Promoting Morality in the Aeneid and Metamorphoses
Just as the authors of the Bible use an evocative, almost mythological vehicle to convey covenants and laws that set the moral tone for Hebrew and Christian societies, Latin poets Virgil and Ovid employ a similarly supernatural method to foster their own societal and moral goals in Roman society. Where Virgil's Aeneid depicts Aeneas as the ideal, duty-bound Roman patriarch absent from the conflicted Rome of Virgil's youth, Ovid's Metamorphoses lacks the patriotic undertones of Virgil's epic. Instead, Ovid's lighthearted Metamorphoses depicts several mythical stories - some not unlike the etiological justifications found in the early Hebrew scriptures - which chronicle the transitory nature of life and its effect on society.
When Augustus defeated Marc Antony at Actium and began the first acts in his rule of what would be one of history's most powerful empires, he sought to restore the morality and patriotism characteristic of pre-civil-war Rome. The stolid Roman patriarch, thought lost in the melee of civil strife, became the center of Augustus' propaganda and legislative campaign to once again bring honor and morality to his empire. It is from Virgil's unfinished epic The Aeneid that this exemplary citizen arises, one who is not only a fierce warrior but foregoes personal happiness for the welfare of his country as well. Virgil's unfinished epic - almost discarded by its author until Augustus intervened - not only serves to smooth over the violence and slaughter of the past civil wars by attributing them to the course of fate but also uses this strife as a tool to carve Aeneas as an ideal patriarchal figure.
All these images on Vulcan's shield
His mother's gift, were wonders to Aeneas
Knowing nothing of the events themselves,
He felt joy in their pictures, taking up
Upon his shoulder all the destined acts
And fame of his descendants. (Book VIII, 162-167)
Aeneas, knowing full well that his role in the fate of yet-unformed Rome will involve much personal sacrifice and battle, nevertheless shoulders the metaphorical burden of the state and becomes Augustus' desired example of new Roman patriotism and loyalty.
Aeneas' inherent role as an archetypal Roman citizen stems not only from his conscious acceptance of his fate as the founder of Rome, but his relationship with Roman religion and deep sense of duty as well. As the son of Venus, Aeneas is intrinsically tied to Roman religion; though this relationship not as extreme as the connection between Jesus Christ and Christianity, Aeneas is, in many ways, the Christ of Augustus' pro-morality propaganda. Where the doctrines of Christianity - reinforced by the popular phrase "What would Jesus do?" - constantly imply the importance of emulating Christ's behavior, Virgil also stresses the importance of emulating Aeneas' implicit duty to his state, a duty which caused him to even scorn the love of Dido at the behest...