Imitations In Virgil's Aeneid Essay

2002 words - 9 pages

“Your Country Needs You” Virgil’s Aeneid as Political Propaganda

The Aeneid is an epic poem written by Virgil at a time between 29 B.C and 19 B.C,
during the realm of Augustus as leader of the Roman Empire. The previous era saw the
people of Rome exposed to famine, strife and many years of civil war. With Augustus in the
position of authority, Rome was experiencing dramatic improvements and civilians praised
him for bringing peace to the empire. In this essay I will discuss to what extent the imitations
in the Aeneid were political propaganda, intended to promote the rule of Augustus and
ultimately, to preserve the era of peacetime that had settled over Rome and it’s people. It is
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During Virgil’s time, to portray one hero as greater than the
other is the same as portraying one nation as greater the other. For this reason, Virgil
compares Aeneas to the heroes of Homer’s poems to demonstrate the ways in which Aeneas
surpasses them.
In the first six books of the Aeneid, we see the first main imitation – the comparison
of Aeneas to Odysseus as he journeys the seas in search of his homecoming in a similar
fashion to the story told in the Odyssey. Aeneas must leave his lover, Dido to sail away from
the city of Carthage just as Odysseus left Calypso alone on her island. Dido is distraught after
Aeneas departs and we see her “beat against her lovely breast three times, then four, and tear
her golden hair” (4. 812-813). Aeneas leaves, not by his own choice, but because he was told
that his destiny and the future of his people lies elsewhere, “he would quit these pleasant
lands, astonished by such warnings, the command of gods” (4. 376-378). Virgil includes this
comparison in contrast to Odysseus who leaves Calypso broken hearted by his own choice
and also to highlight the fact that Odysseus has been unfaithful to his wife - hardly a quality
of a genuine hero. By comparing the two men, Virgil reveals one major difference in their
homecomings that also reflects the difference between Roman and Greek cultures.
Odysseus appears to be on an individual quest: driven by self-desire he puts his crew
in danger; he betrays his wife at home in Ithaca and eventually returns to his country without
his men. On the other hand, Aeneas values duty and is on a homecoming journey not for
himself, but for the people and the future of his country. Mercury has told him that he must
travel to Italy to found the new empire of Rome and he is willing to sacrifice personal desires
for this mission, “the tall rooftops of Priam would remain, my hand would plant again a

second Pergamus for my defeated men” (4. 464-467). Roman culture does not approve of
selfishness and here Virgil uses the comparison of the two homecomings to boost the moral
image of the Romans above the Greeks. This is especially apparent with the use of the phrase
“for my defeated men” (4. 467) which enhances the idea of Aeneas completing this task not
only to benefit the future empire, but also to honor the past generations that died fighting the
Greeks.
On the search for his homecoming, Odysseus is selfish, treacherous and barbaric,
putting himself and his men in harms way; spurred on by his own personal emotions. This is
demonstrated when Odysseus and his son “cut off the nose and ears [of Melanthios] and tore
off his private parts” (22. 474-475) for no necessary reason other than to torture the dying
man. In contrast, Virgil showcases Aeneas to be a man of the people, even depicting his war
shield to show Aeneas “lifting up the fame and fate of his son’s sons upon his shoulder” (8.
954-955). Virgil uses the image of Aeneas carrying huge weights (both...

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