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Augustus Caesar and his adoptive father, Julius Caesar, claimed descent through the Julian gens from Iulus, Aeneas, and the goddess Venus. The real purpose of the Aeneid, as a national epic, was the glorification of Augustus and the culmination of events under his wise and beneficent rule. This could be done in no better or more effective way than by depicting the wanderings of his Trojan ancestor to the Western Land, multum ille et terris iactatus et alto; by representing the Olympian gods as taking an active interest in his fortunes; and by setting forth the shaping of events preparatory to the establishment of universal Roman dominion during the administration of Augustus, imperium Oceano famam qui terminet astris.
In selecting the story of Aeneas, Virgil thus united all the qualities necessary for a successful Roman epic. The character of the hero possessed interest in belonging to the distant, legendary period of the Trojan war, yet satisfied the national sentiment in being closely connected with Roman fortunes of the day, and this latter was the more important condition to meet. The real keynote to the poem is not the “arma virumque” with which it opens, but the “Tantae molis erat Romanam condere gentem " with which the exordium closes. The expansion of this subject also gave an opportunity of magnifying the names of Romans great in national history. This is done in the scene in Hades, described in Book VI, where Anchises points out to Aeneas the souls that are to return to the upper world and become distinguished Romans of future generations. At the same time the Aeneid is conceived upon a large scale, covering as it does the history of the establishment of Roman greatness, and, partly by way of intimation, of all succeeding events, culminating with the rule of the Emperor Augustus.
In two ways the Aeneid differs from its Greek models. In the first place it belongs to the type of the literary epic, in distinction from the Iliad and Odyssey, which belong to the class of primitive epics. The latter are the spontaneous narration of early legends and traditions. They are characterized by a charming naturalness of manner and language, by vividness, and a lively imagina
tion. The literary epic, of which the Aeneid is the representative, is the product of a different and a later epoch in civilization ; it is less spontaneous and so more artificial. It presupposes a long development in the literary history of a people, and implies on the part of the poet extraordinary powers of arranging and combining masses of material.
In the second place, the Aeneid is, as we have seen, a national epic, while the Iliad and Odyssey are epics of human life. But Virgil's poem is not by any means devoid of scenes of human interest. On the other hand, it abounds in pathetic incidents and exciting situations, and presents many spectacles of human life and manners and passion.
The characters in this epic drama play their part well. Aeneas is of course the leading one. “The general conception of Aeneas is indeed in keeping with the religious idea of the Aeneid. He is intended to be the embodiment of the courage of an ancient hero, the justice of a paternal ruler, the mild humanity of a cultivated man living in an age of advanced civilization, the saintliness of the founder of a new religion of peace and pure observance, the affection for parent and child which was one of the strongest instincts in the Italian race.' 'In the part he plays he is conceived of as one chosen by the supreme purpose of the gods, as an instrument of their will, and thus necessarily unmoved by ordinary human impulses. The strength required in such an instrument is the strength of faith, submission, patience, and endurance; and it is with this strength that Aeneas encounters the many dangers and vicissitudes to which he is exposed, and withdraws from the allurements of ease and pleasure. Cf. notes on I, 10, 220.
Besides Aeneas the characters that stand out most prominently are Dido and Turnus, the former dominating the first half of the poem, the latter the last half. The character of the ill-fated queen Dido is strong. Hers was a generous and trusting, but pure and noble soul. Her succumbing to the fatal passion was brought about by divine agency. The queen's real nature is exhibited when she believes herself betrayed by the voluntary act of Aeneas, for she scouts the idea of divine interposition.
Turnus is everywhere characterized by violentia, blind vehemence of spirit, and may be intended to typify the lawlessness and lack of civilization of the primitive Italic tribes, not unmixed with bravery, which the Romans were destined to restrain and subdue. The fate of this daring Italian chief inspires one with compassionate interest as he strives to repel the foreign invaders and win back his promised bride.
Other characters full of personal interest are Pallas, the brave but unfortunate son of Evander; Nisus and Euryalus, who attempted and almost succeeded in carrying to. Aeneas the news of the Trojans besieged within their camp; the tender and faithful Creusa, who by the fates was not permitted to leave Troy with her husband and son; the aged Acestes, who performs the part of the kindly host to the sea-tossed Trojans; Anchises, whose untimely death the reader bewails with Aeneas; and Camilla, the brave heroine, whose early life, prophetic of her future, is related by Diana, and who was destined to die in the last encounter with the Trojans.
