Page images

piety, obedience to the declarations of divine will, trust in the gods. On these virtues and the purpose of the gods were set the walls of Rome. Hence sprang all the human might and human glory, which were never to be thought as severable from the aid and care of those gods. who made Rome mistress of the world. The present was founded on the past. To make firm its welfare and assure the future, no jot of Rome's ethical and religious heritage could be neglected. Through preserving the virtues of the past, should Rome's destiny advance.


Virgil's epic shows Rome's beginnings heavy with the future. Each line is conscious of Rome's destiny. On the voyage, the Trojan fugitives feel themselves citizens of the city they are to found, even are addressed as cives, a word of unspeakable wealth of association for Romans. The epic story foreshadows the present. Nor does the poem leave the fortunes of Rome to be merely inferred from the direction her face was set in at the start. It has gleaming prophecies of her course of glory and clear definings of her office in the world, to which in Augustus' time the call was clear. Twice the poet discloses the course of Rome. In the first passage the father of gods and men reassures his daughter of the accomplishment of her son's and his descendants' destinies: Manent immota tuorum fata tibi. Æneas shall wage a great war in Italy, subduing fierce nations, shall found his walls and give laws to his people, and pass away in the fourth year of his reign. But the boy Ascanius, who shall be also called Iulus, shall reign thirty years and found Alba Longa. Here shall the house rule three hundred years, till priestess Ilia bear her twin offspring to Mars. Romulus shall establish the Mavortian walls and call his people Romans. For them I set no bound; empire without end have I given them. Harsh Juno shall turn to better counsels and with me cherish the lords of the world, the togaed race. They 1 v, 196, 671.

shall subdue Phthia and Mycenæ. Cæsar shall be born, whose empire the Ocean, whose fame the stars shall bound. Him thou shalt receive in heaven, and men. shall call on him with offerings. Then the ages shall grow gentle and the gates of war be shut, while hoary Faith and Vesta shall give laws.' This outline of Rome's glory ends in the peace which had come with Augustus, with whom hoary Faith, the Faith of yore, should reign.

In the second passage' Anchises in the Happy Fields points out to his son the forms of their descendants, pausing upon the destiny of Augustus, who should restore the golden age in Latium. Then follows the roll of Rome's heroes, who should bring her power towards its Cæsarian climax; and at the end bursts from the blessed lips a cry prophetic of Rome's god-given, imperial function:-Others shall excel thee in other arts and celestial science, but thou:

Tu regere imperio populos, Romane, memento;
Hæ tibi erunt artes, pacisque imponere morem,
Parcere subjectis, et debellare superbos.

Eneid VI.

The tenor of these passages is similar: both proceed through an outline of Rome's course of achievement to the thought of her place in the world in Virgil's time and her glorious charge in the present and the future, to rule the nations by her command and impose the ways of peace. The sixth book of the Eneid, in a picture of the underworld, blends archaic notions and maturer thought. The poet is presenting the highly ethical spectacle of a future life containing rewards and punishments. The setting is taken mainly from the old Greek poets. Also, as far back as Pindar, Virgil could have found the underlying general thought, that crimes hereafter shall be punished, and virtues rewarded. But in the application of rewards and punishments and in the conceptions of virtues and crimes, he has refined the 1i, 257, etc. "vi, 755, etc.; cf. also viii, 670, etc.

ethics of the past, and developed modes of purification or atonement from systems of Greek philosophy.' In this picture of the underworld, with all its inconsistencies, may be seen the ethical and religious thought of Rome's greatest ethical and religious poet, who, as much as can any man who is above his fellows, represented the views of the Augustan age, and especially those of the emperor.

Penetrating the dark entrance to the underworld, Æneas and his Sibyl guide come to the Styx, where Charon is ferryman, the poet preserving this ancient myth in deference to popular credence and his own fondness of the poetical past. The saddest, hardest part of the myth he retains as well, the crowd of shades who move up and down the bank of the infernal river, stretching out their hands towards the other shore. Charon receives only those whose funeral rites have been performed; the others must wander up and down for a hundred restless years. Æneas pauses, thinking many thoughts, moved by the unequal lot of mortal souls.

