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Virgil’s The Aeneid
Background on the Writing of The
Aeneid and the Founding of the
Roman People
Foundation Stories
Foundation stories are myths that validate
or justify a culture’s claim to an area.
 The people of Rome had two:
– Aeneas the Trojan
 His story also shows how Roman government
came about.
– Romulus and Remus
Carthage – Rome’s Rival and
– City in North Africa
(modern Tunisia)
– Directly south of Italy
– Sicily stood between the
two city-states
– Originally Phoenicians
(from modern Lebanon)
– Latin word for them was
Punici, hence the name
Punic for their wars against
each other
Sicily – Bread-basket of the
– Known for its grains
– Founded by a Greek
– Syracuse was its most
powerful city-state
– 264 BCE – Romans
and Carthagians met
in Sicily for the first
– Autonomous at the
time of this meeting
Two Powers Collide
Carthage traded with Syracuse
– Both had powerful navies and they often
worked together politically and militarily
Messina, in Northeastern Sicily, disliked
the others so they invited the Romans to
protect them from Syracuse
 At this time, Rome was not a strong
power; it was a mid-sized city that had a
reputation for getting things done.
Punic War – 264-241 BCE
Rome didn’t have a navy.
– In true Roman fashion,
they built one from scratch,
mastered it, and used it to
conquer Sicily.
This war ended with a
major naval victory for
the Romans in 241 BC.
– Sicily was then ceded to
the Romans, who also
seized the Carthaginian
islands of Sardinia and
Corsica in 237 BC.
Punic War – 218-201 BCE
In the spring of 218 BCE, a Carthagian general
named Hannibal swiftly marched a large army
through Spain and Gaul and across the Alps to
attack the Romans in Italy before they could
complete their preparations for war.
– He used elephants to carry much of his equipment.
He crossed the dangerous mountains and
secured a firm position in northern Italy.
 By 216 BCE he had won two major victories, at
Lake Trasimeno and the town of Cannae, and
reached southern Italy.
Punic War – 218-201 BCE
In spite of his requests,
Hannibal received insufficient
reinforcements and siege
weapons from Carthage until
207 BC, when his brother
Hasdrubal left Spain with an
army to join him.
Hasdrubal crossed the Alps,
but in a battle at the Metaurus
River, in northern Italy, he was
killed and his troops defeated.
Meanwhile, the Roman general
Publius Cornelius Scipio
Africanus, known as Scipio
Africanus the Elder, had totally
defeated the Carthaginians in
Spain, and in 204 BC he
landed an army in North
Punic War – 218-201 BCE
The Carthaginians recalled Hannibal to Africa to
defend them against Scipio.
 Leading an army of untrained recruits, he was
decisively defeated by Scipio at the Battle of
Zama in 202 BC.
 This battle marked the end of Carthage as a
great power and the close of the Second Punic
 The Carthaginians were compelled to cede Spain
and the islands of the Mediterranean still in their
possession, relinquish their navy, and pay an
indemnity to Rome.
Punic War – 149-146 BCE
In the 2nd century BC, however, Carthage continued to
be commercially successful and, though only a minor
power, a source of irritation to Rome.
The Romans were further incited by the speeches of the
censor Cato the Elder, who demanded Delenda est
Carthago (“Carthage must be destroyed”).
A minor Carthaginian breach of treaty gave the pretext
for the 3rd Punic War, in which the Romans, led by Scipio
the Younger, captured the city of Carthage, razed it to
the ground, and sold the surviving inhabitants into
– Legend says that the Romans sowed salt over the ground where
Carthage stood so no one would ever live there again.
Rome’s Foundation Myths
The Romans wanted
a foundation myth
that explained their
hatred of Carthage.
– Gnaeus Naevius, a
veteran of the 1st war,
wrote an epic poem
entitled Punic War.
– This was the first
major piece of Roman
literature to tell the
story of Aeneas.
Rome’s Foundation Myths
In his poem, Aeneas
leaves Troy, comes to
Carthage, and falls for
– He leaves her to start a
– Dido curses Aeneas by
saying there would always
be hatred between
Carthage and Rome.
– She then commits suicide.
– At right, Dido confronts
Aeneas about his plans to
Rome’s Foundation Myths
By claiming the Aeneas story, which had
been around since circa 400 BCE, Naevius
linked the Romans to the Greeks (thru
Troy) and gave Rome the legitimate right
to Sicily, a country filled with Greek
 This allowed the descendents of the
Trojans to get revenge against the Greek
descendents of Syracuse.
Rome’s Foundation Myths
Around 30 BCE, Augustus
Caesar, first emperor of
Rome, asked Roman poet
Virgil to write a poem
about how Augustus had
saved Rome from civil
– This was the war against
Marc Antony and Cleopatra
that followed the war
against Marcus Brutus, one
of the killers of Julius
Rome’s Foundation Myths
Virgil used the story of
Aeneas, with Aeneas
symbolizing Augustus.
He started in 29 BCE and
wrote until his death on
Sept. 20, 19 BCE.
