Virgil and the Roman Empire
This talk will take you out of the world of Greece and into that of Rome from the perspective of Virgil. His epic’s purpose is to describe how the hero Aeneas fulfills his destiny by leading his troops from… He settles his people n his promised land, and its understood that the Trojans will eventually mingle with the indigenous latins and found Rome. Perhaps the poem was found to be puzzling and unsettling, many familiar details are found from Homer. When torn out of there original context, such borrowing seems stale, the whole work pale in comparison with their sourced texts. First, I shall address problems with approaching this poem in three parts: first, place the Aeneid in its historical context, second examine it in post-platonic thought in Rome, 3rd Virgil’s mission as
Roman culture stands in a very obvious relationship to the Greek. They engage in self-conscious definition of themselves against the Greek model. Too often we moderns overlook the Greek philosophies due to the obsession over constitution, politics et that Romans are obsessed with. Rome extended its rule to encompass Africa, near east and maintained the rule for 600-1200 years. The influence it exerted on law, politics, religion through the west through the middle ages is enormous. T.S Elliot said “We are all citizens of the Roman empire.”
Virgil wrote the Aeneid about 700 years after the founding of Rome, at a time of great crisis in the stability of the Roman state. This forced him and his contemporaries to reflect more deeply on the place of Roman empire in history. His mythical exploration of Roman origins is much more than a literal account of what happened. It offered Romans a pathetic view on the founding of their city. For Virgil, literary content and history stand in a much closer relationship than other works thus far. In sketching this history, I want to evoke the relationship between Greece and ROme by indicating what it took and what it rejected from the Greeks in a process that culminates in the first century BC when Virgil expresses.. Two stage of this background: The first tends towards answering the question of how Romans succeeded in spreading an empire and sustaining power. The second stage addresses the root of the instability that came upon the culture when Virgil was writing.
The traditional founding date of ROme is 750BCE, about when the Homeric epics were first written down and Greece begun widespread colonization. Never the less, Rome remained a little-known back water for a few centuries. The greatest parts of Greek culture precede Rome’s existence. Central to the Greek achievements was the concept of the polis. Polis were small, separate states in which the individual found his freedom in relation to the gods and institution of the city. The polis allowed for an emancipation from the bounds of blood and kinship, as family and wives were shared. This led Aristotle to make his famous claim that the human being was the political animal, animal of the polis. However strong the sense of citizenship was within the polis, it could not look beyond the individual polis and recognize the others and self. Even fellow Greeks from the other city were foreign. The polis were therefore constantly at war with one another. There own quarrels led to the Peloponnesian war between Sparta and her allies. The Bacchae describes the destruction of the order, PLato describes the aftermath of the turmoil as he wrote THe Republic in order to reconstruct the city in a new manner. The immediate aftermath of the war was an emergence of a new sort of order in the Greek world. The Macedon stepped in to power and brought the old Greek states of the Aegean under its control. Classical Athens and other Greeks of the old Aegean basin considered Macedon, a northern Greek kingdom, to be only partly Greek. It’s a society with heavy barbarian undertones for them. Under the king Phillip 2nd, Macedon waged war against the Persian. Alexander of Macedon (the Great) conquered the Persian empire and did it in a mere 13 years between 336-323 BC. He goes to the river valley but is forced at this point to turn back, perhaps by his mutinous men. Immediately after his early and unexpected death, his vast empire split up into smaller kingdoms ruled by his generals. During his reign, Alexander spread Greek culture very far but also thinly. The Hellenistic that resulted an entirely new league of citizenship. The polis continued to exist at a local level but all were under a supreme power of the Hellenistic king. The definition of human being in terms of citizenship At this point in history, Greek philosophy turns to schools. So far as were concerned with Greek culture the Epicurean and the Stoic are very important. Both of these systems and the trend of Hellenistic thinking in general hold out a certain quietude of spirit. Ataraxia is tranquility of mind, quietude, freedom form suffering. Both the epicurean and stoic share there view of the place of human beings in the cosmos. The individual is primary, a self sufficient kingdom within itself. Cosmopolis is the “city of the world” in which common human qualities are recognize despite geography, race, language etc. Plato and Aristotle would have been opposed to the idea of the human as an individual that they worked t abolished. The old Olympian cults are still present, but in the new multicultural world the need for innovation was felt. IN contrast to the classical gods, Tyche-Fortuna is a goddess that emerges. She’s a random blessing and cursing at random, who unifies communities together. Personal piety is also important. The promise of rewards after death, contrary to t he former view of Hates. All of the developments of Hellenistic culture influence the Romans and the Aeneid. As an empire, Alexander’s was very short lived and the Hellenistic kingdoms limited one another. Greek culture was only capable of domination of placation. Citizenship could not be shared or exported because the very notion of citizenship was bound up in the polis. How did the romans contrast there empire with the others they knew? How were they able to build an empire over the known cities?
