Parade Of Future Romans In The Underworld English Literature Essay

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For many years the most popular critical approach to the Aeneid used to be called 'political'. Given that "the Aeneid belongs to the comparatively few Latin works which are firmly rooted in their own time and can therefore be understood only from a study of that time", it was assumed that the content of the poem must always be considered in its historical (and political) context. To a certain extent this is still applicable. However, I disagree with the outdated pronouncement of Vatry that "the whole purpose of the Aeneid is to persuade the Roman people that they must submit to the rule of the man assigned to them by his birth, his talents and his fortune, i.e. to the rule of Augustus." [3] Rather, I think that whilst it is necessary to acknowledge the Augustan element of the Aeneid, this is not Vergil's sole purpose or preoccupation as there are far too many other aspects that affect the poem's reception.

Perhaps more than any other episode in the Aeneid, Book 6 exemplifies the political purpose of Virgil's epic. Ultimately, Virgil hoped to appeal to Roman audiences by creating a tale demonstrating that they were fated to become a glorious empire, and in particular to Augustus, his patron, lauding his leadership skills and the moral values that he espoused during his reign. [4] It is clear in Book 6 that Aeneas's destiny is set. His descendants are already clearly delineated, as Anchises points out, and there are numerous additional references to his fate. The Sibyl informs Aeneas that he must pluck a golden bough in order to advance to the Underworld, but he will only be able to do so if he is fated to do so: "if the Fates have summoned you, the bough will break off freely, easily; but otherwise, no power can overcome it" (203-205). Unsurprisingly, Aeneas breaks off the bough with ease. The hero then, in the company of the Sibyl, descends into the Underworld to meet the spirit of his father, Anchises. Upon entering Elysium, he witnesses a virtual parade commemorating Rome's great future. Anchises points out countless heroes and leaders who are the lucky benefactors of Aeneas's blessed journey. In this long speech, Anchises shows Aeneas the roll call of illustrious Roman descendants. The purpose of this speech in the overall design of the poem, made clear at the end, is to plant in Aeneas' mind a love of the glory that is destined to befall him. [5] 

Even the most cynical of critics must concede that part of Book 6 was clearly intended to appeal specifically to Augustus. When Aeneas encounters his soul in the Underworld, Anchises describes the leader as "Augustus Caesar, son of a god, the man who will bring back the golden years to the fields of Latium once ruled over by Saturn." [6] Furthermore, by painting a tragic, heroic portrait of Augustus's beloved nephew and heir Marcellus, Virgil gives the boy an immortality that Augustus would certainly have appreciated. At the climax of the speech Anchises articulates the fate and mission of Rome. The others to whom he refers, although not directly named, are understood to be the Greeks who excel in sculpture, oratory and science. [7] Roman arts, by contrast, are concerned with government, warfare and ruling. [8] Here is the defining statement of the characteristic achievements of Greek and Roman civilisations. The triumphant tone disguises the clear admission of Roman cultural inferiority to the Greeks. [9] The climax of the speech stresses not only Roman power but the ends served by Roman power, the justification for which is the pax Romana. The art of rule is not to be exercised for its own sake but as a means of imposing the habit of peace.

Quinn judges the Marcellus episode somewhat harshly, and in my view, unfairly. [10] To imagine that the passage was written with the sole intention of pleasing Augustus does not do justice to Vergil as a poet and ignores the work's the artistic worth. Otis recognises this and asserts that the underlying message is "the human price of empire and the lesson in moderation it imposes." [11] This, I feel, is closer to the truth Vergil was trying to convey in this scene. Tracy builds on Otis' argument by saying that "Vergil employs the Marcellus episode to introduce a theme which is new to the poem." [12] This is the sacrifice of the attractive youth who is destined to die prematurely. Tracy argues that in terms of the structure of the poem, the Marcellus episode acts as starting point for this theme that is later repeated with the figures of Nisus and Euryalus (Book 9), Pallas and Lausus (Book 10), Camilla (Book 11), and Turnus (Book 12). I would add to this case that such characters also present a degree of pathos to the second half of the poem. Like the real life Marcellus, their lives end prematurely and come to symbolise not just a lost youth but also the loss of individual futures and the possibility of achieving greatness.

Perhaps one of the most interesting episodes in Book 6 occurs when Aeneas comes upon Dido in the Fields of Mourning. This brief encounter, during which Aeneas weeps upon realizing his lover's sad fate and Dido refuses to hear his entreaties, offers closure to a dramatic, painful episode, and invests Aeneas with a much needed measure of humanity. Readers who may have been struck by Aeneas's apparent heartlessness at his leave-taking of Dido will be won back by his tears here. Aeneas's redemption is somewhat undermined by the fact that Dido flees from him into the arms of her beloved husband, Sychaeus. Aeneas's reunion with Dido also reveals behaviour of Dido that appears entirely inconsistent with the dynamic, forceful woman we encountered earlier. Dido is reduced to a voiceless shade with angry eyes, bitterly fleeing the sight of her former lover without so much as a word of chastisement for the wrong he has done her. It is an unsatisfying ending for those who seek a brilliant, tragic love story and one must wonder whether Virgil intended to revisit this moment and revise it before releasing the work to the public.

Aeneas's humanity is again emphasized by his response to the myriad horrors of the Underworld. Even this hero is struck by fear and panic at the sight of the monsters that guard the entrance: "Now Aeneas drew his sword in sudden alarm to meet them with naked steal as they came at him." [13] Moments later, Aeneas is pained by the sight of unburied souls swarming the shores of the River Styx, and he is horror-struck at the sight of Tartarus. His reunion with Anchises is particularly poignant, as Aeneas throws his arms around his father's shade in vain not merely once, but three times, again revealing the deep and meaningful relationship shared between the generations.