– His will stated that his
manuscript should be
destroyed upon his death
because he was not
satisfied with his work.
– Augustus overrode this and
published the poem.
Rome’s Foundation Myths
The poem is filled with “prophecies” about
how Aeneas’ job as founder would carry
on to Augustus.
 This was blatant propaganda disguised as
 Historically, the poem is wrong.
– Carthage was founded 400 years after the
theorized date for the sack of Troy.
Son of Anchises
– He made love to Aphrodite/Venus
and was forever crippled because
of their night spent together.
– Aphrodite/Venus is his mother.
Thought to have founded
 Romulus was said to be his
– Alba Longa, a Latin city and
Romulus’ home town, was
founded by Ascanius, son of
The first half of the poem presents
Aeneas as a Greek hero; the
second half is a Roman Aeneas,
full of martial prowess.
His story dates back
to the late 6th century
– He has been found on
vases around Attica
from this time period.
He is first associated
with Rome in the 5th
century BCE by
Hellanicus, a Greek
Hellanicus wrote that Aeneas called his
new area Rhome (Greek for strength), a
name derived from one of the Trojan
women who accompanied him.
 Some Greek writers ascribe Rome’s
founding to other Trojans.
– One version has Rome being founded by a
son of Odysseus and Circe.
The myth of Romulus
and Remus is said to
have originated
because Romans
knew that the
timeline of Carthage’s
founding and Aeneas
being a Trojan did not
match up.
Extraneous Information about
The Aeneid
Evander was the son of a Greek nymph named
Themis, called by the Romans Carmenta.
 He supposedly emigrated from Greece sixty
years before the Trojan War.
 He also was said to have founded the festivals of
Hercules and the Lupercalia (think Shakespeare’s
Julius Caesar).
 He was a creation of Roman writers; he is based
on a minor deity worshiped in Arcadia.
Extraneous Information about
The Aeneid
Book I: 257-291 (Jupiter’s prophecy with
reference to Augustus)
– ‘Don’t be afraid, Cytherea, your child’s fate remains
unaltered: You’ll see the city of Lavinium, and the
walls I promised, and you’ll raise great-hearted
Aeneas high, to the starry sky: No thought has
changed my mind. This son of yours (since this
trouble gnaws at my heart, I’ll speak, and unroll the
secret scroll of destiny) will wage a mighty war in
Italy, destroy proud peoples, and establish laws, and
city walls, for his warriors, until a third summer sees
his reign in Latium, and three winter camps pass
since the Rutulians were beaten.
Extraneous Information about
The Aeneid
– But the boy Ascanius, surnamed Iulus now (He was
Ilus while the Ilian kingdom was a reality) will
imperially complete thirty great circles of the turning
months, and transfer his throne from its site at
Lavinium, and mighty in power, will build the walls of
Alba Longa. Here kings of Hector’s race will reign
now for three hundred years complete, until a royal
priestess, Ilia, heavy with child, shall bear Mars twins.
Then Romulus will further the race, proud in his nurse
the she-wolf’s tawny pelt, and found the walls of
Mars, and call the people Romans, from his own
Extraneous Information about
The Aeneid
– I’ve fixed no limits or duration to their possessions:
I’ve given them empire without end. Why, harsh Juno
who now torments land, and sea and sky with fear,
will respond to better judgment, and favor the
Romans, masters of the world, and people of the
toga, with me. So it is decreed. A time will come, as
the years glide by, when the Trojan house of
Assaracus will force Phthia into slavery, and be lords
of beaten Argos. From this glorious source a Trojan
Caesar will be born, who will bound the empire with
Ocean, his fame with the stars, Augustus, a Julius, his
name descended from the great Iulus. You, no
longer anxious, will receive him one day in heaven,
burdened with Eastern spoils: he’ll be called to in
prayer. Then with wars abandoned, the harsh ages
will grow mild. . .
The Aeneid’s Similarities with
Greek Myths
Same characteristics of Greek myths
– Hero searches for glory.
– Hero travels a long journey full of adventure.
– Hero overthrows an evil king after his journey.
– Hero achieves his destiny despite a god who
is against him.
The Aeneid’s Similarities with
Greek Myths
Fate is strong in the
– Aeneas is destined to
found Rome, despite
Juno’s wrath.
– Juno cannot save
Complex version of
good vs. evil
– There is no concrete
evil in the poem.
The Aeneid’s Difference with
Greek Myths
Aeneas is a Roman hero.
– Roman society placed more
emphasis on military
prowess and strength
rather than intelligence,
wit, depth, and greatness
of soul.
– The final look of Aeneas is
of a god-like warrior who
has few human
– This fits the militaristic,
grandiose Roman outlook.
The Aeneid’s Difference with
Greek Myths
Why do they do this?
– Edith Hamilton quotes
 Rome “ ‘left to other
nations such things as art
and science, and ever
remembered that they
were destined to bring
under their empire the
peoples of the earth, to
impose the rule of
submissive nonresistance,
to spare the humbled and
to crush the proud.’ ”
The Route of Aeneas