They came to understand their concept of citizenship was very different than Greece’s. They allowed citizenship to be shared with others. It’s not that this idea existed as a blue print, but it was a pattern from their past that suggests this answr. Rome began in 753 as an insignificant city state that began to come in contact with .. As we approach ROme’s history keep in mind that the founding recognizes the similarities to Homeric world but also points out the many differences. Rome is in some ways a mirror image of Greek culture. Its thought the original speakers of Greek language came from the north through Italy. Latins and Greeks are related to each other. The group that comes to be known as the latins settle around the central plan of Italy. There they encountered the Etruscans whose origins are unknown. The relationship between them seemed t be uneasy cooperation in which the etruscans ruled. Rome was ruled by etruscan kings who’s power was balanced by the power of the senate. 753-509 BCE was when the etruscans ruled, and then the last tyrannic king was expelled by latin nobles. It’s all together indicative of the Romans reluctancy to do away with monarchy. They called their new state a republic, meaning a public state. They decided tyranny could be avoided by avoiding ultimate power. They would elect 2 magistrates who would wield power for a year. This is a aristocratic government. This evolution moves in tandem with the development of Italy. Between 509-290 BCE, the romans completed their conquest of Italy. They realized the most effected sort of control is achieve not by total domination but a more gentle suggestive ruling. During all this period, the ROman constitution was evolving, changing to address external threats. Among the significant events are the struggle of the orders (internal class strife) which resulted in the senate gradually giving certain rights to the lower class. This process was carefully defined by law. Once Italy was made Roman, the focus was on defending against outer 282-275BCE were full of bloody wars against the Greek generals, but eventually the Romans drive them out. Next Sicily contracted Roman influence, here to Greeks had previously held sway. Warfare was inevitable, which help the romans define their understading of their place in the world. The first Punic war between 264-241 required the Romans to act against their inclination as land based farmers and build a navy which helped them win the war. As a result they gained sicily as the first roman province. In the 2nd punic war, 219-202BCE, is most known because Italy was invaded from the north with elements. This invasion was shocking to the Romans who had enjoyed success in healing Italy. The romans suffered incredible losses throughout this war, but as Hannibal approached rome itself the latin city states of Rome proved a vindication of the prior Roman expansion. They warded of Hannibal and gave Rome time to counter the attacks. Eventually they were able to fight hem off. In 202 BCE Hannibal was finally defeated.
In the second century, Carthage was only a vestige of its former self. With the carthaginians overcome, ROme could expand outside their limits. The way they conducted their empirical project shows ambivalence towards the Greek. In their conquest they are treated diff than barbarians before them. Romans are seen as a superior culture, captive Greece captured her rough culture In dealing with the Greeks the Romans preferred peace to warfare. IN the mid second century, Calibius became a good will hostage. Good will hostage!? Sounds contradictory. A conquered state would send well-worn citizens to live freely in the opposing state. They were there simply as a gesture, and usually not abused. Calibius witnessed the final destruction of Carthage in 146 and wrote a vast history of Rome admiration. He analyzed the Roman constitution in a Aristotle method. He has the classic idea that the Oman constitution was formed in response to eternal threat. In rome, citizens could find their freedom in built in checks and balances. The system of checks and balances influenced the American constitution as it was the best way to achieve stability. Calibius’s insight into the external pressure that held them together allowed him to predict what would happen when the pressures were removed. Once the empire extended to a point where there is nowhere else to expand he states what will happen, found in Book IV. 57. This is the democracy that Plato so clearly derives in his Republic .Its the ultimate form of political instability because the arche of control is obscured by the multitude of people.