III. THE METER
Virgil's works are written in a verse known as the dactylic hexameter; each line consists of six feet, and each foot, with the possible exception of the last, is either a dactyl (-U) or the equivalent, a spondee (--). Accordingly each foot contains four units (a short syllable, v, being a unit), which must be combined in the form of either one long and two short syllables (-uu) or two long ones (--). The fifth foot is regularly a dactyl, but sometimes, though rarely, it may be a spondee, as, e.g. II, 68, III, 12, V, 320. Such a line is termed spondaic. Since in every Latin verse the last unit is indifferent, i.e. may be used or omitted according to the will of the poet, the last foot of the dactylic hexameter may even consist of one long and one short
syllable (-u). The normal dactylic hexameter may then be represented thus:
|- |- |- |- |- |- | Rhythm in English verse depends upon the strong word stress which prevails in this language; it results from the collocation of words in such a manner as to produce a regularly recurring accent. In the Latin language, on the other hand, the accent of the individual word was very slight. In poetry, therefore, there was another basis for metrical rhythm, namely, the regular recurrence of long and short syllables. In this respect, both in prose and poetry, Latin differs radically from English, namely, in its practice of giving more time (theoretically twice as much) to the pronunciation of certain vowels than it does to others. The English language is accentual, the Latin is quantitative.
Since the quantitative character is as truly present in prose as in poetry, it follows that if one read Latin poetry as he should read Latin prose, that is, with a proper observance, in his pronunciation, of long and short syllables, the metrical flow would be apparent without any further effort on the part of the reader. But since our own language has an entirely different basis for its verse, it is at first difficult to read Latin poetry quantitatively. Only abundant practice will make it easy and enjoyable.
Very often a lack of perfect familiarity with the length of root vowels is a hindrance to the reader. The student should first of all know fairly well the quantity of final syllables. He will get information on this in his grammars (H. 691 fol. ; LM. 1096 fol. ;
1 Compare in this connection Bennett, The Quantitative Reading of Latin Poetry, Boston, 1899; What was Ictus in Latin Prosody ? American Journal of Philology, vol. XIX, pp. 361 fol.; and Hale, The Roman Pronunciation of Latin, in School Review, 1898, pp. 394 fol.
2 Pupils should carefully distinguish between a long vowel and a long syllable. A long syllable may be one (1) which contains a long vowel followed by a single consonant, or (2) which contains a long vowel followed by two or more consonants, or (3) even one which contains a short vowel if followed by two or more consonants. Thus těmpore is just as much a dactyl as flūmine.
A. 348; B. 363 fol.; G. 707 fol. ; (H. 579)). Certain mechanical devices may then be resorted to. Take, for instance, the opening line of the Third Book. The sixth foot, since it is never a dactyl, must consist of but two syllables, here, gentem. The fifth foot is regularly a dactyl, here, -vertere. We have now the first four feet to determine. The first foot is plainly a spondee, since the Post in the first syllable is necessarily long, and the a in -quam is long, being followed by m and r (of res). The fourth foot is also a spondee since the -i, the sign of the genitive case in Priami, is long, and by elision there remains but one syllable (-que e-) before the beginning of the fifth foot. This must be, and as a matter of fact is, long. Of the remaining syllables composing the second and third feet, the diphthong -æ in Asia we know is long. The only combination possible then is res Asi-, and -æ Pria-. We thus learn, without consulting a lexicon, that the four vowels in Asi- and Pria- are short. In this way the line may be read without a previous knowledge of root vowels. The same method
may be applied with like success to many other lines. For an explanation of common terms in Latin prosody often recurring in the Notes of this book, such as Elision, Hiatus, Cæsura, etc., see H. 720 fol. ; LM. 1109 fol.; A. 359 fol. ; B. 368 fol.; G. 718 fol.; (H. 596 fol.).
The text of Virgil occupies a unique position among the works of Roman writers in that it was transmitted to us by several very ancient manuscripts. These are seven in number, and they date from the fourth and fifth centuries A.D. Three are fragmentary, containing only a few leaves, while the other four are practically complete. All are written in the capital'script, the oldest form of writing employed in Latin manuscripts. One of the most valuable is known as the Schedae Vaticanae. It begins with the third book of the Georgics and extends through the eighth book of the
i Compare Whiton's, Auxilia Vergiliana, Boston, 1892.