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Roman Literature: The Aeneid

Updated on January 10, 2012

After reading the Aeneid , I was impressed (as I’m sure Augustus Caesar was) with the portrayal of the hero Aeneas, who, in many ways, seems to embody the basic values and virtues of the Romans, most notably those of pietas, gravitas and severitas, among others. The first place that this embodiment of Roman virtues seems to shine through brightest to me comes in the fact that, even though he is in love with Dido, Aeneas does not shirk his duty to the future Roman people– he continues on toward his eventual goal. Could this abandonment of Dido be seen as a breaking of pietas? As an isolated incidence removed from context, perhaps, but I think the fact that, as the task of bringing his people to the future site of Rome was one that both his people and his gods, indeed all future generations of Romans depended upon, it took precedence over a lusty maybe-marriage with a foreign queen. This, it could be said, also reflects a sense of Gravitas – he was doing what needed to be done simply because it was the right thing to do.

Like any good Roman, Aeneas also proves his sense of pietas as he honors his duties to his gods, making sacrifices even when they withdraw themselves and stay back to observe how things work out between mortals, as they did in book X. The strong relationship between Aeneas and Ascanius could also be cited as a moment of pietas , and “the pious chief”(XI.3) Aeneas even does things like taking personal responsibility for arranging the funeral for his more or less temporarily adopted son– Pallas (Who King Evander wanted Aeneas to take under his arm and teach the ways of war) paying full homage to gods and funeral rights to a degree that impressed even the Latin messengers who arrived to ask for a truce “with olive-branches in their hand”(XI.150). Even when that truce is eventually broken, Aeneas tries to reestablish it, even to the point of catching an arrow in his leg for his effort. The book is just full of “good guys” expressing proper Roman values while those who fall do not, and Aeneas is no exception. No wonder Augustus loved it– the Aeneid is so very Roman, and it raises Roman values to a pinnacle while casting down the wicked at the point of a sword or spear, more or less.

One of the most obvious points of comparison between Aeneas and Horatius is the fact that both are assisted by the river Tiber at different times (fitting, considering the fact that Tiberius too is, in a way, a father to Rome.) I found it also interesting that one of the “Roman triumphs rising on the gold” (VII.830) of the shield that Aeneas is gifted with by the gods in book seven depicts the actual scene of Horatius at the bridge, (referred to as Cocles,) as he “broke the bridge, and stemm'd the flood” (VIII.864) thereby connecting Horatius and Aeneas again in the eyes of the Roman people. With Horatius on his very shield, not to mention Romulus and Remus, among many others, Aeneas effectively becomes the herald, indeed the very embodiment of future Rome, the original Roman.

In contrast, could it be said that Aeneas had any degree of frugalitas , as Horatius did? Horatius was a warrior who delighted in farming, but Aeneas doesn’t do very much farming, or at least, he doesn’t in the Aeneid . This particular virtus is, however, I think satisfied by the search for the eventual home of the Trojans and the future Romans that Aeneas continues throughout the book. He may not work the land in Vergil’s epic, but I think it is safe to say that he probably settled down afterward (someone had to build the huts that would become Rome!)

Though the concluding event where Aeneas slays the wounded and begging Turnus might at first seem to fly in the face of Roman values, I think it very clearly reflects both the core values of Pietas and Severitas. We see this in the fact that, initially, Aeneas was willing to spare Turnus, and it was only after he noticed “The golden belt that glitter'd on his side, / The fatal spoils which haughty Turnus tore/ From dying Pallas,”(XII.1365-1367) that he forgoes mercy to fulfill his duty and, in an unflinching act of virtus, slays Turnus then and there, satisfying his duty to Pallas and Evander.


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    • profile image

      Danice 3 years ago

      Articles like this really grease the shafts of knedolwge.

    • Earl S. Wynn profile image

      Earl S. Wynn 7 years ago from California

      Thank you, my friend! :D

    • cdub77 profile image

      cdub77 7 years ago from Portland Or

      Great hub on the Aeneid. It's nice to see hubbers on here writing on classic literature. I've written a few hubs on Greek and Roman epics, among others, if you're interested.

      This was very well written and provided good analysis on this piece. Great job!