VIRGIL’S ROMAN EPIC: THE
Having experienced the disorder of the Roman civil wars, Virgil became a
supporter of the empire and Emperor Augustus.
His works include two pastoral poems idealizing the simplicity of rural life, an
appealing theme to urban Rome.
His epic poem, the
, was funded by Augustus. At the end of his life, Virgil
had not finished his revisions; he ordered his manuscript burned at his death,
but Augustus prevented its destruction.
Written in Latin, the
is intended to make Latin a poetic vehicle with a
cultural status similar to Greek and to assert Augustus’s ancestral link to
Aeneas. Virgil also intended to achieve the status that Homer as a poet had
among educated Romans.
The first six books are modeled after the
; the rest are modeled on the
The main focus is the historicizing of myth, linking its characters with individual
events and persons in Roman history.
Though history is an essential element of the
, Romans would have
preceived that Virgil’s complex allusions called for some “revisionist” history.
The narration includes the reign of Aeneas and his son, the conquest of Greece,
the expansion of Rome, and the reign of Julius Caesar and Augustus.
The Punic Wars and the Carthaginian invasion of Rome are predicted in Dido’s
curse on Aeneas when he leaves her.
10. Aeneas must forego permanent marriage with Dido, whom he loves, due to
This situation reflects the political considerations
which often determined marriage choices in Virgil’s Rome.
11. The first role of the city is to create good conditions for civilized life; to
establish good government; to erect buildings and monuments; and to
encourage arts, theater, trade, and commerce. If the city leader neglects these
tasks, the city will suffer.
12. The second role of the city is to spread its civilization, even if it entails fighting
wars. While we may regard this as imperialist aggression, many lands
welcomed the Roman security, technology, improved economy, and
opportunities for Roman citizenship and for advancement in the Roman
The Roman concern with boundaries (walls, ramparts, legal and national
borders) is evident in the
; the “walls of Rome” symbolize not just the
nation but all of Roman culture.