Beyond the Styx, Virgil's underworld is threefold, Tartarus, the blessed seats of Elysium, and the intermedial regions of Hades, neither happy nor accursed.' The poet makes these middle regions large and populous. His scheme reflects those older, harsher views of fate and divine governance which took less account of human intent than of actual fact. So he places in these regions those unjustly condemned to death. A hard thought this; yet indeed the fact that they had been unjustly condemned was no merit of theirs, entitling them to enter Elysium. The pagan world never reached that finest thought of compensation which regards the drying of tears as the

1 See Boissier, La Religion Romaine, livre i, ch. 5.

? The thought of three regions of the dead is as old as Homer, who, besides Hades and Tartarus, has also the Islands of the Blessed.

3 Says the Sibyl to Palinurus' shade, vainly longing to cross the Styx : 'Desine fata deum flecti sperare precando."-vi, 376,— -a line conscious of the hardness of fate, but expressing the unavailingness of remonstrance.

just due of those who have wept. Virgil likewise places here the souls of infants; they, to be sure, had been cut off before their time, hard fate again; yet neither had they done anything to merit bliss. Another part of this region is allotted to suicides; and another, the lugentes campi, to those who had perished through cruel love. A further motive leading the poet to make large these intermediate regions may have been a thought of the mass of mankind who have done no great harm or good, have lived the usual lives of men and women, deserving no reward or punishment. There was justice in this, if not pity. It was a view more consonant with the ethics of the time, than the older thought of human lot in the next world dependent on matters, like funeral rites, beyond the man's control.

Virgil places in Tartarus the mythical sinners against the gods, and also those guilty of more usual crimes, those who hated brothers or maltreated a parent or deceived their clients, the great crowd of the avaricious who shared not their wealth, those slain in adultery, those who took up impious arms in civil strife or broke faith with their masters. Seek not to know their punishment, says the Sibyl. Yet Æneas might hear the great voice sounding from within the gates:

"Discite justitiam moniti et non temnere divos."'

Elysium is peopled with magnanimous heroes of old and with those who fell for their country, those who were spotless priests or pious poets whose chants were worthy of Phoebus, or those who invented modes of bettering life or left enduring memories of good deeds.' These dwellers in Elysium pass their time in pursuits which they loved on earth, or, like Anchises, contemplate futurity. Not all, however, are entirely pure from mortal defilement, but must undergo purification and return to earth, and Virgil expresses in beautiful verse 1 vi, 620. ' vi, 660.

thoughts taken from the philosophers, especially the Pythagoreans and Plato.'

This picture of the underworld yielded the lesson which Augustus wished to be set before the people. The crimes which Virgil punished in Tartarus were prevalent, the virtues he rewarded in Elysium were those needed in the Roman state. The Greek and Roman world had for centuries received its religion from the songs of poets; Greek poetry was a repository of theology, and though the oldest poems possessed greatest authority, a poem might become at once authoritative through its merit; for with Greeks or Romans there was no higher revelation than the inspiration of the Muse. Hence, Augustus rightly deemed that a poem of such transcendent merit as he expected from Virgil' would be more than an ethical influence, would indeed be accepted as an authoritative exposition of religious fact. And there is no reason to doubt the effect of the Æneid, taught in schools and learned by the youth throughout the Latin world. Belief in some sort of existence after death was general, and such a monumental assertion of it as Virgil made in his sixth book, with Virgilian weight and splendor of language, was potent to fix in men's minds the beliefs in accord with which he drew the origin and fortunes of Rome.

The countenance which Augustus gave to Virgil, Horace, or Propertius was part of his effort at religious and social reform. He desired also to connect his

and Moral

Religious own imperial rule with the Roman religion, Betterment, and gain for his new government the sanction. of the ancient faith. The stronger this faith, the greater its ethical effect; and bettering men's ways would make them as citizens more obedient to whatever

1 vi, 703-751. See Boissier, livre i, ch. 5, § 2.

Propertius expresses the great expectation awaiting the Æneid:

"Cedite Romani scriptores, cedite Graii,

Nescioquid maius nascitur Iliade."

Prop., iii, xxxii, 65.

« PreviousContinue »