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Virgil’s Aeneid As a Great Example of Literary Epic

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Virgil’s Aeneid is one of the most renowned classical literature that exists. Moreover, Aeneid can be considered as a “literary epic” . While the ambition behind Aeneid is still being debated by scholars, one of the ideas behind this literary work is the “national greatness of Rome” . Just like Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Virgil’s Aeneid also contains a lot of aetiology along with inclusion of Latin customs and cultural values etc. Virgil or Vergil based his Aeneid mainly to Homer, but this does not mean he did not enjoyed the contribution from other ancient writers such as Ennius, various Greek tragedians, and Cylic poets.

As Martindale implies Virgil’s Aeneid can be seen as a piece of Augustian propaganda, but not in a straightforward way. Virgil injects his contemporary concerns in a closed and indirect way which protects the Aeneid from being a simple piece of Allegory. As directly quoted from Martindale “the opening poem strongly suggests gratitude and devotion to Octavian in the guise of the beneficent iuvenis” Although, Aeneid contains a propaganda it is far from being “warphilia” (or a battle cry), on the contrary, Virgil implies that war is melancholic, but an unavoidable thing in which implies the one of the main themes of Aeneid, the fate. As Martindale quotes from Wendell Clausen, Virgil’s depiction of war is “a long Pyrrhic victory of the human spirit” Yet, one cannot say Virgil’s depiction of Rome’s history is totally melancholic since it must be remembered that Aeneid is kind of a propaganda. Virgil’s complicated depiction (melancholic, but optimist and proud) can be reasoned by saying he had a cyclical world view which coincides with Pythagorean and stoic world view. Before getting into the specific commentaries, we must remember that the world Virgil was living in was experiencing a huge transitions like transformation of Roman Republic into the Roman Empire (not officially in his time, but still there was a change). Moreover, birth of Christianity or its signs which is even visible in Virgil’s lines (Iupiter’s transformation into a sole and dominant power on the sky rather than being “one of the many gods”) and when reading Virgil’s Aeneid, these facts must be remembered.

For this paper the first 33 lines of the Aeneid’s first book will be inspected and as a whole, first book deals with the issue of Iuno’s wrath against Aeneas and his companions who have been exiled from Troy. Further, Iuno prevents them to land in the shores of Italy.

Lines 1-7 is the defined proemium of the Aeneid which contains direct references to the Homer. Interestingly, the word proemium is the anagram of the word and notion of pomerium which has a very special place in the hearts of the Romans. The first word of the poem, Arma literally means “weapons”, but here it is used for “war” and this is a fine example of metonymy. Virum which follows the arma refers to the Aeneas, a man who is extremely renowned that Virgil does not mention his name until the line I.92. Altogether these two words (Arma virumque) refers to the wars of the man, Aeneas and his wars both in Troy and Italy. This introduction explains the poem’s whole theme in just two words. The third word cano literally means “sing about”, but Virgil does not sing his poems, rather recites. By choosing this word Virgil is trying to associate himself with Homer and old epic tradition which lyres has been used along with the singing of the verses. On the second line Italiam is the first word, intentionally. Virgil trying to stress that the Italy is Aeneas’ destination. Fato (Fate) is the thematic theme of the Aeneid and used already in the second line. Lines 2-3 contain Lavinia and litora which repeats the stress of Italy, but in a more exact way. Repetition of a general idea was one of the favourite stylistic devices of Virgil. Also the word Lavinia normally has four syllables, but in this line, the last two syllables are combined together as a short syllable to fit into the dactylic hexameter and this is called synizesis. The line 3 also has multum and iactatus which is framed by the modifying phrases. Line 4 starts with vi superum (those above) which creates an enjambment for the purpose of emphasis. Also note that –um ending is an archaic of genitive plural. Using archaic forms were common in poetry and known as archaism. Rest of line 4 creates an interlocked word order (ABAB) also known as synchisis. Again in line 4, memorem and iam which means “remorseless anger” personifies Iuno’s anger, personification. Also, memorem can be viewed as a transferred epithet since Iuno is the one who remembers, not the anger. In line 5, word et creates an anastrophe since it is intentionally delayed into the middle of four words surrounding it. Inferretque deos Latio in line 6 is important since one of the parts of Aeneas’ mission was to bring the household gods (Penates) to the Italy from Troy. Genus …Latinum Albanique patres … altae moenia Romae (6-7) notice that Lavinium, Alba Longa and Rome is placed accordingly to the developmental process of Rome which can be considered as a somewhat tricolon. The proemium ends here.

