the Odyssean allusions that run prominently throughout the Aeneid (See Odyssey, IX.177-542; XII.234-259). As Aaron Seider argues (Memory in Vergil’s Aeneid, p. 79-81), Aeneas uses the communal memory of his troops to alter their feelings about their current turmoil. He “imagines a future when his men may reminisce about their current losses”. By framing their experience with memories of the past and hopes of future memories of the present, Aeneas offers the Trojans continuity, which he hopes will allow them to understand their peril as momentary, yet valuable, as once they are in the past, these memories may even be a source of pleasure.

Despite all evidence being to the contrary, Aeneas maintains that they will find their promised land of rest (I.204-206). Moshe Weinfeld (The Promise of the Land, p. 1-22) has made an illuminating comparison between Aeneas’s mission to found a new city and Abraham’s call to found a new nation in the Hebrew Bible. Both the descendants of Aeneas and the seed of Abraham are prophesied to become great ruling nations (Genesis 12:1-3; 27:29). In this sense, Weinfeld argues that the second century BCE Greek foundation (ktisis) myths that the Aeneid was modelled on, also form the pattern for the Pentateuchal accounts of the founding of Israel. Like Abraham, Aeneas leaves a great civilisation with a divine order, and both traditions are later developed into imperial ideology. During the Davidic period, the traditions surrounding Israel’s foundation, promising a vast stretching empire (Genesis 15:18), are used in a similar fashion to the traditions of Latium in Augustan times. Both Aeneas and Abraham initially leave their homes with their wives and fathers, and in both cases there is a significant period in between the migration of the founding fathers and the eventual founding of the new civilisation (Genesis 15:13; Exod. 12:41; Aeneid I. 270-276). Both men are identified by their piety (Genesis 22:12), and an important feature of their stories involves the taking of ancestral gods to their new homes (Genesis 31:19; Aeneid I.5-6).

The reader, of course, knows that the Trojans will be successful in their quest, but Aeneas’s faith and unwavering commitment to his destiny in the face of great uncertainty mark him out as a true Roman hero from this early stage of the epic. As Servius noted as early as the 4th century CE (Commentary on the Aeneid of Virgil, I.206), Virgil is careful to have Aeneas affirm that it will not be a new Troy that is founded in their promised land. The expression regna resurgere Trojae (“kingdom/realm of Troy shall rise again”) is telling, with the verb resurgo in this context implying that the future city in Latium will not be a copy of the Troy that has been lost, but rather a restoration of the Trojan legacy in a new place, one that will play host to the future Rome (I.205). As Richard Jenkyns identifies (Virgil’s Experience, p. 62), this speech sets out the central themes of nation, land, and stability which characterise the epic. The term sedes is particularly fitting here, and carries the connotations of settlement and permanence that the future site of Rome will embody.

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Virgil, Aeneid I.198-207
Author(s) of this publication: Kimberley Fowler
Publishing date: Fri, 07/29/2016 - 14:49
Visited: Sun, 03/03/2024 - 14:18

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