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The Ship in Virgil's Aeneid

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They brave gulping whirlpools and blazing infernos. They withstand the flagrant curses of a dying queen. Transporters of precious civilization, they are described by their captain Aeneas as carrying “gods / Of hearth and home, saved from the enemy” (Virgil I.521-522). Throughout the epic, ships are extremely vital to Aeneas – so much so that Virgil intuitively creates a powerful, unmistakable correlation between the two. In The Aeneid, Aeneas acts like a ship, carrying the weight of the Trojan society to Italy, and suffers like a ship, enduring beat-downs from humans and the gods; in fact, Virgil suggests that Aeneas is a human ship.
A ship’s primary function parallels those of Aeneas on his journey to Latium. On the surface level, a ship is an efficient means of transportation for people and goods between one point and another. However, on a symbolic level, a ship represents escape from oppression and death; it carries hopes of new beginnings to the disheartened. This second interpretation perfectly defines Aeneas: a human ship. Just as his vessels, Aeneas gives asylum to and protection for the remainder of the Trojan civilization. He transports his people from the ashes of Troy to “rise again” on the grounds of Latium (I.282). A ship gives its passengers new life; equally, Aeneas gives his Trojan people a new civilization. Using The Aeneid, Virgil creates the perfect analogy between a man and his vessel.
Aeneas shares the same emotional ties with his ships; failure of one causes depression in the other. Throughout the epic, the devastation of Aeneas’ fleet shakes the spirit of its captain. In the initial portions of his journey, mighty storms and rough waters batter his fleet, causing many of the vessels to plunge into the dep...

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... prominent source of his weighty troubles. They are helpless to withstand the gods, restrain Aeneas from advancing towards Italy, and burn at women’s torches. Yet, his ships are invaluable to the overall success of his journey and the expression of his character. Aeneas is a ship, chugging toward western shores and providing refuge for his people. However, this extended analogy has greater importance to Virgil and the rest of human society. After the destruction of Troy, Aeneas has no country to protect or call his home. The cargo and soldiers aboard his ships are the remnants of his past civilization, but they are also the seeds for a new empire. Aeneas, just as his ships, is the invaluable carrier and protector of one of the greatest empires in all of human history – Rome.

Works Cited

Virgil. The Aeneid. Trans. Robert Fitzgerald. New York: Vintage, 1990. Print.