MoboReader> Literature > Vergil / A Biography

   Chapter 16 THE AENEID

Vergil / A Biography By Tenney Frank Characters: 39565

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


While Caesar Octavian, now grown to full political stature, was reuniting the East and the West after Actium, Vergil was writing the last pages of the Georgics. The battle that decided Rome's future also determined the poet's next theme. The Epic of Rome, abandoned at the death of Caesar, unthinkable during the civil wars which followed, appealed for a hearing now that Rome was saved and the empire restored. Vergil's youthful enthusiasm for Rome, which had sprung from a critical reading of her past career, seemed fully justified; he began at once his Arma virumque.

The Aeneid reveals, as the critics of nineteen centuries have reiterated, an unsurpassed range of reading. But it is not necessary to repeat the evidence of Vergil's literary obligations in an essay concerned chiefly with the poet's more intimate experiences. In point of fact, the tracking of poetic reminiscences in a poet who lived when no concealment of borrowed thought was demanded does as much violence to Vergil as it does to Euripides or Petrarch. The poet has always been expected to give expression to his own convictions, but until recently it has been considered a graceful act on his part to honor the good work of his predecessors by the frank use, in recognizable form, of the lines that he most admires. The only requirement has been that the poet should assimilate, and not merely agglomerate his acceptances, that he should as Vergil put it, "wrest the club from Hercules" and wield it as its master.

In essence the poetry of the Aeneid is never Homeric, despite the incorporation of many Homeric lines. It is rather a sapling of Vergil's Hellenistic garden, slowly acclimated to the Italian soil, fed richly by years of philosophic study, braced, pruned, and reared into a tree of noble strength and classic dignity. The form and majesty of the tree bespeak infinite care in cultivation, but the fruit has not lost the delicate tang and savour of its seed. The poet of the Ciris, the Copa, the Dirae, and the Bucolics is never far to seek in the Aeneid.

It would be a long story to trace the flowering in the Aeneid of the seedling sown in Vergil's boyhood garden-plot.[1] The note of intimacy, unexpected in an epic, the occasional drawing of the veil to reveal the poet's own countenance, an un-Homeric sentimentality now and then, the great abundance of sense-teeming collocations, the depth of sympathy revealed in such tragic characters as Pallas, Lausus, Euryalus, the insistent study of inner motives, the meticulous selection of incidents, the careful artistry of the meter, the fastidious choice of words, and the precision of the joiner's craft in the composition of traditional elements, all suggest the habits of work practiced by the friends of Cinna and Valerius Cato.

[Footnote 1: For a careful study of this subject see Duckett, Hellenistic Influence on the Aeneid, Smith College Studies, 1920.]

The last point is well illustrated in Sinon's speech at the opening of the second book. The old folktale of how the "wooden horse," left on the shore by the Greeks, was recklessly dragged to the citadel by the Trojans satisfied the unquestioning Homer. Vergil does not take the improbable on faith. Sinon is compelled to be entirely convincing. In his speech he uses every art of persuasion: he awakens in turn curiosity, surprise, pity, admiration, sympathy, and faith. The passage is as curiously wrought as any episode of Catullus or the Ciris. It is not, as has been held, a result of rhetorical studies alone; it reveals rather a native good sense tempered with a neoteric interest in psychology and a neoteric exactness in formal composition. And yet the passage exhibits a great advance upon the geometric formality of the Ciris. The incident is not treated episodically as it might have been in Vergil's early work. The pattern is not whimsically intricate but is shaped by an understanding mind. While its art is as studied and conscious as that of the Ciris, it has the directness and integrity of Homeric narrative. Yet Vergil has not forgotten the startling effects that Catullus would attain by compressing a long tale into a suggestive phrase, if only a memory of the tale could be assumed. The story of Priam's death on the citadel is told in all its tragic horror till the climax is reached. Then suddenly with astonishing force the mind is flung through and beyond the memories of the awful mutilation by the amazingly condensed phrase:

jacet ingens litore truncus avulsumque umeris caput et sine nomine corpus.

There Vergil has given only the last line of a suppressed tragedy which the reader is compelled to visualize for himself.

