Virgil's Aeneid as Roman Propaganda
Rome was experiencing a great deal of internal turmoil during the period when Virgil wrote the Aeneid. There was somewhat of an identity crisis in Rome as it had no definitive leader, or history. With the ascension of Augustus to the throne, Rome was unified again. Still, it had no great book. The Greeks had their Odyssey, giving them a sense of history and of continuity through time. A commonly held view is that the Aeneid attempts to provide the Romans with this sense of continuity or roots. There is a great deal of textual evidence to support this interpretation. Virgil makes numerous references to the greatness of Rome through "ancient" prophecies. Clearly, the entire poem is an account of the founders of Rome. In some sense, this does make the Aeneid seem as a piece of propaganda. However, upon closer examination, there is another idea that Virgil presents. War is painted as a vicious and bloody, not some glorious event. The image of war condemns the concept of Rome as the all-powerful conqueror of other nations. Not only that, but the strong emphasis on duty is frequently mocked. These underlying ideas would seem to run contrary to the theory that Virgil was simply producing a synthesized history of ancient Romans. In order to determine the true intent of the Aeneid, it is important that both ideas presented be examined.
"I sing of warfare and a man at war…Till he could found a city…the high walls of Rome." (Book I, 1-12) There can be no dispute that the Aeneid is an account of the history of Rome. There are several items which with Virgil links the story of Aeneas to the Rome of his time period. Probably the most obvious of these is the surplus of predictions concerning Rome’s future history. Additional links are made between the principal character, Aeneas, and those rulers of Rome who are descended from him. These two methods allow Virgil to connect his Rome very closely to the story of Aeneas, and give the Aeneid a great deal of historical credibility in the eyes of his contemporaries.
It was very critical to Virgil that a believable sense of history be achieved in his writing. At the beginning of Book VI, the story of Daedalus and his son Icarus is introduced when the Trojans see it carved into the temple doors (lines 21-50). There is a second time in the text that such a reference to the past is made in a similar fashion. This occurs in Book I when Aeneas observes the carvings on the walls of Juno’s temple at Carthage (lines 619-762). In these two incidents, the same technique of recalling history is employed. Virgil seems to imply that the best way that he can describe history is to tell it with the help of the gods, which in this case that would be the Muse that he has called upon in Book I to assist him (line 13). At the time, the knowledge of the Muses was considered to be the objective truth while the knowledge of the mortals was considered to be secondhand and imperfect. The...