The second stage of Roman history is looked at form its constriction from within. This is the period of the late republic between 133-31 BCE, which is the immediate context of the Aeneid. Pelibius proved to be accurate. Large armies made of of people from farming places were demobilized when Rome had fully realized her empire. They returned to find their lands taken over by rich people. The people who had defended Rome had become impoverished for having done their duty. A cycle of violence proceeded over the disarray. The late republic period was remarkably bloody. This isn’t to say there weren’t men of genius or honour, but the removal of external threats focused attention inwards prompting a civil war that destroyed the old state. The fighting was not all physical but also political. Now the weapons used were the legal and constitutional machinery that informed the old republic. Marcus Tullius Cicero was informed of all the contrast. Cicero uses the example of Regulus,a consul taken captive in the first punic war sent on a mission to regain Carthegian prisonners. He’s sent home with the understanding he would be killed if he didn’t get their release yet he argued in the senate that their release was not good for the state. His personal good was so identified with that of the state. He asked can what is expedient for the state be expedient for any individual citizen? Cicero was an anti type to the Roman citizen because he did not concern himself with personal ambition. He had an intellect and actions that declared the Republic dead. Dictator was a legitimate post in the Roman constitution and Caesar was close to becoming one until his death. A new series of civil wars followed. In these wars, a young adoptive heir of Caesar, Octavian, emerged as chief. Octavian managed to defeat Cleopatra. In 27 BCE Octavian was named indusstious by the senate. The question we have to ask ourselves in considering the Augustin settlement can be considered a success over the feuding world. This is part of the mystery of Augustus who claimed to reestablish the republic into a monarchy. Perhaps we can approach his triumph from another perspective and say his settlement was true to roman state. Writers in Augustus’s rome lived through the horror that nearly brought Roman civilization to the end. Virgil, above all others, would put a name “fate” on a force of necessity which is best described in the Aeneid.
We should pause to examine intellectual and philosophic context in Virgil’s world to read his poem with ore insight. Considering the stoic and epicurean philosophies are importance. The Greek polis was a reconceptualization of the Greek community. Philosophy turned away from the speculative exercise of Plato and Aristotle towards dogmatic experience of life that allowed for individual stability. Several schools developed with different doctrines. Cynicism, skepticism, stoicism and epicurism. The alter of the two are the most common. Aside form there relevance to the Aeneid they are of interest because of the way they seem to oppose each other so neatly. Epicurism and stoicism arise around 400BCE. Stoicism seems more rash. Xeno was the founder who set up his school in Athens. The general world view shares much with the ancient world view. The cosmos as a simple ordered whole ruled by gods. The gods are identified as heavenly bodies, though they do not exclude the traditional gods. Only bodies can act, there is no greater intelligence. Sense perception gives us our knowledge of everything. The divine fire is the logos, permeates everything. Human beings have within them seeds of the divine by which they can appreciate the rational order of things. The hymn of Cleanthes describes reason as Zeus’s fall. If the universe is permeated by an ultimate cause which is reason, all things happen by a rational necessity. The stoics call this fate. Cicero defines fate In the first selection from the handbook. Fate is the same thing that the Greeks called heimarmene. (De Divinatione 1. 125-126) Stoic ethics were rooted in the stoics physical theology. The duty is to live in accordance with divine reason or fate. Everyone is bound to do so anyway, but the choice of the individual is how they will do this. Duty is ascent to divine reason, rational action and virtue are the same thing. Emotions aren’t just to be controlled by reason, but eradicated. The Goal of apathea is to not feel but think. The stoic sage is impermeable to all threats, and has the ability to overcome human emotion. First and foremost, an ethics related to the universality of reason must hold out the commonality of reason amongst all human beings. The good of all is better than the good of an isolated individual. The doctrine of the sage led to the stoic idea of the rule of the best, or the better man. Finally there’s the notion that universal reasons must be the same for all peoples. This doctrine that produced high minded theories and a justification for conquest of foreign peoples, the will of the Romans to rule over foreign peoples. The epicureans are much opposed to the stoic view of things.
