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Ekphrasis In Aeneas' Shield In Vergil's The Aeneid

1945 words - 8 pages

The opening of Vergil’s The Aeneid begin with the words “I sing of warfare and a man at war” (Vergil 1.1) which signal two important themes of the epic: warfare and the struggles of one man (Boyle). The epic revolves around a Trojan named Aeneas, who follows his destiny to found the city of Lavinium, a precedent to Rome, where his descendants continued to rule until the birth of Romulus. Vergil adapts the Homeric epic and structure to make social commentary on Roman life under Augustus. Like Homer, Vergil uses a shield as an ekphrasis to show a shift in primal to civilized state and the future history of Rome (Boyle). Vergil demonstrates how the Roman values of virtus, iustitita and pietas ...view middle of the document...

He finds a place to settle down in Italy and fights a war to settle his claim, which he wins (Vergil 11.906-8). Vergil takes Aeneas who is featured in The Iliad and creates a whole myth around him. Poseidon speaks of a Trojan hero named “Aieneias” who “…is destined to survive, that the generation of Dardanus shall not perish…and the might of Aeinias shall reign over the Trojans, and his sons’ sons, who shall be born of their seed hereafter” (Homer 20.75-86). It is as if Homer was giving artistic license to Vergil to create an epic centered on this Greek hero. Through Aeneas’ journey, Vergil is able to link myth and history together like Homer, and balance the warlike myths about Romulus with the story of a hero known for his virtues. Vergil makes Rome, the new Troy, which achieved its golden status finally under Augustus.
Vulcan forges Aeneas’ shields with future events in Roman history (Virgil 7.376-80). The shield starts off with Mars’ twins, Romulus and Remus being nursed by a she-wolf in a cave, they show no fear towards the animal. (Virgil 7.634-8). Next to Romulus and Remus is the city of Rome, spectators gather and watch the abduction of the Sabine women (7.639-42). After the war between the sons of Romulus and the Sabine king, the shield has them making peace in front of Jupiter’s altar and sealing the agreement with a sacrifice of a pig (7.646-59). The king of Alba is also on the shield, who broke his treaty with Rome and King Tullus of Rome drags his body through the woods (7.652-4). Tarquin, the last Roman King was expelled and Porsenna wanted to reinstate him (7.655-6). He besieged Rome and the Romans, importantly Aeneas’ sons, were fighting for their freedom (7.657-63). Two heroes of the battle, Cocles and Cloelia, are fighting against Porsenna, and Cocles destroyed the bridge ending the last king of Rome, leading way to the Republic (7.660-3). Manlius is also depicted on the shield watching over the great temple, where a silver goose warns of an impending attack by the Gauls (7.664-6). Vulcan depicts examples of heroism, treachery and virtue in these scenes. He also shows mythological sequences such as Tatrtatrus (7.682) and the punishment of the traitor Cataline, who is clung to a steep cliff and trembles at the Furies (7.683-6). Cato is present on the scene and seems to be instructing a group of “virtuous souls” far away (7.687-88). One of the most magnificent and ideological scenes is the battle of Actium.
In the center of the shield, Vulcan has a seascape with dolphins and soldiers lined the shore with bronze ships, signaling the Battle of Actium (7.690-2). Augustus commanded the naval fleet with his lieutenant, Marcus Agrippa (7.697-702). On the other side Cleopatra and Mark Antony’s ships whose fleets show extreme opulence and are barbaric looking compared to Augustus’ ships (7.707-8). Anubis is depicted on the shield and comes face to face with Neptune, Venus and Minerva (7.727-30). Apollo watches the...

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