Neoteric, too, is the accurate observation and the patience with details displayed by the author of the Aeneid. In his youth Vergil had, to be sure, avoided the extremes of photographic realism illustrated by the very curious Moretum, but he had nevertheless, in works like the Copa, the Dirae, and the eighth Eclogue, practiced the craft of the miniaturist whenever he found the minutiae aesthetically significant. To realize the precision of his strokes even then one has but to recall the couplet of the Copa which in an instant sets one upon the dusty road of an Italian July midday:

Nunc cantu crebro rumpunt arbusta cicadae nunc varia in gelida sede lacerta latet.

Throughout the Aeneid, the patches of landscape, the retreats for storm-tossed ships, the carved temple-doors, the groups of accoutred warriors marching past, and many a gruesome battle scene, are reminders of this early technique.

What degrees of conscientious workmanship went into these results, we are just now learning. Carcopino,[2] who, with a copy of Vergil in hand, has carefully surveyed the Latin coast from the Tiber mouth, past the site of Lavinium down to Ardea, is convinced that the poet traced every manoeuvre and every sally on the actual ground which he chose for his theatre of action in the last six books. It still seems possible to recognize the deep valley of the ambuscade and the plain where Camilla deployed her cavalry. Furthermore, there can be little doubt that for the sake of a heroic-age setting Vergil studied the remains and records of most ancient Rome. There were still in existence in various Latin towns sixth-century temples laden with antique arms and armor deposited as votive offerings, terracotta statues of gods and heroes, and even documents stored for safe-keeping. In the expansion of Rome over the Campus Martius unmarked tombs with their antique furniture were often disclosed. It is apparent from his works that Vergil examined such material, just as he delved into Varro's antiquities and Cato's "origins" for ancient lore. His remarks on Praeneste and Antemnae, his knowledge of ancient coin symbols, of the early rites of the Hercules cult, show the results of these early habits of work. It must always be noticed, however, that in his mature art he is master of his vast hoard of material. There is never, as in the Culex and Ciris, a display of irrelevant facts, a yielding to the temptation of being excursive and episodic. Wherever the work had received the final touch, the composition shows a flawless unity.

[Footnote 2: Carcopino, Virgile et les origines d'Ostie.]

The poet's response to personal experience reveals itself nowhere more than in the political aspect of the Aeneid a fact that is the more remarkable because Vergil lived so long in Epicurean circles where an interest in politics was studiously suppressed.

What makes the poem the first of national epics is, however, not a devotion to Rome's historical claims to primacy in Italy. The narrow imperialism of the urban aristocracy finds no support in him. Not the city of Rome but Italy is the patria of the Aeneid, and Italy as a civilizing and peace-bringing force, not as the exploiting conqueror. Here we recognize a spirit akin to Julius Caesar. Vergil's hero Aeneas, is not a Latin but a Trojan. That fact is, of course, due to the exigencies of tradition, but that Aeneas receives his aid from the Greek Evander and from the numerous Etruscan cities north of the Tiber while most of the Latins join Turnus, the enemy, cannot be attributed to tradition. In fact, Livy, who gives the more usual Roman version, says nothing of the Greeks, but joins Latinus and the Latian aborigines to Aeneas while he musters the Etruscans under the Rutulian, Turnus. The explanation for Vergil's striking departure from the usual patriotic version of the legend is rather involved and need not be examined here. But we may at any rate remark his wish to recognize the many races that had been amalgamated by the state, to refuse his approval of a narrow urban patriotism, and to give his assent to a view of Rome's place and mission upon which Julius Caesar had always acted in extending citizenship to peoples of all races, in scattering Roman colonies throughout the empire, and in setting the provinces on the road to a full participation in imperial privileges and duties. With such a policy Vergil, schooled at Cremona, Milan, and Naples, could hardly fail to sympathize.

It has been inferred from the position of authority which Aeneas assumes that Vergil favored a strong monarchial form of government and intended Aeneas to be, as it were, a prototype of Augustus. The inference is doubtless over-hasty. Vergil had a lively historical sense and in his hero seems only to have attempted a picture of a primitive king of the heroic age. Indeed Aeneas is perhaps more of an autocrat than are the Homeric kings, but that is because the Trojans are pictured as a migrating group, torn root and branch from their land and government, and following a semi-divine leader whose directions they have deliberately chosen to obey. In his references to Roman history, in the pageant of heroes of the sixth book, as well as in the historical scenes of the shield, no monarchial tendencies appear. Brutus the tyrannicide, Pompey and Cato, the irreconcilable foes of Caesar, Vergil's youthful hero, receive their meed of praise in the Aeneid, though there were many who held it treason in that day to mention rebels with respect.

