Significance Of Palinurus Essay, Research Paper
Virgil s Use of Palinurus
In writing The Aeneid, Virgil subtly describes his perspective of the Roman civilization through various means, primarily through the characters in his epic. Rather than using the characters to build the idea that a great Rome is to be created, he instead, compares characters such as Palinurus and Aeneas, to depict a society that will be more inferior. According to Virgil, Rome cannot be successful because its inhabitants do not possess the characteristics needed for a successful empire an empire that is disci-plined, preserves and unifies its conquered, and is humble. Although these virtues are present in charac-ters such as Palinurus, they are absent in the major leader of the Trojans, the main character Aeneas. Thus, in Virgil s Aeneid, the death of Palinurus is significant because it symbolizes the death of a great civilization, underlining Virgil s view that Rome cannot succeed Rome cannot flourish to greatness be-cause the character that represents the embodiment of all the essential Roman virtues is not there.
The focus of The Aeneid is the story of Aeneas s journey to found a new civilization, Rome. Vir-gil describes the character Aeneas as someone who strives to be more civilized. However, the protagonist can never undergo a complete transformation into a civilized man because he cannot overcome the bestial side in him. Weighted down by uncertainty and confusion, Aeneas is often puzzled as to which direction he should go. When Troy is under attack, Aeneas immediately grabs his weapons, thinking he can fight his way through: Insane, I seize my weapons. There s no sense / in weapons, yet my sprit burns to gather / a band for battle, to rush out against / the citadel with my companions. Rage / and anger drive my mind (Book II, lines 428-432). Unlike a true leader, Aeneas does not think through the situation but gives in immediately to his inner desires, to fight and kill. This passage exemplifies the animalistic side in him as he relies strictly on his instincts. His tendency to succumb to physical and mental temptations leads to his futile efforts to become more civilized. In his exchange with Dido, he seems to already forget about Cre sa, and has a romantic interlude with Dido, once again giving in to his physical desire, his sex drive. In everything Aeneas does, he always returns to the bestial attributes that are the foundation of his char-acter. Unless reprimanded or redirected, Aeneas will inevitably live and spread, as a leader, a lifestyle subject to his personal passions. Without a guiding, outside influence, Aeneas cannot create a successful Rome because of his own, bestial characteristics.
Therefore, through the eyes of Virgil, Rome is not a prosperous, successful place. He not only conveys this view through Aeneas s characteristics, but through his interaction with Anchises as well. When Aeneas seeks encouragement from his father in the Underworld, Anchises gives Aeneas a detailed, yet false description of the triumph and success of Rome in the future. At the end of this description, Aeneas asks Anchises about a Shade that Aeneas sees who is quite handsome and strong, but whose facial expressions carries only sadness. Anchises does not answer him directly, but instead, chooses to avoid the question:
With rising tears Anchises answered him:
My son, do not search out the giant sorrow
your people are to know. The Fates will only
show him to earth; but they will not allow
a longer stay for him.
(Book VI, lines 1157-1161)
Why is Anchises avoiding the question, and even so tearfully, if all he is telling Aeneas is true and good? The character that Aeneas actually describes is Marcellus, the son-in-law of Augustus who shows great promise, but dies at a young age. Virgil uses Marcellus to draw a parallel to Palinurus in that Marcellus is a virtuous person who does not survive to inspire Rome to be greater. Thus, Anchises knows that Rome is destined to be a fallen empire; the Romans are meant to face sorrow because they do not live by the vir-tues that make up a successful society. These virtues are the specific philosophies Anchises commands Aeneas to follow if he is to create a brilliant Rome: Roman, these will be your arts: / to teach the ways of peace to those you conquer, / to spare defeated peoples, tame the proud (Book VI, lines 1135-1137). If Rome is to be a great empire, she must be disciplined, be a leader to all in order to establish peace, and be humble. Aeneas does not exemplify these traits, but rather is just the opposite.
Above all, after all the encouragement Anchises has for Aeneas, Anchises sends Aeneas back to the world above through the gates of false dreams:
And when father Anchises
has shown his son each scene and fired his soul
with love of coming glory . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
he [Anchises] sends them through the gate of ivory
[the way through which the Spirits send false dreams into the world above.]
(Book VI, lines 1185-1199)
Thus, Virgil uses Anchises to describe a brilliant Rome, but at the same time, uses him to give the idea that all Anchises describes is a hoax. Falsely encouraging Aeneas, Anchises knows the truth about Rome he just cannot explain it to Aeneas. Because the delicate character Aeneas is the reason Rome is unsuc-cessful, Anchises cannot reveal the truth for fear of causing Aeneas to lose faith completely and not found Rome at all.
Finally, as Virgil concludes his poem, he describes to the reader which direction Rome will move. By having Aeneas kill Turnus, Virgil foreshadows Rome s tendencies:
And when his eyes drank in this plunder, this
memorial of brutal grief, Aeneas,
aflame with rage his wrath was terrible
cried: How can you who wear the spoils of my
dear comrade now escape me?