Epicureans were opposed to stoic view of things. Their doctrines supported this. There were not as widely popular but attracted a large following including Virgil. Ataraxea is the goal, the epicureans are materialists. But their system of materialism is very original. The world is made of indestructible units (atoms), the stoics sought tranquility in identifying providence and fate and reason but epicurists rejected fate. Quietude according to E was something a human being could attain all by them self without reference to outside powers. Avoiding pain was a central doctrine, pleasure is the starting point and goal of living blessedly. They judged with feeling and sense perception. This is what they’re criticized for up till today. Many people thin kits only about pleasure, but thy do not mean pleasures of consumption or profligate places but merely the avoidance of pain. The worst pain is fear and the worst fear is the fear of gods and death. Gods do exist but not such as many believe. Epicurists wants to get used to death, for all good and bad consist of sense experiences. The mortality of a life can be seen with contentment and remove the longing for immortality. The system is a materialist nature and the absence of life after death mitigates these fears. “Don’t be too meager to ask what the gods have in mind for us.. Its better not to know, whether Jupiter says this coming winter is the last winter you have…The tie we have, cut short your hopes for longer, now as I say these words..” Famous carpe diem quote- not to seize the day, but to gather the day together and treasure it as all you have, THe cosmic underpinnings of Epic. I based in sense perception. The shells that strike the sense leave and impression or shape that is processed by our faculties of reason. Most important is that things come to be in the universe by chance. It’s a mechanical system determined by a type of swerve. The ultimate cause of why things come to be is of blind, irrational, chance (like Fortuna). Chance exists along side of necessity but there;s not reason why free will shouldn’t exist. Tranquility is reached by exercising free will. The gods exist but there not involved in human affairs. Human beings are striving to a blond existence. The beliefs of the many are wrong, if you look at Lucretius you see a provocative account of the evils of religion. Epicurists did cultivate friendship, preach avoidance of public life and knew justice as a social contract and dismissed the notion of a universal law. There idea of justice is like Book 2 of the REpublic.
Finally, we reach Virgil. Born in 70BCE, wrote successful early poems most famous being the Eclogues set in pastoral landscape. Some of his poems were about farming on how to plant trees and crops etc and taken as a reflection of the yearning for peaceful truth. By 30BCE he begun work on the Aeneid, a much vaster poem tha his previous work. The AUgustine regime under which he worked sought to legitimize itself by re-founding Rome on the traditional roman values. There are virtues similar to Plato’s virtues, courage, war-like and moral, pietas (piety), virtus (courage), justitia (justice and equity), clementia (mercy, clemency). These qualities are evident in the Aenied and depict the trojans as proto-romans. His purpose in writing the story based on the capture of the trojan leader was to firstly imitate Homer and secondly to praise Augustus as its purpose. The question: SHould the Aeneid be called mere propaganda? Does it, beyond the obvious heartfelt , represented a deeper reflection on a war weary people on this time in history. Another question has to do with the imitation of homeric poetry. We have to get beyond the idea that he was copying because he wasn’t certain or something- he’s paying homage to Homer and the Greek culture. His hero, the other side of the , Virgil uses the signposts and familiar stories provided by Hoer in order to create a new narrative. On other preliminary comment has to do with the inheritance. Both epicurism and stoicism were appealing to the Romans, facing world wide empire. Stoicism ends up winning and is quite clear in the Aeneid. Rome and her empire in the Aeneid, are seen as a particular function of fate and destiny. Fate is equated with the external necessity that pushed the romans to pressure themselves against external pressure. Rome comes to be understood as the world proper order, a truly universal city. Individual citizens of rome have to subject there desire and aspirations to the highest good, recognized by the romans in their position in history. Virgil beings the Aeneid with a preamble where he synopsizes his narrative and presents is main themes. The audience already knows the outcome, but the interest in reading the epic is in HOW he beings the story into being. Even at the beginning, Virgil acknowledges his debt to Homer in order to point out a very striking difference. Like Achilles and Odysseus, this is about how a human can reach his destiny and find his place in the cosmos. But the Romans relationship to their destiny is very different from that of the Greeks. In the first 16 lines when Aeneas is brought to Italy by destiny or fate, the translator is using the exact word that Virgil does, the