It is indeed a very striking fact that Vergil, who was the first of Roman writers to attribute divine honors to the youthful Octavian, refrains entirely from doing so in the Aeneid at a time when the rest of Rome hesitated at no form of laudation. Julius Caesar is still recognized as more than human,

vocabitur hic quoque votis,

but Augustus is not. The contrast is significant. The language of the very young man at Naples had, of course, been colored by Oriental forms of expression that were in part unconsciously imbibed from the conversations of the Garden. These were phrases too which Julius Caesar in the last two years of his life encouraged; for he had learned from Alexander's experience that the shortest cut through constitutional obstructions to supreme power lay by way of the doctrine of divine royalty. In fact, the Senate was forced to recognize the doctrine before Caesar's death, and after his death consistently voted public sacrifices at his grave. Vergil was, therefore, following a high authority in the case of Caesar, and was drawing the logical inference in the case of Octavian when he wrote the first Eclogue and the prooemium of the Georgics. This makes it all the more remarkable that while his admiration for Augustus increased with the years, he ceased to give any countenance to the growing cult of "emperor worship." That the restraint was not simply in obedience to a governmental policy seems clear, for Horace, who in his youthful work had shown his distrust of the government, had now learned to make very liberal use of celestial appellatives.

Augustus, then, is not in any way identified with the semi-divine Aeneas. Vergil does not even place him at a post of special honor on the mount of revelations, but rather in the midst of a long line of remarkable principes. With dignity and sanity he lays the stress upon the great events of the Republic and upon its heroes. We may, therefore, justly conclude that when he wrote the epic he advocated a constitution of the type proposed by Cicero, in which the princeps should be a true leader in the state but in a constitutional republic.

It is the great past, illustrated by the pageant of heroes and the prophetic pictures of Aeneas's shield, that kindles the poet's imagination. His sympathies are generous enough to include every race within the empire and every leader who had shared in Rome's making, from the divine founder, Romulus, and the tyrannicide, Brutus, to the republican martyrs, Cato and Pompey, as well as the restorers of peace, Caesar and Augustus. He has no false patriotism that blinds him to Rome's shortcomings. He frankly admits with regret her failures in arts and sciences with a modesty that permits of no reference to his own saving work. What Rome has done and can do supremely well he also knows: she can rule with justice, banish violence with law, and displace war by peace. After the years of civil wars which he had lived through in agony of spirit, it is not strange that such a mission seemed to him supreme. And that is why the last words of Anchises to Aeneas are:

Hae tibi erunt artes: pacisque imponere morem

Parcere subjectis et debellare superbos.

The tragedy of Dido reveals better perhaps than any other portion of the Aeneid how sensitively the poet reflected Rome's life and thought rather than those of his Greek literary sources. And yet the irrepressible Servius was so reckless as to say that the whole book had been "transferred" from Apollonius. Fortunately we have in this case the alleged source, and can meet the scholiast with a sweeping denial. Both authors portray the love of a woman, and there the similarity ends. Apollonius is wholly dependent upon a literal Cupid and his shafts. Vergil, to be sure, is so far obedient to Greek convention as to play with the motive-Cupid came to the banquet in the form of Ascanius-but only after it was really no longer needed. The psychology of passion's progress in the first book is convincingly expressed for the first time in any literature. Aeneas first receives a full account of Dido's deeds of courage and presently beholds her as she sits upon her throne, directing the work of city building, judging and ruling as lawgiver and administrator, and finally proclaiming mercy for his shipwrecked companions. For her part she, we discover as he does, had long known his story, and in her admiration for his people had chosen the deeds of Trojan heroes for representation upon the temple doors: Sunt lacrimae rerum. The poet simply and naturally leads hero and heroine through the experience of admiration, generous sympathy, and gratitude to an inevitable affection, which at the night's banquet, through a soul-stirring tale told with dignity and heard in rapture, could only ripen into a very human passion.

The vital difference between Vergil's treatment of the theme and Apollonius' may be traced to the difference between the Roman and the Greek family. Into Italy as into Greece had come, many centuries before, hordes of Indo-European migrants from the Danubian region who had carried into the South the wholesome family customs of the North, the very customs indeed out of which the transalpine literature of medieval chivalry later blossomed.