In lines 8-11, Virgil asks Muses for inspiration which was common for ancient poetry. There were nine muses, the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne (Memory). The one invoked here is Calliope which is the Muse of epic poetry. The idea of invoking muses is that the poetry is the works of gods using poets. In line 8, second word mihi is usually scanned short but here it is long to fit it into the dactylic hexameter, a diastole. Lines 9 and 10 contains both anaphora and asyndeton since tot volvere casus in line 9 and tot adire labores in line 10 has parallelism of the similarly conjoined infinitive phrases. Both are objects of regina … impulerit and both has virum as subject. This emphasizes the intensity of Aeneas’ pain. Tantaene … irae in line 11 creates an ellipsis of the verb esse. The chiasmus puts irae to the end of the line for the suspension and echo the identically placed iram in line 4. The use of plural here is for the extensive variety of gods ‘enraged sentiments and actions and their recurring outbreaks of rage. Line 11 is also a rhetorical question to strengthen the affectivity of the line.

From the line 12 to 33, Virgil explains the reasons of Iuno’s rage. In line 12 the parenthesis contains the words Tyrii tenuere coloni. Normally there would be world eam after Tyrii, but it is omitted since it is both disrupts the hexameter and can be extracted easily from the context. Tyrii … coloni refers to the Carthage, originally a Phoenician colony and Tyrii means “from Tyre”, a city in Phoenicia. Line 13 starts with Karthago, Italiam for a striking effect, a juxtaposition. Further, Italiam contra normally would be contra Italiam, order of words are intentionally disrupted to create a further striking effect, an anastrophe. Also, the word contra is both used as a geographical sense “facing” and a hostile sense which means “against” and this wordplay would remind a Roman the Punic Wars. In line 15, Quam … terries … omnibus unam (Object of coulisse) is an arrangement of a chiasmus, and relative pronoun Quam with its modifier unam framing the line which emphases the point here. Also, Omnibus unam creates a juxtaposition since they emphasise the contrast between Iuno’s love of Carthage and her love for other cities. Samo. Hic (16), normally the –o in Samo would be omitted since the following word begins with –h, but here, it is not the case since there is a natural pause after Samo as it is the end of the sentence. This absence of omission is hiatus and between Samo and hic, caesura occurs which strengthening the effect of the hiatus and emphasising the word hic. Hic … (16) Hic … Hoc (17) contains anaphora and asyndeton which are often comes in pairs. Also in line 16, Illius creates a systole since the second –I is made short. Also for Hic illius arma, hic currus fuit, hoc regnum dea gentibus esse, there is a tricolon. Here, the third clause is longer and it is called a tricolon crescendo. Anaphora and tricolon might be combined in the same lines by poets to emphasise an idea. In this lines, Virgil tries to emphasise Carthage. In Line 18, Tenditque fovetque is a kind of polysyndeton which is used to link the words that are closely related. Line 18 contains the word “fata” (fate). Again, theme of fate is portrayed here, this time as reminding us that through the poem Iuno brawls to compete against fate. In line 19, sed is postponed for emphasising, an anastrophe. Troiano a sanguine (19), the preposition is framed in the middle of the adjective and noun to strengthen the effect of the line. In line 20, olim literally means “one day” but must be understood as an “unspecified time in the future” In line 21, hinc refers to Troiano a sanguine. In lines 21-22, populum … venturum is the continuation of the indirect statement. More importantly venturum is normally venturum esse as it is a future infinitive, but esse is often omitted in poetry. Libyae is used in 22 instead of Carthage, but still defines the Carthage. Also in line 22, there is no word which has a literal meaning of “fate” but Parcas is used for the “fate”. In other words, Parcae were the Fates that were spinning (volvere), a third thing which Iuno heard. This line can also be viewed as a word picture.

