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Background to The Aeneid
Earliest History
• Italy originally dominated by:
– Etruscans to the north
– Greek cities to the south
– Ancient Latium=modern day Rome
Rise of Rome
• Hard-workers
• Unified into towns to defend against Etruscans
and Greeks
• Rome founded in 7th century B.C.
• Rise to power fueled by invasion
Punic Wars
• 1st Punic War:
– Lasted for 20 years
– Flowering of literature and the arts
– For control of Sicily versus Carthagians
• 2nd Punic War:
– Against Carthage, led by Hannibal
– Defense against southern ports
– Turning point in Roman policy; use of brutal repression; natives
repressed and pillaged
• 3rd Punic War:
– Against Carthage
– Aggressive war for economic dominance of wine/oil industry
Civil Wars
• 2nd century B.C.-Majority plantation owners
– Issues between conservative plantations owners and liberal senatorial
aristocrats who thought state was harmed by loss of small farms
• Gracchus brothers attempted to reform by
– Passing grain law
– Allowing more people to vote
– Improving army
• Julius Caesar elected in 46 B.C.
– Rule only lasted two years b/c of assassination by Brutus and Cassius
• Mark Antony defeats Brutus/Cassius riegn
– Relies on Caesar’s grandnephew Octavius
– Mark Antony and Octavius share power until they begin to fight in 32 B.C.
• Octavius
– Defeats Antony in 30 B.C.
– Honorific title “imperator” = “commander in chief”
– Begins using name Augustus
The Birth of an Empire
• Augusts’ reign=flowering of literature and
architecture=“Golden Era”
– Patron of poets/artists that could reiterate his idea
of an “ideal state”
– Ruled for 30 years; rocky leadership for 30 years
Roman Religion
• Religion played central role in organization of Rome
• Leaders of religious ceremonies=King of Sacred Rights
• Religion shows major differences from the Greeks
– Obsessed with correct ritual
– Fate=a command of decree obeyed; versus Greeks idea of
“shared” fate
• Polytheistic-gods show concern with idea of home, cattle,
agriculture, family (with focus on male leadership)
– Not hard then to see Roman idea of being “sons” subservient to
a patriarchal emperor.
– Worshipped sprirts of dead ancestors=“manes” and
“lanes”=spirits who watch over fields and paths
Greek Influences
• Adopted Greek Divinities (see handout)
• Make sure you know these/they are out for
your reference at all times!!!!
Roman Literature
• Read/conducted foreign policy in Greek until defeat of
Carthage in 241 B.C.
– Then decided they needed literature of their own
• Invented history that associated themselves with Troy
• Sought to find in great men’s lives the causes of major
• Horace and Virgil were sponsored by the government
(Augustus!) to promote the “glory of the state”
– ***Think about the implications of this!!!!****
• Romans were masterful imitators/adapters rather than
original thinkers
• Born onto family farm-created a shy man who
was sensitive to nature/aware of beauty and
wisdom of natural world
• Felt political effects:
– Caesar -motivated him to travel for studies
– Mark Antony-confiscated family farm; retreated to
Naples to study Greek philosophy of Epicureanism
– Octavius gives Virgil land back after recognizing
poetic genius (could there be ulterior motives
The Aeneid
The Aeneids purpose was to provide a national epic that was specifically Roman
– Why? Think about the purposes of storytelling
Explain Rome’s founding
Legitimize Augustus’ rule (divined)
Virgil spent 11 years working on it-wanted it burned before he died because it
wasn’t “good enough” to be published; Augustus overturned this wish in Virgil’s
– First half=Homer’s The Odyssey
– Second half=Homer’s The Illiad
“Arms and the man I sing” shows us a distinct focus on conflict one feels between
the hero’s duty (to state) versus his own personal desires
– Could Virgil have felt this?
Have characteristics of Epic Poem:
– Start in medias res
– Hero is of national significance
– Begins by appealing to the Muse