A Trojan in Italy

Does the Aeneid count as Homeric fanfiction? I mean, it pretty much follows up the Iliad and Odyssey exactly, using some of the same characters and situations. Like Odysseus, Aeneas encounters Polyphemus the Cyclops and visits the world of the dead. At the same time, however, it’s Roman propaganda, making the survivors of the Trojan War ancestors of the Romans.

I said a little about the work here, before I’d actually read it, but now I’ve completed the Robert Fagles translation. As I mentioned in the earlier post, the traditional founding date for Rome was 21 April 753 BC, and the Trojan War was almost certainly several centuries before that, so they couldn’t have Aeneas directly begin building the city. Instead, he marries the daughter of King Latinus and becomes the ancestor of Romulus, the legendary founder of Rome. As it stands, Aeneas’ contribution and reward don’t amount to a whole lot, but they do provide a link between the two great cultures. There’s an explanation for the enmity between Rome and Carthage, namely that Aeneas had a one-night stand with the city’s founder Dido, but then left her to fulfill his destiny.

As is frequently the case in mythology, it reduces a complex historical reality to a conflict between a few individuals. There does appear to be one historically accurate bit of information in the Dido story, however, in that she and her subjects are said to be refugees from Tyre. The propaganda gets especially ridiculous when Aeneas goes to see his father in the underworld, and is shown the spirits who will be reincarnated into the future heroes of Rome, including Virgil’s own ruler Caesar Augustus. The poem has long outlasted the empire it was championing, though; and it is a good read, although I have to say I found the travel part more interesting than the account of the battle between Aeneas and Turnus.

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9 Responses to A Trojan in Italy

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