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simply gives us a vivid picture of past events- the war before Troy or the wanderings of Ulysses. The Aeneid not only does this, but it looks forward with hope into the future. The fall of Troy, the wanderings of Aeneas, his arrival in Italy, his marriage with Lavinia, and the union of the Trojans with the Latins are sketched not only as glorious achievements of the past, but as connected with, and pointing to, the present of Rome, and as prophetic of her future. In this respect the Aeneid marks an advance upon Homer. Its one great purpose was to draw inspiration for the present from a contemplation of the past. Nothing could be more foreign to the plan of the Iliad or the Odyssey than this. Virgil's relation to his work thus became altogether different from that of Homer. Homer's treatment was entirely objective. He is not a part of what he relates, but aims simply to give a truthful and graphic picture of heroic deeds. Virgil's attitude, on the other hand, is subjective. He is filled with patriotic emotion throughout. This contrast between the two poets is admirably seen in the language in which they respectively announce their themes. Homer begins:
"O Goddess! sing the wrath of Peleus's son,
"Arms and the man I sing who, forced by fate
It is not alone of Aeneas as a wanderer and hero that Virgil sings, but of Aeneas as the founder of the Roman race" and the long glories of majestic Rome."
Rightly to appreciate the real greatness of the Aeneid, it is important not to judge it by purely modern standards. Considered in this light the poem undoubtedly suffers from grave defects. To our modern sense Aeneas is anything but a romantic character. His desertion of the fated Dido brings him instant condemnation on the part of all of us. But the pupil who reads the Aeneid should judge this act in the light of ancient sentiment. As a servant of the gods, and the instrument for executing their commands, Aeneas's only course was to obey their bidding. His abandonment of the Punic queen was not the result of the waning of a brief fancy; it was dictated from on high and demanded the resolution and courage of a hero for its execution.
The epithet pius, too, as applied to Aeneas, conveys to the English or American mind an unfortunate connotation. This word does not to us suggest the hero. It suggests rather a weakling—one who is conspicuous more for outward religious observance than for deeds of heroism. This suggestion is in fact so strong that where pious is used (as it generally is) in rendering the Latin pius, the pupil almost instinctively conceives a feeling of contempt for the central figure of a great epic. Pius Aeneas almost defies translation in English. Virgil wishes to depict his hero as faithful to his whole duty toward his father, his child, his comrades, and above all toward the gods. This was pietas, one of the cardinal Roman virtues, as it is one of the cardinal virtues of all times. Virgil wishes to exhibit Aeneas to us as devoted, as tender, as loyal, faithful, just, sympathetic, reverent, obedient. All of this and doubtless more is contained in the one epithet pius, for which our own language possesses no adequate single equivalent. Nor is Aeneas deficient in the sturdier qualities prized by the ancients. He
is patient in trouble; he is courageous in disaster; he is valiant in battle. As an example of martial prowess, he is, of course, less conspicuous than the Homeric heroes. But while most of these excel only in hewing and smiting, Aeneas exhibits a robustness of moral virtue almost totally lacking in the great figures of the Iliad and not yet prominent even in the Odyssey.
The character of Aeneas, then, must be interpreted by ancient, not by modern standards. To understand Aeneas, we must go back to the conception of society, of the state, and of man's place in the world, which prevailed twenty centuries ago. Viewed in this light, Aeneas will be seen to be the embodiment of the moral qualities that constituted the very essence of the Roman character.
Another criticism of the Aeneid is based on the great extent of Virgil's borrowing from Homer and other Greek and Roman poets. This borrowing, as has already been explained, is unquestioned. Virgil appropriated with the greatest freedom whatever suited his purpose. But in doing this he was only following the prevailing custom of his day, and in fact of all antiquity. Ancient writers not merely imitated their predecessors and contemporaries, but actually prided themselves on so doing. Yet this free appropriation of the structural elements of the Aeneid ought by no means to blind us to the majesty of the original ideas which Virgil has incorporated in his poem. After all it is only in unessential externals that the Aeneid is an imitative poem. Just as the character of Aeneas himself is instinct with the cardinal Roman virtues, so the Aeneid as a whole breathes an intensely national spirit, in that it gives such decisive expression to the idea of Rome's mission in the world; her consciousness of imperial destiny; her function as mistress of the nations and the civilizer of mankind. This idea is finely wrought into the entire fabric of the poem, reaching its climax in vi. 847 ff.:
Excudent alii spirantia mollius aera,
Credo equidem, vivos ducent de marmore voltus,
'Let others better mould the running mass
Plead better at the bar; describe the skies,
Linked with this intensely national spirit is the poet's sincere admiration for the Emperor Augustus. Profoundly impressed with the horrors of Rome's recent past, conscious of the necessity of a new political order, and imbued with a deep faith that in Augustus lay the only hope for the moral and political regeneration of the state, Virgil lent his whole energy to the glorification of the Julian house, surrounding its past with the most splendid halo that his imagination could suggest, in the evident endeavor to increase its present prestige and perpetuate its beneficent influence.
The Aeneid was left in an unfinished state at Virgil's death. Before leaving Italy for Greece in 19 B.C., he had commissioned his friend Varius to burn the manuscript of the Aeneid should he die before adding the finishing touches; and on his death-bed at Brundisium he called repeatedly for the poem that he might destroy it. He constituted Varius and Tucca his literary executors, but expressly forbade the
publication of the Aeneid. Against this procedure Augustus successfully protested and secured the publication of the work exactly as left by Virgil. Even the incomplete lines were published as they appeared in the manuscript.1
Virgil's fame rests secure. While there have not been lacking critics who questioned his merits, he ranks as one of the world's great poets, and deservedly so. No ampler or finer recognition of his genius exists than the following tribute from the pen of another great poet, Lord Tennyson:
WRITTEN AT THE REQUEST OF THE MANTUANS FOR THE
Roman Virgil, thou that singest
Ilion's lofty temples robed in fire,
Ilion falling, Rome arising,
wars, and filial faith, and Dido's pyre;
Landscape-lover, lord of language
more than he that sang the Works and Days, All the chosen coin of fancy
flashing out from many a golden phrase;
Thou that singest wheat and woodland,
tilth and vineyard, hive and horse and herd; All the charm of all the Muses
often flowering in a lonely word;
1 Some have thought that Virgil meant to introduce a number of halfverses into the Aeneid. But it is much more probable that the incomplete lines occurring in the poem were to be filled out before the Aeneid was published.