Friday, September 29, 2006

Aeneid part II- A New Kind of Hero

Aeneid I.92-101

extemplo Aeneae solvuntur frigore membra:
ingemit, et duplicis tendens ad sidera palmas
talia voce refert: 'o terque quaterque beati,
quis ante ora patrum Troiae sub moenibus altis
contigit oppetere! o Danaum fortissime gentis
Tydide! mene Iliacis occumbere campis
non potuisse, tuaque animam hanc effundere dextra,
saevus ubi Aeacidae telo iacet Hector, ubi ingens
Sarpedon, ubi tot Simois correpta sub undis
scuta virum galeasque et fortia corpora volvit?'

Immediately Aeneas’ limbs grow weak with cold: he groans, and stretching both hands to the stars cries out in with these words: “O three and four times blessed, you who were permitted to die before the faces of your fathers, beneath the lofty walls of Troy! O Diomedes, bravest of the race of Greeks! Why could I not have perished on the Trojan plain, and have poured out my life at your right hand, where fierce Hector lies by the spear of Achilles, where great Sarpedon, where the river Simois rolls and carries beneath its waves the helmets and shields and brave bodies of men.

This is Aeneas’ first appearance in the Aeneid, and we see once again a strong similarity to the work of Homer. Aeneas and his crew are caught in a storm stirred up against them by the goddess Juno, in a scene similar to one in Homer’s Odyssey. There Odysseus cries out “Thrice happy and more were those among the Greeks who long ago perished in the wide land of Troy to do the will of the sons of Atreus! If only I too had died, and had met my doom on the day when the thronging Trojans hurled their bronze-pointed spears against me in the battle round the dead son of Peleus.

What both Odysseus and Aeneas here express is more than just dissatisfaction with their present sufferings- it reflects a particularly Homeric ideal of heroism. It is not simply death that each cries out for, but a glorious, heroic death in battle. This is the kind of heroism typical of Achilles, who was told that he could choose between a long but dull life and a glorious but brief life. For Achilles the desire for glory outweighed that for life, hence his involvement in the Trojan War.

This kind of heroism is also seen throughout the Aeneid, though never in a positive light. It is the kind of heroism displayed by King Priam, who tries heroically but pointlessly to fight Pyrrhus, by Nisus and Euryalus who attack their enemy’s camp at night, but fail to get a message through to Aeneas, and by Aeneas himself when he is told by Hector to flee the burning city of Troy, but instead rushes madly through the city until his mother Venus appears to him, and urges him to save himself and his family.

In the Aeneid we see a new definition of what it means to be heroic- to be pius, to have pietas. To be pius has religious connotations, but it involves more than just piety. It involves a feeling of duty towards the gods, the state and one's family. In English it is a difficult concept to translate, but ‘dutiful’ perhaps comes closest the Roman idea. pius is the adjective most commonly used to describe Aeneas in the Aeneid, and his pietas is seen most prominently in his submission to the will of the gods, especially at personal cost (i.e. leaving Dido in book IV) and in his rescue of his family from the ruins of Troy. He does not always display such pietas- in many ways he is a flawed hero- but it is this quality which Virgil holds up as the ideal for his hero, and into which Aeneas grows over the course of the Aeneid.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

hey brah i found this sooo interesting, especially the first bit in latin, im glad u gave me this site so that now i can check it out all the time