1. Rome's Greatness vs. Suffering of the Individual
The Aeneid is a patriotic poem; a poem that seeks to justify the Roman race and its achievements, particularly its expansive empire. It is a poem that details what it is to be Roman, forging a collective history and predicting and encouraging a glorious future, written at a time when everything in the present was uncertain. It defines Romanness. Yet at the same time it does not present a blithely romanticised vision. In order to be a representative of fundamental Roman values in the Aeneid, you cannot be or do other things: Aeneas cannot be a Homeric hero - he is told as much by Hector (a prototype Homeric hero) in Book 2; he cannot indulge in a life of Catullan love trysts; he cannot think solely for himself, for he must always consider the continuation of his race, and the founding of a city for that race to inhabit, to be of paramount importance. This is what his 'pietas' demands, namely a subjugation of his own personal desires to the need to follow the mission charged to him. At the same time, those around him suffer so that the Roman race might be founded. Dido and Turnus are destroyed, when they become obstacles to this eventuality. Their nobility of character demonstrates the poet's sympathy for their predicament - they, like Aeneas, see their own individual designs made subject to the needs of the future Roman race. Personal concerns are considered of less importance than collective success. As result, we find a tension in the Aeneid between what has been termed Virgil's public and private voices.
The public voice glorifies the virtues of Rome and Roman character, while the private voice represents the individual caught in the middle of these grander schemes. The private voice is suffused with a melancholy that represents the inability of the two voices to be reconciled. For the Aeneid seems unable to provide an answer, a fact that seems clear from the final combat between Aeneas and Turnus. The death of Turnus has often been thought to be at odds with the rest of the poem, for it presents Aeneas in an unfavourable light just when we expect to see him in a fully exalted position. And yet, it actually demonstrates perfectly the tension between the two voices that runs throughout the poem. Aeneas has been told by Anchises in Book 6 what qualities the Roman will bring to the world. He will govern the people of the empire, bring a settled peace and 'parcere subiectis et debellare superbos' ("spare the vanquished and war down the proud", 6.853). This then is what it will mean to be Roman. However, when, in the final combat, Aeneas, the father of the Roman race, is placed in a situation where his enemy Turnus is beseeching him as a suppliant not to kill him, and is thus certainly 'subiectus', Aeneas is motivated by personal concerns to slay him. For he sees Pallas' belt and is reminded of his death and of his own responsibility to avenge that death. Thus we see the conflict between public and private interests and, in the end, the need to be a good Roman is overridden in the heat of battle by the need to be a good friend. The two cannot easily be reconciled and the poem offers no solution. The founding of Rome is not an easy undertaking and the poet displays a certain ambivalence to the events he describes. As he states at the start of the poem 'tantae molis erat Romanam condere gentem' ("So onerous it was to found the Roman race", 1.33).
2. The Greatness of Rome
Despite the conflict that arises between Virgil's public and private voices, we still cannot fail to read the Aeneid as primarily a poem that glorifies the Roman race and its achievements. Certainly the pathos of individual suffering shows that all that Rome and her empire bring with them is not rosy, but there is no suggestion that it is a reason to see the poem as anti-Roman or anti-imperialist. Suffering occurs in spite of Rome's greatness, not as a detriment to it. In addition the conflict between civic and personal duty is not one that is exclusive to Rome, but one that affects any member of any community. Virgil's skill is in making us aware of the conflict, while glorifying the race and at the same time respecting the individual.
From the beginning of the poem, we are made aware of the poet's commitment to providing an epic that will emphasise Rome's greatness, past, present and, through the glorification of Augustus, future. Jupiter's prophecy to Venus in Book 1 (257-296) explicitly establishes the link between Aeneas and the founding of Rome by Romulus. Furthermore, it gives divine consent to Rome's empire, for Jupiter states that he is imposing on it no limitation in time or space ('his ego nec metas rerum nec tempora pono: /
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