In Greece those social customs-still recognizable in Homer and the early mythology-had in the sixth century been overwhelmed by a back-flow of Aegean society, when the northern aristocracy was compelled to surrender to the native element which constituted the backbone of the democracy. With the re-emergence of the Aegean society, in which woman was relegated to a menial position, the possibility of a genuine romantic literature naturally came to an end.

At Rome there was no such cataclysm during the centuries of the Republic. Here the old stock though somewhat mixed with Etruscans, survived. The ancient aristocracy retained its dominant position in the state and society, and its mores even penetrated downward. They were not stifled by new southern customs welling up from below, at least not until the plebeian element won the support of the founders of the empire, and finally overwhelmed the nobility. At Rome during the Republic there was no question of social inequality between the sexes, for though in law the patriarchal clan-system, imposed by the exigencies of a migrating group, made the father of the family responsible for civil order, no inferences were drawn to the detriment of the mother's position in the household. Nepos once aptly remarked: "Many things are considered entirely proper here which the Greeks hold to be indelicate. No Roman ever hesitates to take his wife with him to a social dinner. In fact, our women invariably have the seat of honor at temples and large gatherings. In such matters we differ wholly from the Greeks."

Indeed the very persistence of a nobility was in itself a favorable factor in establishing a better position for women. Not only did the accumulation of wealth in the household and the persistence of courtly manners demand respect for the domina of the villa, but the transference of noble blood and of a goodly inheritance of name and land through the mother's hand were matters of vital importance. The nobility of the senate moreover long controlled the foreign policy of the empire, and as the empire grew the men were called away to foreign parts on missions and legations. At such times, the lady in an important household was mistress of large affairs. It has been pointed out as a significant fact that the father of the Gracchi was engaged for long years in ambassadorial and military duties. The training of the lads consequently fell to the share of Cornelia, a fact which may in some measure account for the humanitarian interests of those two brilliant reformers. The responsibilities that fell upon the shoulders of such women must have stimulated their keenest powers and thus won for them the high esteem which, in this case, we know the sons accorded their mother. One does not soon forget the scene (Cicero, Ad Att. XV, II) at which Brutus and Cassius together with their wives, Porcia and Tertia, and Servilia, the mother of Brutus, discussed momentous decisions with Cicero. When Brutus stood wavering, Cicero avoiding the issue, and Cassius as usual losing his temper, it was Servilia who offered the only feasible solution, and it was her program which they adopted. Is it surprising that Greek historians like Plutarch could never quite comprehend the part in Roman politics played by women like Clodia, Porcia and Terentia? In sheer despair he usually resorts to the hypotheses of some personal intrigue for an explanation of their powerful influence.

It is in truth very likely that had Roman literature been permitted to run its own natural course, without being overwhelmed, as was the Italian literature of the renaissance, it would have progressed much farther on the road to Romanticism. Apollonius was far more a restraining influence in this respect than an inspiration. As it is, Vergil's first and fourth books are as unthinkable in Greek dress as is the sixth. They constitute a very conspicuous landmark in the history of literature.

Vergil does not wholly escape the powerful conventions of his Greek predecessors: in his fourth book, for instance, there are suggestions of the melodramatic "maiden's lament" so dear to the music hall gallery of Alexandria. But Vergil, apparently to his own surprise, permits his Roman understanding of life to prevail, and transcends his first int

entions as soon as he has felt the grip of the character he is portraying. Dido quickly emerges from the role of a temptress designed as a last snare to trap the hero, and becomes a woman who reveals human laws paramount even to divine ordinance. Once realizing this the poet sacrifices even his hero and wrecks his original plot to be true to his insight into human nature. The confession of Aeneas, as he departs, that in heeding heaven's command he has blasphemed against love-polluto amore-how strange a thought for the pius Aeneas! That sentiment was not Greek, it was a new flash of intuition of the very quality of purest Romance.