Id metuens … Saturnia … Troas … arcebat … Latio (23, 30-31). Normally, the sentence which began in line 23 would end in the next couple of lines, but here Virgil interrupts the sentence or the statement that Saturnia (Iuno) blocked the Trojans from reaching to Latium with a bunch of reasons of her odium towards the Trojans (respectively, lines 25-28, see necdum … honores). The first word id of the line 23, refers to the idea of line 19-22. In line 24, word order of prima quod is odd since quod would be the first word, but here it is delayed. Argis (Argos) in line 24 is actually a city in the Peloponnese, but here, it is used for Greece, an example of synecdoche.

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Lines 25-28 (necdum … honores), is important as mentioned just above. There are three reasons of Iuno’s hatred towards the Trojans which are the beauty of Paris, Iuno’s hate of race of the Trojans and the abduction of the Ganymede. These are expressed by interruption of the ongoing sentence in line 23 and shown by a dash before necdum and a colon right after honores. In line 26, manet is an historic present tense which emphasises the line. Also repostum is normally repositum but used as shown, a syncope. Iudicium Paridis (27), the judgement of Paris, a reason for Iuno’s hatred towards the Trojans since they chose Aphrodite (Venus) instead of Iuno (Hera) and Athena (Minerva). As it is mentioned, repetition of a general ideas is one of the favourite devices of Virgil and with spretaeque iniuria formae (27) he does that again by expanding the idea of (iudicium Paridis).

Another reason of Iuno’s hatred towards the Trojans is that they are the descendants of Dardanus. Dardanus is the son of Iuno’s husband Iupiter from another women, a human, Electra. It is explained by genus invisum (28).

The last reason of the Iuno’s hate is rapti Ganymedis honores (28). Ganymede was the Trojan prince, abducted by Iupiter (Zeus) and placed in Olympus to be a cupbearer of Iupiter.

With line 29, his accensa super, the sentence in line 23 continues. In line 30 the word Troas is strange since it is not Latin, but a Greek form of the accusative plural. In Reliquias (30), -e is made longer under the ictus since it is not possible to use three short syllables consecutively, a diastole. Danaum (30) is a form of Danai which Virgil called the Greek by, often. Danai means “descendants of Danaus” and Danaus was the mythical founder of Argos. In line 31, Arcebat in imperfect tense is used to express the idea of non-stop action. In line 32, 3rd person plural ending of erra-bant expresses that the subject is Trojans now. Also, the spondees in line 32 (Errabant … fatis) creates an extra intensity to the line which is needed since the subject has recently changed. Maria Omnia circum (32) is an example of anastrophe which further extends the affectivity of the line.

The repetition with aequore toto (29) and maria Omnia circum stresses the degree of the Trojans’ journey.

The ending line, 33, deserves its own paragraph. This whole line is the reflection of the first 32 lines, a summary. The major theme of the Aeneid is summed in a one sentence and one line: The creation of a Roman people and a Roman nation.

As mentioned before going into full inspection, there is a circular structure in the first 33 lines. The things that have been mentioned in lines 1-7 also repeated in 29-33. Cyclical, Pythagorean and stoic world view of Virgil is clearly visible here.

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Virgil’s Aeneid As a Great Example of Literary Epic. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 8, 2023, from
“Virgil’s Aeneid As a Great Example of Literary Epic.” Edubirdie, 27 Sept. 2022,
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