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Relentless, he sinks his sword into the chest of Turnus.
(Book XII, lines 1262-1269)
Subject to his rage once again, Aeneas, even in the end, does not obey the virtues that Anchises describes. Thus, Virgil expresses his view of an unsuccessful Rome through the characteristics of Aeneas and the words of Anchises in the Underworld.
When Palinurus is introduced into the story, Virgil is, in essence, bringing to light the ideal leader and founder of Rome. Palinurus is seen as the perfect individual, stellar in everything he does. He is dis-ciplined, and incapable of error as people look to him for guidance. Situations are deemed impossible if he cannot do anything about them: And we are scattered, tossed upon the vast abyss; /. . . Even Palinurus / can not tell day from night upon the heavens, / can not recall our way among the waters (Book III, lines 260-266). Virgil depicts this man as a person who possesses all the characteristics of a good leader, and in essence, a good civilization. In times when no one else can push on, Palinurus is there, alert and ready to move:
Night, driven by the Hours, has not yet reached
the middle of her path when Palinurus
springs quickly from his couch, takes note of all
the winds, and with his keen ear trues to catch
the breath of a breeze. He watches all the stars
that glide through silent skies: he marks Arcturus,
the twin Bears and the rainy Hyades,
Orion armed with gold; and seeing all
together in the tranquil heavens, loudly
he signals from the stern. We break camp
and try our course with spreading canvas wings.
(Book III, lines 669-679)
Even in a small, insignificant situation as the charting of the fleet s direction, Palinurus is prepared. He assesses the situation around him, and evaluates it in order to make a decision for the plan of action. As seen in this passage, he is observant, cognizant, well-organized, knowledgeable and most of all disci-plined. These are true marks of a good leader. The crew realizes and acknowledges his competence and obeys him accordingly. They know Palinurus is dedicated, even to the point where he ll sacrifice himself so that the Trojans, as a whole, can progress. Everything Palinurus does is in the glory of his crew and his people even in death: I swear by those harsh seas that I was taken / by no fear for myself; I was afraid / your ship, without its gear, without a helmsman, / might swamp in such a surge (Book VI, lines 462-465). Without a care at all for his own life, Palinurus places his worries on the fleet, hoping they will make it to Rome to fulfill their destiny. He is also humble in the fact that regardless of his position as chief helmsman of the fleet, he does not boast, but just does his duty faithfully and righteously. Thus, even though Palinurus plays a small part in the story, he is given the qualities that can make Rome great. Ironically, he has the qualities that Anchises describes to Aeneas in the Underworld: he is disciplined, is a leader to all, and is, at the same time, humble.
To make the significance of Palinurus more evident, Virgil makes a clear distinction between the characters of Palinurus and Aeneas. In scenes where Aeneas openly expresses his bestial side, Palinurus is nowhere to be seen. Virgil further strengthens his point that Palinurus is above the rest of the group by deliberately leaving Palinurus out. While Aeneas is struggling with his desire for Dido, Palinurus is not even mentioned. Even in the funeral games when all the men return to their masculine savagery, Palinurus does not participate though he is the best helmsman in the fleet. Virgil is preserving Palinurus from these barbaric men until his final encounter between civilized men, meaning Palinurus, and bestial men, mean-ing the barbarians that kill him:
I saw Italy, dimly. I swam toward land
slowly and was just at the point of safety
my sea-drenched clothing heavy, my hooked hands
were clinging to a jagged cliffside when
barbarians attacked me with the sword,
ignorantly thinking me a prize.
(Book VI, lines 468-474)
This passage describes Palinurus s only encounter with bestial nature. In his death, Virgil shows the suc-cess of bestiality over civilization Aeneas will survive and build a Rome which carries his bestial fea-tures, while the hopes and dreams of the best civilized society die with Palinurus. Palinurus, in essence, is the guiding outside influence that Aeneas needs to create a good civilization. Had Palinurus made it safely to Italy, Rome would be a great place. But since Virgil has an unfavorable view on Rome, he cannot al-low Palinurus to safely reach Italy to make Rome good.
By comparing Aeneas and Palinurus, one sees major differences in character that change the out-come of Rome. Despite Palinurus being a minor character in the plot of the epic, he stands for all the vir-tues and beliefs that Virgil supports. Aeneas, on the other hand, represents the attempt and failure for the creation of a brilliant Rome. He is the origin of the Rome of Virgil s time. Thus, the death of Palinurus is significant because Virgil uses him to strengthen his point that Rome is not and cannot be a great empire. By killing the man that is the embodiment of good Roman virtues, he makes Rome a lower-grade society. Palinurus is the key to the understanding of Virgil s point of view toward the Roman society.