The Aeneid is also a remarkably religious poem to have come from one who had devoted so many enthusiastic years to a materialistic philosophy. Indeed it is usual to assume that the poet had abandoned his philosophy and turned to Stoicism before his death. But there is after all no legitimate ground for this supposition. The Aeneid has, of course, none of the scientific fanaticism that mars the Aetna, and the poet has grown mellow and tolerant with years, but that he was still convinced of the general soundness of the Epicurean hypotheses seems certain. Many puzzles of the Aeneid are at least best explained by that view. The repetition of his creed in the first Aeneid ought to warn us that his enthusiasm for the study of Rerum natura did not die. Indeed the Aeneid is full of Epicurean phrases and notions. The atoms of fire are struck out of the flint (VI, 6), the atoms of light are emitted from the sun (VII, 527, and VIII, 23), early men were born duro robore and lived like those described in the fifth book of Lucretius (VIII, 320), and Conington finds almost two hundred reminiscences of Lucretius in the Aeneid, the proportion increasing rather than decreasing in the later books.[3]

[Footnote 3: Servius, VI, 264, makes the explicit statement: ex majore parte, Sironem, id est, magistrum Epicureum sequitur.]

It is, however, in the interpretation of the word fatum and the role played by the gods[4] that the test of Vergil's philosophy is usually applied. The modern equivalent of fatum is, as Guyau[5] has said, determinism. Determinism was accepted by both schools but with a difference. To the Stoic, fatum is a synonym of Providence whose popular name is Zeus. The Epicurean also accepts fatum as governing the universe, but it is not teleological, and Zeus is not identified with it but is, like man, subordinated to it. Again, the Stoic is consistently fatalistic. Even man's moral obligations, which are admitted, imply no real freedom in the shaping of results, for though man has the choice between pursuing his end voluntarily (which is virtue) or kicking against the pricks (which is vice), the sum total of his accomplishments is not altered by his choice: ducunt volentern fata, nolentem trahunt. On the other hand, Vergil's master, while he affirms the causal nexus for the governance of the universe:

nec sanctum numen fati protollere fines posse neque adversus naturae foedera niti

[Footnote 4: The passages have been analyzed and discussed frequently. See especially Heinze, Vergils Epische Technik, 290 ff., who interprets Zeus as fate; Matthaei, Class. Quart. 1917, pp. 11-26, who denies the identity; Drachmann, Guderne kos Vergil, 1887; MacInnis, Class. Rev. 1910, p. 160, and Warde Fowler, Aeneas at the Site of Rome, pp. 122 fF. For a fuller statement of this question see Am. Jour. Phil. 1920.]

[Footnote 5: Morale d'Epicure, p. 72.]

(Lucr. V, 309), posits a spontaneous initiative in the soul-atoms of man:

quod fati foedera rumpat ex infinite ne causam causa sequatur.

(Lucr. II, 254). If then Vergil were a Stoic his Jupiter should be omnipotent and omniscient and the embodiment of fatum, and his human characters must be represented as devoid of independent power; but such ideas are not found in the Aeneid.

Jupiter is indeed called "omnipotens" at times, but so are Juno and Apollo, which shows that the term must be used in a relative sense. In a few cases he can grant very great powers as when he tells Venus: Imperium sine fine dedi (I, 278). But very providence he never seems to be. He draws (sortitur) the lots of fate (III, 375), he does not assign them at will, and he unrolls the book of fate and announces what he finds (I, 261). He is powerless to grant Cybele's prayer that the ships may escape decay:

Cui tanta deo permissa potestas? (IX, 97.)

He cannot decide the battle between the warriors until he weighs their fates (XII, 725), and in the council of the gods he confesses explicitly his non-interference with the laws of causality:

Sua cuique exorsa laborem

Fortunamque ferent. Rex Jupiter omnibus idem.

Fata viam invenient. (X, 112.)

And here the scholiast na?vely remarks:

Videtur his ostendisse aliud esse fata, aliud Jovem.[6]

[Footnote 6: Serv. ad loc. MacInnis, Class. Rev. 1910, p. 172, cites several other passages to the point in refutation of Heinze.]

Again, contrary to the Stoic creed, the poet conceives of his human characters as capable of initiating action and even of thwarting fate. Aeneas in the second book rushes into battle on an impulse; he could forget his fates and remain in Sicily if he chose (V, 700). He might also remain in Carthage, and explains fully why he does not; and Dido, if left nescla fati, might thwart the fates (I, 299), and finally does, slaying herself before her time[7] (IV, 696). The Stoic hypothesis seems to break down completely in such passages.

