The New Hero Of Aeneas Essay, Research Paper
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 granted them dominion, and it has no end” (I, 278-79). As we can see, at the outset Vergilius shows what kind of destiny is the subject of his poem. The wanderings, sufferings and ultimate success of Aeneas and his followers are but a preliminary and preparation for a greater theme.
Secondly, there is different theme in Vergilius’ art. The fundamental argument of the Aeneid is the destiny of Rome presented in the person of Aeneas who not only struggles and suffers for the Rome that is to be but who is already a typical Roman. If his individual fortune is subordinate to the future of Rome, his character shows what Romans are. He is Vergilius’ hero in a new kind of heroic poem, and in him, we see how different Vergilius’ heroic vision is from Homer’s. Unlike Homer, Vergilius owes little in his hero character to tradition. Whereas Homer had to conform to established notions and make his Achilles “swift of foot,” his Agamemnon “king of men,” and his Odysseus “of many wiles,” Vergilius was bound by no such obligations. He could find his characters where he chose and shape them to suit his own purpose. His Aeneas owes something to Homeric precedent in being a great warrior and a devout servant of the gods, but he has taken on a new personality and is the legitimate child of Vergilius’ brooding meditation and imaginative vision. The persons of the Aeneid are created and fashioned for a special purpose. They contribute to the main design, and everything that they say or do may be considered in the light of Rome’s destiny. For this very reason, we will be wrong to treat them as if they were dramatic characters of Homer. They are more, and they are less. They are more, because they stand for something outside themselves, for something typically and essentially Roman; they are types, examples, symbols. Moreover, they are less, because any typical character will lack the lineaments and idiosyncracities, the personal appeal and the intimate claims, of a character that is created for his sake and for the poet’s pleasure in him. Furthermore, because Aeneas is typical of Rome, the events through which he passes are equally so. He represents what may happen to any Roman. He behaves as a Roman would in conditions familiar to Roman experience. Therefore, though the action takes place in a historical past, it transcends history in a way that the Trojan War does not for Homer. The Aeneid special claim is that it typifies a class of actions and situations in which great questions are raised and great issues are at stake. That is partly why Vergilius tells a story less well than Homer. His task prevents him from really enjoying a tale for its own sake. Beyond the actual events there is always something else, a problem or a principle that what occurs has some other claim than its immediate interest.
There is another aspect that differentiates the Aeneid from the poetry of Homer. It is the aspect of peace, a peace developed through order, which we seldom see in Homer. He, however, emulated Homer’s epics to argue this new idea. Vergilius’ first obstacle in writing a heroic poem was his enormous admiration of Homer which prompted him to feel that many of his effect should be Homeric. It was a formidable task. Nonetheless, he persevered and often competed with Homer in his own ground; it is in such passages that he is most open to criticism, for he had little of Homer’s understanding of the fury and frenzy of war. But he had to make Aeneas a great warrior in order to achieve his purpose. He laboriously and conscientiously tries to recreate in his own sensitive and melodious language what Homer had done so naturally and so brilliantly. He tries his utmost to make his battles interesting by varying them with the usage of contemporary devices of warfare such as cavalry, siege engines and battering rams. But these are not enough, and over his battles, there hangs a sense of effort. The slayings of men in Homer have their own vitality and certainly much more poetry than a passage like of Vergilius: “Caedicus now cut down Alcathous, Sacrator Hydaspes, and Rapo Parthenius and also Orses, a warrior of the toughest strength. Messapus killed Clonius and the son of Lycaon, Erichaetes” (X, 747-49). The faint ghostly figures behind the resounding names have no part in the story; their fates are without pathos or interest. This passage bears no relation to experience and is purely literary. Vergilius wrote it, because he felt the poem demanded it. Moreover, even when he is more successful than here, his meditative, highly educated self seems to impose barriers between the Homeric original and his attempt to reproduce it in new circumstances. To illustrate, Homer tells the fatal pursuit of Hector by Achilles impeccably by relating that they did not run for a sacrificial ox or a tripod such as are given for prizes in foot races, “No, they ran for the life of Hektor, breaker of horses”(Iliad XXII, 161). This point is true and magnificently made. It comes straight out of the old heroic world where the qualities needed for athletic prowess are needed also for war, and all that differs between the two kinds of race is the sake for which is run. Vergilius tries to emulate this effect when Aeneas Pursues Turnus: “For in very truth they strove to gain no trivial prize in sport, but it was for the life-blood of Turnus that they vied” (XII, 764-65). The Latin eloquence makes its point clearly enough, but it hardly arouses our pity and horror as Homer’s direct approach does. The imagery of the race is so true for Homer and is somehow not so real for Vergilius. Perhaps, it was due to the times he lived in; his world was weary of war and was ready to sacrifice its liberty, so that it might enjoy peace under Augustus.