content of the fate is clear. Aeneas has to found a city and brings home his gods (3 of them). But that destined homecoming accompanied by so much suffering is familiar from the example of Odysseus. But for Virgil, individual destiny is not the same as Homer conceived it. Odysseus already has a home, physical place, but Aeneas’s home has been destroyed and he doesn’t know here he’s coming home to. Aeneas’s fate is a collective or universal one, not a personal one. Rome’s foundation falls fare outside Aeneas’s story, the epic ends before the foundation of Rome, Aeneas’s fate is a collective or universal one which goes hand in hand with the romans notion that personal desires must be surpress for the common good of all the people. This creates great problems for Aeneas’s character who individuality is obscured due to this nature. Virgil is interested in exposing the pathos of the character. There’s another play about Aeneas, that begins with the rage of a goddess. Like the Odyssey, Aneeas is at odds with the divine figure whereas in the Odyssey, Poseidon has a legitimate claim against Odysseus. Juno;s rage is directed against an individual marked out by an individual who is virtuous and has faultless devotion. Virgile sounds impredgelous when he identifies the problem- can there be anger so great in the gods? No, immortals should not be subjected to irrational passion. Juno has no reaosn to hate Aeneas except that its his fate to build a cit that will overshadow her own. This helps to explains the historical situation. Juno’s persecution of Aeneas is irrational and unjust, “the wife of Jupiter knows that it is Rome’s fate to rule the world”. Fate, or fatum, is what is eternally changing. Aeneas has the capacity to know fatum, a gift which should not be uncommon to mortals. The romans fulfillment of fatum necessities suffering and require making choices in space and time. Line 43; so masses was the labour of founding rome. The necessity of suffering for human beings in space and time to rationally receive the fate that involves it. Following the open, the action returns to the trojan fleet under Aeneas has just left Sicily towards Italy. In a speech of spitefulness, Juno wails against Athena;s vindictiveness. Juno goes to the wind gods to stir up the winds and thus only 7 of 20 of Aeneas’s ships remain. IN the midst of this storm, we have a strange and unsettling glimpse of the roman hero. The very first word of Aeneas are a prayer: “THree times, four times luckier were those who died before their parent’s eyes under troys high walls!’ given the known goal of his fate he surprisingly indulges in a negative nostalgia. He longs for a home, and a death according to an old and outdated code of life (the code of Illiadic heroism). His grasp of the fate that guides him is unclear. These lines are very similar to something Odysseus says. Virgil has Neptune (Poseidon in the Odyssey) calm the stormy seas, unlike in the Odyssey were Poseidon always stirred up the sea. The very first simile in the pome compares Neptune who calms the sea to a great man in the city suppressing a riot using his power. The great man is a loyal citizen, a man of respect who calms their hearts. Surely this comparison invokes the familiar scenes of turmoil in the republic of Rome. Perhaps the great man he mentions is Augustus who can direct rome back. The similar provides a direct analog to Aeneas in his first public speech. He consoles his men with his knowledge of fatum that they will reach a safe place. The “great man” who calmed the riots can be compared to Aeneas here. Never the less, Virgil tells us that on completing the speech Aeneas has to put on a good face and push his anguish out, like stoic suppression of emotion and a reminder that for a human being to know his fate is not proof against suffering. He will still suffer. Aeneas’s mother enters the scene to confirm that things will turn out for him. As in Homer there is a consensus between immortals that does not have to be stated, but the speech form the mother and Jupiter is there more for the reader. Jupiter’s word is fate to an extent that even Homer would never allow. Jupiter’s word unveils secret things to come for Venus, tells her whats going to happen to her son. This is not limited to Aeneas’s lifetime. She says Aeneas will get to Italy and this whole sweep of history will follow in his descendants. This is different from Homeric gods who only made prediction within the lifetime of the mortals. Jupiter articulates the idea of fated Roman eternity. In time or space, I set no limits and I have given to them world without end” Virgil has woven history and historic ideal into his poem. From our perspective, its already in the past. But for Aeneas even if he were given this prediction, there is not certainty of his achievement.
Venus intervenes in Aeneas’s life in a different way for the on which followed Homeric precedence. He encounters Venus disguised a a provocative huntress. She addresses him in this sexual and provocative guise because Venus’s essence is sex and love. But Aeneas encounters this as his mother and he is disgusted when he figures out who it is. He is upset that she wouldn’t face him as herself, but had to use this sexual guise.