[Footnote 7: See Matthaei, Class. Quart. 1917, p. 19.]

Can we assume an Epicurean creed with better success? At least in so far as it places the foedera naturae above the gods and attributes some freedom of will and action to men, for as we have seen in both of these matters Vergil agrees with Lucretius. But there is one apparent difficulty in that Vergil, contrary to his teacher's usual practice, permits the interference of the gods in human action. The difficulty is, however, only apparent, if, as Vergil does, we conceive of these gods simply as heroic and super-human characters in the drama, accepted from an heroic age in order to keep the ancient atmosphere in which Aeneas had lived in men's imagination ever since Homer first spoke of him. As such characters they have the power of initiative and the right to interfere in action that Epicurus attributes to men, and in so far as they are of heroic stature their actions may be the more effective. Thus far an Epicurean might well go, and must go in an epic of the heroic age. This is, of course, not the same as saying that Vergil adopted the gods in imitation of Homer or that he needed Olympic machinery because he supposed it a necessary part of the epic technique. Surely Vergil was gifted with as much critical acumen as Lucan. But he had to accept these creatures as subsidiary characters the moment he chose Aeneas as his hero, for Aeneas was the son of Venus who dwelt with the celestials at least a part of the time. Her presence in turn involved Juno and Jupiter and the rest of her daily associates. Furthermore, since the tale was of the heroic age of long ago, the characters must naturally behave as the characters of that day were wont to do, and there were old books like Homer and Hesiod from which every schoolboy had become familiar with their behavior. If the poet wished to make a plausible tale of that period he could no more undertake to modernize his characters than could Tennyson in his Idylls. The would-be gods are in the tale not to reveal Vergil's philosophy-they do not-but to orient the reader in the atmosphere in which Aeneas had always been conceived as moving. They perform the same function as the heroic accoutrements and architecture for a correct description of which Vergil visited ancient temples and studied Cato.

Had he chosen a contemporary hero or one less blessed with celestial relatives there is no reason to suppose that he would have employed the super-human personages at all. If this be true it is as uncritical to search for the poet's own conception of divinity in these personages as it would be to infer his taste in furniture from the straw cot which he chooses to give his hero at Evander's hovel. In the epic of primitive Rome the claims of art took precedence over personal creed, and so they would with any true poet; and if any critic were prosaic enough to object, Vergil might have answered with Livy: Datur haec venia antiquitati ut miscendo humana divinis primordia urbium augustiora faciat, and if the inconsistency with his philosophy were stressed he could refer to Lucretius' proemium. It is clear then that while the conceptions of destiny and free-will found in the Aeneid are at variance with Stoic creed at every point, they fit readily into the Epicurean scheme of things as soon as we grant what any Epicurean poet would readily have granted that the celestials might be employed as characters of the drama if in general subordinated to the same laws of causality and of freedom as were human beings.

What then are we to say of the Stoic coloring of the sixth book? In the first place, it is not actually Stoic. It is a syncretism of mystical beliefs, developed by Orphic and Apocalyptic poets and mystics from Pythagoras and Plato to a group of Hellenistic writers, popularized by the later less logical Stoic philosophers like Posidonius, and gaining in Vergil's day a wide acceptance among those who were growing impatient of the exacting metaphysical processes of thought. Indeed Vergil contributed something toward foisting these beliefs upon early Christianity, though they were no more essential to it than to Stoicism.

Be that as it may, this mystical setting was here adopted because the poet needed for his own purposes[8] a vision of incorporated souls of Roman heroes, a thing which neither Epicurean nor orthodox Stoic creed could provide. So he created this mythos as Plato for his own purpose created a vision of Er.[9] The dramatic purpose of the descensus was of course to complete for Aeneas the progressive revelation of his mission, so skilfully developed by careful stages all through the third book,[10] to give the hero his final commands and to inspire him for the final struggle.[11] Then the poet realized that he could at the same time produce a powerful artistic effect upon the reader if he accomplished this by means of a vision of Rome's great heroes presented in review by Anchises from the mount of revelations, for this was an age in which Rome was growing proud of her history. But to do this he must have a mythos which assumed that souls lived before their earthly existence. A Homeric limbo of departed souls did not suffice (though Vergil also availed himself of that in order to recall the friends of the early books). With this in view he builds his home of the dead out of what Servius calls much sapientia, filling in details here and there even from the legendary lower-world personages so that the reader may meet some familiar faces. However, the setting is not to be taken literally, for of course neither he nor anyone else actually believed that prenatal spirits bore the attributes and garments of their future existence. Nor is the poet concerned about the eschatology which had to be assumed for the setting; but his judgments on life, though afforded an opportunity to find expression through the characters of the scene, are not allowed to be circumscribed by them; they are his own deepest convictions.

