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Foundation and Identity: A Reading of Vergil’s Aeneid

The time of its composition during the aftermath of the final implosion of the the Roman Republic, its view of a world which hopes for a future and grieves still for what has been lost, its intricate use of allusion to the older world of Greek Epic, a web of associations which at times makes us marvel at its beautiful echoes and at times startles us when our expectation is subverted, the work of a poet at the height of his craft: the Aeneid remains (as T.S. Eliot called it) “ the classic of all Europe” .

It is also a poem filled with contradiction, loss, and grief. Aeneas, the paragon of Roman pietas, finds himself caught up in of conflicting claims and himself becomes a victim of a kind of moral “entropy”, embodied in the Aeneid by the rage of the goddess Juno.

Our reading of Vergil in English will focus on a series of short crucial passages in Latin which will help us see the nature of Vergil’s poetic art and appreciate his attempt to create a true “national epic” for the reborn Roman world.
No knowledge of the Latin language is assumed.

John Dryden on the "political" Aeneid

I say that Virgil, having maturely weigh’d the condition of the times in which he liv’d; that an entire liberty was not to be retriev’d;...that this conqueror, tho’ of a bad kind, was the very best of it; that the arts of peace flourish’d under him; that all men might be happy, if they would be quiet; that...he exercis’d more for the common good than for any delight he took in greatness - these things, I say, being consider’d by the poet, he concluded it to be the interest of his country to be so govern’d; to infuse an awful respect into the people towards such a prince; by that respect to confirm their obedience to him, and by that obedience to make them happy. This was the moral of his divine poem; honest in the poet; honorable to the emperor. (xx-xxi)

• John Dryden, The Works of Virgil: containing his Pastorals, Georgics, and Aeneis. Translated into English Verse; by Mr. Dryden. Adorn'd with a hundred Sculptures. 1697.








Augustus and the Arts



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Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Maecenas Presenting the Liberal Arts to Emperor Augustus. 1743