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The New Hero Of Aeneas Essay

2865 words - 11 pages

The New Hero of Aeneas

Can myopia afflict an individual with so severe a malady to the extreme of proclaiming, "If you take from Vergilius his diction and metre, what do you leave him"? Unless we take this statement as a neophyte joke, we may not be able to continue. The objective of this essay is to clean the bifocals of those whom I presumed after reading the Aeneid as a botched-up replica of the Iliad and the Odyssey conclude that it is indeed so and go about perpetuating such calumny. Hence, to answer the obvious, if we strip Vergilius of his diction and metre, we leave him a new type of hero. Well, actually he leaves us a new type of hero, a hero that is foreign to the golden age of Homer. He presents a new ideal of heroism and shows us in what fields it can be exercised. Unlike Homer, the essence of his conception is that a man's virtus is shown less in combat and physical danger than in the defeat of his own weaknesses. Aeneas sees his chief obstacles within himself and his greater victories are when he triumphs over them whereas the Homerian hero relies much more on physical gifts than in moral strength to overcome his trials in the battlefield. Homer believed that a man owed great actions to the ideal of manhood and that in his short span of life he must do all that he can to show that he is really a man. Conversely, Aeneas performs his duty, because the gods have laid it upon it despite the fact that such faithful obedience is hardly to his advantage.
First, a new vision of human nature and heroic virtue is presented in Vergilius' poetry. He is concerned with the Roman spirit as a whole whereas Homer concentrates on individuals and their destinies. The dooms of Achilles and Hector dominate his design; their characters determine the action. However, from the start, Vergilius shows that his special concern is the destiny not of a man but of a nation, not of Aeneas but of Rome. Although he opens up with "This is the tale of arms and of a man" and suggests that his hero is another Achilles, or Odysseus, he has, before the end of the first paragraph, shown that he reaches beyond Aeneas to the long history that followed from him: "and that was the origin of the Latin nation, the Lords of Alba, and the proud battlements of Rome" (I, 6-7). Soon after wards, when he has noted the obstacles that the Trojans meet in their wanderings, he again ends a period in the similar note: "Such was the cost in heavy toil of beginning the life of Rome" (I, 33). Once again, when Venus complains that her son Aeneas is unjustly treated, Jupiter replies not only by promising that all will be well for Aeneas but by giving a prophetic sketch of Roman history to Julius Caesar. This reward, which the ancestor is to receive, is much more than his own success or glory, more even than his settlement in Italy. It is the assurance of the Roman destiny, of universal and unending dominion: "To Romans I set no boundary in space or time. I have...

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