Anchises then points to Marcellus, an early hero of Rome who had a distinguished military career against the Carthaginians and lead a rebellion in southern Gaul for which he won the spolia opima, the supreme of spoils, awarded for only the third time in Roman history. This continues the theme of ancient heroism and committed service to the state that had previously featured in the roll call. However, he is mentioned at this point chiefly to prepare us for what follows when Aeneas notices a noble youth marching alongside him, his brows clouded in the shades of night. Anchises does not immediately reveal his name but goes into a lament for Rome's misfortune in losing the promise of his youth in early death. Contemporary Roman readers would immediately have recognised the youthful figure as alluding to Marcellus, the son of Augustus' sister and his named successor. The lament for him is particularly poignant because his death, seen through the perspective of prophecy, is fated and gives expression to one of the overriding themes of the whole poem: the inexorable and stern demands of fate.

The lament also serves to mitigate the Roman triumphalism of Anchises speech which ends as a consequence upon a more universal note. Furthermore, it provides a fitting ending to the visit to the underworld in which Aeneas has heard about and witnessed so much suffering. Subsequently, the lament provides the emotional climax of the journey to the underworld. The difficulties and dangers that await Aeneas are only briefly alluded to; the emphasis lies on the future of Rome. It is significant that Vergil does not show Aeneas responding in any way to the destiny laid out before him by his father. His part in the success is almost the facilitator. Aeneas' destiny is already mapped out; his personal feelings cannot and will not change the course of fate. Whether he is enthusiastic or melancholic about his task is irrelevant.

ii. The Marcellus Passage: 6.860 - 885

The younger Marcellus episode is one of great interest to this discussion. This is an obvious reference to the real future of Rome, and yet it is a moment when the future is unstable. Tracy sums this feeling up well: "Since Marcellus was the designated heir of Augustus, his death pointedly symbolises the death of the future." [14] C. Claudius Marcellus was Octavia's son, nephew and son-in-law of Augustus. Marcellus took part in the Cantabrian campaign of 26 B.C., lead by Augustus personally. [15] The young Marcellus died in 23 B.C. [16] , shattering dynastic plans of him succeeding his uncle. [17] Augustus spoke a funeral oration [18] and built a theatre in his memorial, [19] highlighting the place of honour and affection the boy held with his uncle.

The death of Marcellus destroyed Augustus' intended course of events. The future of Rome was not certain; its succession was unconfirmed. This is, in a sense, deeply ironic and a masterful act of inversion by Vergil. We consistently observe moments of instability and change during the course Aeneas' mission. Yet here is an obvious reference to the future (or present, from the Roman reader's perspective) where, again, the endangered future of Rome is still an issue.

This requires discussion of greater length. What are the implications here for the reader? Primarily, it is a stark reminder of the inevitability of the universe. Events are beyond human control. Aeneas is carrying out the heroic and grave task of being the founder of Rome. Yet Marcellus acts as a symbol of future suffering and uncertainty that Aeneas can do nothing to prevent or rectify. The futility of human desire manifests itself most crudely here. Fate will decide everything.

The artfulness with which this passage is drawn deserves comment. Notice how it is Aeneas that draws attention to the young man, as if Anchises could not bear to point him out to his son. The explanation is given in mounting suspense, until the revelation of his identity at line 883. Anchises tells the story with grieving reluctance. In contrast to Propertius 3.18, a formal elegy on Marcellus, this passage is full of genuine emotion. The personal loss felt by Augustus and Octavia is as evident as the public loss felt by Anchises.

By using this method, Vergil does not allow the scene to end on a positive note. The exaltation evoked from the parading heroes subsides to end in grief as well as pride. The inference is that the whole vision of heroes from 756 onwards did not take final shape until after the young Marcellus' death in 23 B.C. [20] Alternatively, Norden presents an opposing case arguing that this passage is not an afterthought but an integral part of Vergil's plan for the 'Heldenschau'. [21] 

ii. Spectatorship

Leach presents an appealing view surrounding the issue of spectatorship in the Aeneid. This is something worth considering in this study, and is also a topic that has been mostly unexplored by others. Leach suggests that Vergil's "fictive inventions in the Aeneid unite us with the hero in shared suspense." [22] I am certainly in agreement that the reader and hero both lack awareness regarding what is going on. Vergil has not created a hero that is all knowing and confident, but rather one that is embarking on a journey that is both personal and public. The reader and Aeneas are kept in suspense as to the true nature of his mission, learning together as the poem progresses. In Homer's Odyssey, the audience is reduced to the rule of watchful bystander as its capable hero navigates his way home. Yet in the Aeneid, I suggest that the position of the reader is much closer to the hero. The audience learns with him, at the same time, as the same information is received by both parties.

Considering this point in relation to the wider concern of pathos in this dissertation, I would also add that this contributes to the way in which the reader engages with the hero. The audience and Aeneas are both cast in the role of spectator, being kept in the dark of the exact nature of the mission. This shared feeling unites them and creates a sense of partnership. Leach also goes on to say that Book 6 is where "more than any other place, Aeneas is a spectator dependent upon guidance through unknown regions and is only partially prepared for what he will see." [23] In a literal sense this is perfectly true. Aeneas requires a guide in the underworld, and is unaware of the sights and characters that await him. Equally, I might add, neither does the reader. This process of learning and discovery is shared by the hero and audience alike, creating a bond between the two. This forces the reader to engage more fully with both the text and Aeneas. The reader, as a result, cares deeply about the hero and the mission.