The Aeneid

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Last updated: April 11, 2019

At its core, civilization affects discontent. Although it seems its purpose would be to ameliorate human suffering and misery, Sigmund Freud argues that civilization is in fact, largely responsible for that suffering. The initial impetus to form civilization is man’s desire to protect himself from the natural world by exploiting Earth’s resources.

2 There is a dreadful disharmony within the human psyche caused by man’s innate need to control that which he cannot.The Aeneid is a beautifully written allegorical tale, which extols the virtues of Aeneis upon his divine mission of leading the landless, war torn Trojans to their promise land; a place where they could make a new beginning and found the Roman civilization. His journey was not easy.

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Lost at sea, he and his men were exposed to the merciless rage of the external world. He was able to master his fortune by the simple act of endurance, and as a result, gained the glory of his destiny fulfilled. Although the glories of civilization were gained, much was lost along the way.

After all, for every great advance made by mankind, something great is lost. Civilization requires us to repress volatile instincts so that we may have order. This proves to be a difficult task because fundamentally, we are all egocentric beings driven to the satisfaction of our instincts. 3 If we think in terms of masculine energy as civilization, then female energy represents its discontents.

Women soon come into opposition to civilization and display their restraining and retarding influence- those very women who, in the beginning, laid the foundations of civilization by the claims of their love…Thus the woman finds herself forced into the background by the claims of civilization and she develops a hostile attitude towards it. 4 Looming at the heart of this Virgilian tale is the struggle between matriarchal and patriarchal religions. Aeneis emerges from a primitive, goddess-worshipping world to create something new. He cannot look to the past for an example of what’s ahead; he can only look toward the future, of what is yet to come. It is clear by the unsavory light cast upon women that patriarchal imperatives drive the plot of this poem.

The Aeneid explores civilization and its discontents by revealing the forces that move us to action. There is a creative force, Eros, and a destructive force, Thanatos. We are still struggling to maintain balance between these forces. Laws have been created in an attempt to repress Thanatos for the greater good of all in a civilized world. Laws are the most precious legacy of civilization, yet “they must be tempered with justice.

.. a goddess whom exudes the qualities of mercy, compassion and fairness, if order is to be maintained. “5 Balance is at the core of all stable things.

The image of Justice is a blindfolded goddess holding scales. If her values are overlooked, the law soon becomes an instrument of tyranny. An imbalance clearly exists in the ways men and women are portrayed in The Aeneid. There is a psychological sub-plot showing women as more vulnerable, and men as more capable. Women are represented as fundamentally weak, or as hindrances to man’s destiny.

“When we look back across the historical time of patriarchy…

there seems to be some terrible inevitability, a relentless desire to crush the female essence, human and divine. The women in The Aeneid demonstrate emotional outbursts, which may be construed as rage, but it is unclear if the renunciation of women caused their rage, or if their outburst of rage caused their renunciation. What is clear is the inequality of men and women. The first subversive encounter Aeneis experiences by a feminine essence is at the hands of Juno. Her goal is to hinder Aeneis’ destiny.

Juno’s rage against the Trojans is serious and destructive, but her reasons for harboring such strong feelings are ridiculous.She apparently holds all Trojan people responsible for Paris’ judgment of a beauty contest in which she lost to Venus, demonstrating how fierce and irrational a woman’s vengeance can be. Juno later calls forth Iris to descend upon the Trojan women and, preying upon their nostalgia for ‘home’, Iris urges them to set fire to the ships. The women were weak and weary and longed to establish roots: .

.. wrought upon by signs and wonders, Wrought to a frenzy, [they] all cried out together, Snatching up fire from hearths, despoiling altars, Taking dry foliage, brush, and brands to throw.And Vulcan, god of fire, unbridled raged Through rowing thwarts and oars and piney hulls. 7 When the men found them, the women ran and hid; unable to face up to the shame they felt for their actions. Another example of the renunciation of women came in the form of the Harpies. The Harpies were unclean, unsavory, and unwelcome beasts encountered by Aeneis in Book III.

According to The Dictionary of Classical Mythology, the Harpies are: Fierce, filthy, winged monsters with the faces of women, the bodies of vultures, and sharp claws.They left a loathsome stench, snatched and efiled the food of their victims, carried away the souls of the dead, served as ministers of the divine vengeance, and punished criminals. They plundered Aeneis on his way to Italy and predicted many calamities that would overtake him. 8 Also mentioned in the sub-plot against women are the Danaides. These fifty daughters of Danaus (king of Argos) married the fifty sons of his brother Aegyptus.