[Footnote 8: No one would attempt to infer Stephen Phillips' eschatology from the setting of his Christ in Hades.]

[Footnote 9: Vergil indeed was careful to warn the reader (VI, 893) that the portal of unreal dreams refers the imagery of the sixth book to fiction, and Servius reiterates the warning. On the employment of myths by Epicureans see chapter VIII, above.]

[Footnote 10: See Heinze, Epische Technik, pp. 82 ff.]

[Footnote 11: This Vergil indicates repeatedly: Aen. V, 737; VI, 718, 806-7, 890-2.]

It has frequently been said that Vergil's philosophical system is confused and that his judgments on providence are inconsistent, that in fact he seems not to have thought his problems through. This is of course true so far as it is true of all the students of philosophy of his day. Indeed we must admit that with the very inadequate psychology of that time no reasonable solution of the then central problem of determinism could be found. But there is no reason for supposing that the poet did not have a complete mastery of what the best teachers of his day had to offer.

Vergil's Epicureanism, however, served him chiefly as a working hypothesis for scientific purposes. With its ethical and religious implications he had not concerned himself; and so it was not permitted in his later days to interfere with a deep respect for the essentials of religion. Similarly, the profoundest students of science today, men who in all their experiments act implicitly and undeviatingly on the hypotheses of atomism and determinism in the world of research, are usually the last to deny the validity of the basic religious tenets. In his knowledge of religious rites Vergil reveals an exactness that seems to point to very careful observances in his childhood home. They have become second nature as it were, and go as deep as the filial devotion which so constantly brings the word pietas to his pen.

But his religion is more than a matter of rites and ceremonies. It has, to a degree very unusual for a Roman, associated itself with morality and especially with social morality. The culprits of his Tartarus are not merely the legendary offenders against exacting deities:

Hic quibus invisi fratres, dum vita manebat,

Pulsatusve parens et fraus innexa clienti,

Aut qui divitiis soli incubuere repertis

Nec partem posuere suis, quae maxima turba est.

The virtues that win a place in Elysium indicate the same fusion of religion with humanitarian sympathies:

Hic manus ob patriam pugnando vulnera passi,

Quique sacerdotes casti, dum vita manebat,

Quique pii vates et Phoebo digna locuti,

Inventas aut qui vitam excoluere per artis,

Quique sui memores aliquos fecere merendo:

Omnibus his nivea cinguntur tempora vitta.

His Elysium is far removed from Homer's limbo; truly did he deserve his place among those

Phoebo digna locuti.

Before he had completed his work the poet set out for Greece to visit the places which he had described and which in his fastidious zeal he seems to have thought in need of the same careful examination that he had accorded his Italian scenery. Three years he still thought requisite for the completion of his epic. But at Megara he fell ill, and being carried back in Augustus' company to Brundisium he died there, in 19 B.C. at the age of fifty-one. Before his death he gave instructions that his epic should be burned and that his executors, his life-long friends Varius and Tucca, should suppress whatever of his manuscripts he had himself failed to publish. In order to save the Aeneid, however, Augustus interposed the supreme authority of the state to annul that clause of the will. The minor works were probably left unpublished for some time. Indeed, there is no convincing proof that such works as the Ciris, the Aetna, and the Catalepton were circulated in the Augustan age.

The ashes were carried to his home at Naples and buried beneath a tombstone bearing the simple epitaph written by some friend who knew the poet's simplicity of heart:

Mantua me genuit, Calabri rapuere, tenet nunc

Parthenope; cecini pascua rura duces.

His tomb[12] was on the roadside outside the city, as was usual-Donatus says on the highway to Puteoli, nearly two miles from the gates. Recent examination of the region has shown that by some cataclysm of the middle ages not mentioned in any record, the road and the tomb have subsided, and now the quiet waters of the golden bay flow many fathoms over them.

