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Critical Aeneid

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Thomas Wheeler

on 20 April 2018

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Transcript of Critical Aeneid

Camilla's ambiguity is often predicated on her gender, and ambiguity allows her, a literary figure, to escape the stereotypes and traditional roles prescribed for Roman women. Her ambiguity is cumulative, resonates on many different layers, and troubles the reader, and may be emblematic of the Aeneid as a whole: the enemy is often sympathetic, familiar roles and stereotypes often fail, one's allegiance is divided, and there is no secure place for the audience to stand.
According to his [Kenneth Quinn's] interpretation, though superficially a work of propaganda is is essentially an anti-militarist poem, one which shows the dehumanizing effects of war and the way in which it 'can corrupt the character and motives of even the most high-minded of leaders'.
The struggle and final victory of order- this subduing of the demonic which is the basic theme of the poem, appears and reappears in many variations. The demonic appears in history as civil or foreign war, in the soul as passion, and in nature as death and destruction. Jupiter, Aeneas, and Augustus are its conquerors, while Juno, Dido, Turnus, and Antony are its conquered representatives. The contrast between Jupiter's powerful composure and Juno's confused passion reappears in the contrast between Aeneas and Dido and between Aeneas and Turnus.

Character and Theme
The violent tone of Aeneas’ words as he gave the command to besiege Latinus’ city contrasts greatly with the promises of peace and prosperity he gave earlier. In fact, Latinus did not attack the Trojans at all, but rather it was the uncooperative nature of Turnus and his armies that brought about Aeneas’ decision to attack the city. He himself said: "Unless our enemies accept our yoke and promise to obey us, on this day I shall destroy their town, root of this war, soul of Latinus’ kingdom." (p. 388, l. 771-81) A farmer puts a yoke around the neck of an ox to plow the fields. Is this subservient metaphor an accurate definition of Trojan equality? If Aeneas demands that everyone must obey the decrees of the Trojans, I sincerely doubt that the Trojans would be subjected to the same laws. Rather, it appears as if Aeneas would rather have a kingdom for his Trojan brethren that consists of a conglomerate of subservient, conquered nations. One could then logically ask, does Aeneas keep his promise with Latinus in not making his people slaves of the Trojans? Was his attack on the kingdom of Latinus a momentary lapse of honor and duty or a permanent transition in his treatment of the Italian people? One only needs to examine the glance at the power of Rome in Virgil’s day, or even in the days of Jospehus’ Jewish Wars, to see how hated the Romans were by those whom they have conquered and enslaved. Indeed, Rome became a great empire with many colonies and ruled by a powerful and reputably ruthless military. Therefore, it would not be terribly erroneous to conclude that Aeneas and his descendants did indeed break their promises for peace and equality with the Italian people. Although most agree that the war with Turnus and Latinus is fictitious, perhaps as a story concerned with the founding of the Rome, it provides some historical or sociological explanation for the evolution of a cruel Roman imperialistic empire.

So in the end, I suppose the real question would be: "As an ever-evolving character, did Aeneas permanently lose his compassion and humanitarian nature, only to evolve into a malicious despot in the end?" Virgil does not give a clear answer to this question, but given the development of events in the epic poem, as well as the historical facts of Roman Imperialism, one could safely conclude that Aeneas most likely did break his promise to King Latinus. The Aeneas that saved the Danaan sailor and honored the body of Lausus the Latin is not the same Aeneas that attacked Latinus and murdered Turnus.
Critical Aeneid
L.O. - To engage with and evaluate critical perspectives on the Aeneid.
In the first place Aeneas is a hero in search of his soul. The Aeneid is very much of a spiritual quest, which makes it unique in ancient literature. Only Virgil admits of the possibility that a character can change, grow and develop. Aeneas in the early books is unsure of himself, always seeking instructions from his father or from the gods before committing himself to any course of action. In the underworld he sees a panorama of the future history of Rome down to the time of Augustus, and that vision gives him the self-confidence to act on his own initiative.

Each detail of the Aeneid is drenched with symbolism and... it must be read at several levels. But the symbolism of the sum is simple. An inevitable civil war- all the participants were Italians, all ancestors of the Romans- had happily come to its period. All had fought well and, according to their best fights, justly. All bitterness and all passion was now laid at rest, and all could now join hands as comrades and together walk to meet the shining future.
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