Forty-nine killed their bridegrooms on their wedding night. As punishment for their murders, they were doomed forever to draw water with a sieve in Hades.In The Aeneid; Pallas is wearing a sword belt engraved with their image when he is killed by Turnus: He pressed his left foot upon the dead And pulled the massive weight of sword belt Graven with pictured crime: that company, Aegyptus’ sons, killed by Danaus’ daughters, Young men murdered on one wedding night, Their nuptial beds bloodstained. 10 Tales such as these shared among men, only helped to reinforce their renunciation of feminine values. Within The Aeneid is an abundance of opposing forces. As the poem unfolds, it continually reveals various aspects of man’s disharmony.These are weighed against each other in a quest for balance.

Balance is sought between males and females, the instinctive drives of Eros and Thanatos, and the impression of strength and weakness. The book itself is a hinge between the diverse opposites of its first and second halves. The first half has an “Odyssean” quality of wandering.

It describes Aeneis and his men out at sea, enduring many hardships following their defeat at Troy: For years They wandered as their destiny drove them on From one sea to the next: so hard and huge A task it was to found the Roman people I. 6-49). Though they did not remain dispossessed for long. Led by storm winds under Eiolus and Juno’s control, the Teucrians find themselves shipwrecked near Carthage, a civilization in the making. Dido, the leader of this new civilization, gives them a warm welcome.

She has heard of their plight and sympathetically states: Come, then, soldiers, be our guests. My life Was one of hardship and forced wandering Like your own, till in this land at length Fortune would have me rest. Through pain I’ve learned To comfort suffering men (I. 857-861).

Aeneis falls easily into a pattern of convenient existence. With the deception of Venus, Dido soon falls in love with Aeneis. It is her passion, which drives the affair. He does not equally reciprocate her emotions. He and his men only wish to reconstruct the life they’ve lost.

The initial image of Dido is one of strength and compassion. Love is the weapon that brings about her demise. She allows her emotions to override reason and she becomes obsessed with Aeneis, neglecting her responsibility to her people. “The heart has reasons which reason knows nothing of. 1 Aeneis is happy at Dido’s side. He acts as king of Carthage, relishing in the glorious luxuries of her civilization, until Mercury, sent by Jove, eagerly reminds him of his own civilization which he is supposed to be founding. Aeneis is “amazed, and shocked to the bottom of his soul,”12 and shortly thereafter calls his men and makes plans to depart in the night, cleverly avoiding a confrontation with Dido.

Although he claims love for Dido, he willingly sacrifices her for the promise of something greater. Aeneis is portrayed as self-less, Dido as selfish.As the hero in the poem, Aeneis’ actions are understood to be noble because of his filial piety to the will of the gods. He renounces human emotions, showing a steady self-restraint on his mission. He surrenders his love, his desire, and even his will to accomplish his mission. Unfortunately, along with these he also surrenders his humanity. The detrimental effects of prolonged repression can be witnessed in the poem’s second half. The second half of The Aeneid has more of an “Illiadic” quality, focusing mainly on the actions of men at war.

Battle scenes and bloody images of death saturate this section of the poem.It glorifies masculine values and denigrates feminine ones. “13 It’s ironic that the closer Aeneis brings his men to their new civilization, the more barbaric their actions become. Violence has transformed their way of life. Art and beauty was not his to indulge in. Roman virtue came at the cost of peace.

As Anchisis tells his son in the Underworld: Others will cast more tenderly in bronze Their breathing figures, I can well believe, And bring more lifelike portraits out of marble; Argue more eloquently, use the pointer To trace the paths of heaven accurately And accurately foretell the rising stars.Roman, remember by your strength to rule Earth’s peoples- for your arts are to be these: To pacify, to impose the rule of the law, To spare the conquered, battle down the proud (VI. 1145-1154).

Samuel Taylor Coleridge stated that only an androgynous mind is capable of capitalizing on its full fertile capacities. This poem is a warning about the dangers of imbalance. We must learn to embrace all that comprises our being, as well as our existence.

When a person excludes even one aspect of himself, he is never whole, and a society where women are devalued can never be called ‘civilized’.

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