Finally, poetry like Vergilius’ sack of Troy almost inevitably raises great questions about the nature of heroism and the worth of the old heroic ideal. If war is really like this, Homer can hardly have been right in treating warriors as if they were supermen. Vergilius does not shirk any of the questions raised by his story and implicitly criticizes the heroic ideal by showing to what baseness it can degenerate. His Trojans are noble enough, but they lack the qualities necessary to victory and cannot be called heroes. His Greeks, whose names and actions come from the Homeric and post-Homeric epics, are not redeemed by nobility, mercy, or chivalry. The agent, Sinon, who secures the introduction of the Wooden Horse into Troy, is a master of perjured falsehood who does not shrink from invoking the most holy powers to confirm his lies, or form winning his way by playing on the Trojans’ noble compassion and sense of justice for a man whom they think grievously misused. The guilefulness, which Homer portrayed so humanly and attractively in Odysseus, has become sinister, bestial, and alien to decency and truth. Sinon is the corruption of one heroic type, the clever soldier as a later, disillusioned age saw him. Equally unattractive is the type of relentless fighter, as Vergilius presents it in Neoptolemus. The son of Achilles inherits his father’s proud temper and martial fury, but he is brutal and bloodthirsty. He is compared to a poisonous snake, and with remorseless cruelty, he kills the boy Polites in from of his old father, Priam, and then kills Priam himself. The hideous horror of such a death is conveyed in Vergilius’ words: “His tall body was left lying headless on the shore, and by it the head hacked from his shoulders: a corpse without a name” (II, 557-58). The hateful brutality of the Greeks increases the helpless appeal of the Trojans, of Cassandra dragged by the hair from the sanctuary of Pallas, of Hecuba and her daughters clustering like frightened doves about the sacred hearth, of Priam girding on his useless sword and throwing his pathetic, ineffectual spear at Neoptolemus. In such a fight, it is the best that perish, like Rhipeus: “He, the most just of all the Trojans, who never wavered from the right; yet the gods regarded not his righteousness” (II, 426-28). Such a victory has no glamour and no glory. It is won by treachery and cruelty. To this Homer’s Achaeans have degenerated. The criticism of the heroic type, which Vergilius gives in his Sack of Troy, is not his only approach to it. It shows one side of the question as he saw it, but only one side. As clear to him, as to others, that an ideal had in its time exerted so great an influence on the world, could not be entirely like this, though at times it might degenerate to this.
Indeed his task almost forced him to take another, more favorable view of it; for if the Augustan Romans sought to be compared with heroes; the heroic ideal must have some dignity and appeal. Vergilius’ more friendly feelings about it may be seen in his characterization of Turnus. The Rutulian prince who defends Latium against Aeneas and his Trojans is one of Vergilius’ most convincing creations. He has the vitality and nobility of a Homeric hero, and we are forced to admire him and even to sympathize with him. Vergilius delineates him with care and love, and in him, much more than in the degenerate Neoptolemus, we learn the poet’s feelings about a hero, Turnus is a second Achilles, as the Cumaean Sibyl tells Aeneas: “A new Achilles, again a goddess’s son, already breathes in Latium” (VI, 89-90). Turnus’ actions prove him to be like Achilles, for he lives for honor and for renown, especially in war. When he hears that the stranger has landed in Latium and is destined to take his affianced bride from him, his immediate impulse is to fight for his rights and his honor. Feeling that his pride has been insulted, he turns furiously to his weapons. Vergilius’ smiles show the strength and energy of Turnus. When he attacks the Trojan camp, he is like “a hungry wolf circling round a sheepfold;” when he is driven slowly and reluctantly from the battlefield; he is like “a lion that refuses to turn and fly;” he falls on Pallas as “a lion falls on a bull;” he is again like “a wounded lion” when he sees the failing spirit of his companions and reuses to admit defeat. These comparisons are based on the Iliad, and show Turnus in his heroic magnificence as a peer of Achilles and Ajax. Vergilius takes pains to make Turnus live up to the old heroic standards and shows how in the best traditions of his type he rallies his troops, attacks the Trojan fights with heroic courage in his last encounter against hopeless odds. He is a true hero by Homeric standards and finds in battle proper scope for his great gifts. However, Turnus’ heroic behavior fails to win. He is killed, because he lived a life of war and inevitably resorts to war when his will is crossed. He presents that heroic world which contains in its ideals the seeds of its own destruction, and in him, Vergilius shows that he understood the heroic type of Homer, and even admired it, but knew that it was no longer what the world needed.
Conclusively, we can see Vergilius’ idea of heroism to be quite different from Homer’s, because it depends on moral strength that is displayed not merely in battle but in other departments of life. Moreover, Homer’s heroes never question the worth of the glory which they seek, but Aeneas, hampered by doubts and misgivings, is unsure not only about his glory but about his whole destiny. This uncertainty is one of his greatest trials, and he shows his worth by pursuing his task despite all his doubts about it. His success is greater, because it is won largely in spite of his own human feelings. In him, Vergilius displays what a man really is, a creature uncertain of his place in the universe and of the goal to which he moves. To the distrustful and uncertain Augustan age this conception came with the urgency of truth, and Vergilius’ immediate and lasting success was due to his having found an answer to the spiritual needs of his time. In the vision of Rome, he presented an ideal strong enough to win the devotion of his contemporaries, and in his belief in sacrifice and suffering he prepared the way across the centuries to those like Marcus Aurelius who asked that men should live and die for an ideal city greater and more truly universal than Rome. Once Vergilius had opened up a new vision of human worth and recast the heroic ideal in a new mold, he set an example that later poets could not but follow. We might not accept his interpretation of human destiny in all its details, but we might feel that he had marked out the main lines for epic poetry and that any new heroic ideal must take account of what ‘he’ says and does.
THE ILIAD BY HOMER
THE AENEID BY VIGIL