[Footnote 12: Günther, Pausilypon, p. 201]

INDEX

Acestes

Aeneas

Aeneid, the

Aetna, the

Alexandrian poetry

Alfenus Varus

Allegory

Ancestry of Vergil

Animism

Annius Cimber

Antiquarian lore in the Aeneid

Antony, Mark

Antony, Lucius, at Perugia

Apollodorus, the rhetorician

Apollonius of Rhodes

Archias, the poet

Asianists, the

Atticists, the

Auctor ad Herennium

Augustus, cf. Octavius.

Avernus, Lake

Birt's edition of the Catalepton

Brutus, M. Junius

Bucolics, the, see Eclogues.

Burial-place of Vergil

Caecilius of Caleacte

Callimachus

Calvus, C. Licinius

Capua

Cassius, Longinus

Catalepton

Catullus, C. Valerius

Celts, the

Child, of the fourth Eclogue

Cicero, M. Tullius

Cinna, C. Helvius

Ciris, the

Cisalpine Gaul

Civil War, the

Classicism

Cleopatra and Dido

Clodia

Confiscation of Vergil's lands

Copa, the

Cornificius, the poet

Cremona

Culex, the

Cumae

Cytheris (Lycoris)

Daphnis

Death of Vergil

Diction, purity of

Dido

Diehl, Vitae Vergilianae

Dirae, the

Donatus, the Vita of

Eclogues, the;

No. I

No. II

No. IV

No. V

No. VI

No. VIII

No. IX

No. X

Education of Vergil

"Emperor Worship"

Ennius

Epic, an early effort at

Epicurean philosophy

Epidius

Epigrams of Vergil

see Catalepton.

Epyllia

Ethics in the Aeneid

Etruscans

Evictions by the triumvirs

Evolution

Fate, in the Aeneid

Fowler, W.W., Studies of

Freedmen

Fundanius

Gallus, Cornelius

"Garden," the, near Naples

Georgics, the

Golden Age, the

"Grand Style," the

Greeks, in the Aeneid

Hades

Herculaneum

Homer

Horace

Imperial Cult, the

Julius Caesar

Law, the study of

Literary theory

Lucretius

Ludus Troiae

Lycoris (Cytheris)

Lydia, the

Lysias, as model of style

Maecenas, C. Cilnius

the literary circle of

Magia, Vergil's mother

Mantua

Maro, meaning of

Martial, on the Culex

Materialism

Meleager of Gadara

Melissus

Messalla, M. Valerius

Messianic prophecy

Metrical technique

Milan

Mountain scenery in the Eclogues

Naples

Nationalism in the Aeneid

Nature, observation of

"New poetry," the neoteroi

Nicolaus Damascenus

Octavius, or Octavianus

see Augustus.

Octavius Musa

Oracles, the Sibylline

Orientals at Naples

Ovid

Parthenius

parody, Vergil's in Catalepton, X

Pasipha?, the myth of

Pastoral elegy

Pastoral poetry

"Pathetic fallacy," the

Patriotism in the Aeneid

Peace of Brundisium

Perusine War, the

Pharsalia, the battle of

Philippi, the battle of

Philodemus

Philosophic study

Piso, Calpurnius

"Plain style" the

Plato

Plotius Tucca,

Politics of the Epicurean group

Pollio, C. Asinius

Pompeii

Pompey, the Great

Porcia

Portraits of Vergil

Posilipo

Priapea, the three

Probus, the Vita of

Propertius

Purity of diction

Purpureus pannus

Quintilius Varus

Rand, Young Virgil's Poetry

Realism in the Eclogues

in the Aeneid

Res Romanae of Vergil

Rhetoric

Romantic poetry

Romanticism

Scholiasts, on Vergil

Scylla

Servius

Siro

Skutsch, Aus Vergils Frühzeit

Sorrento

Spenser's Gnat

Stoicism

Syrians at Naples

Theocritus

Thucydides, as a model of style

Tibullus

Tityrus

Tucca, see Plotius

Turnus

Valerius Cato

Valerius Messalla, see Messalla

Valgius

Varius Rufus

Varus, see Alfenus Varus, and Quintilius Varus

Ventidius Bassus

Venus Genetrix

Vergil, see Table of Contents

Vessereau, on the Aetna

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares