Virgil's Aeneid as Roman Propaganda

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Virgil's Aeneid as Roman Propaganda

Rome was experiencing a great deal of internal turmoil during the period when Virgil wrote the Aeneid. There was somewhat of an identity crisis in Rome as it had no definitive leader, or history. With the ascension of Augustus to the throne, Rome was unified again. Still, it had no great book. The Greeks had their Odyssey, giving them a sense of history and of continuity through time. A commonly held view is that the Aeneid attempts to provide the Romans with this sense of continuity or roots. There is a great deal of textual evidence to support this interpretation. Virgil makes numerous references to the greatness of Rome through "ancient" prophecies. Clearly, the entire poem is an account of the founders of Rome. In some sense, this does make the Aeneid seem as a piece of propaganda. However, upon closer examination, there is another idea that Virgil presents. War is painted as a vicious and bloody, not some glorious event. The image of war condemns the concept of Rome as the all-powerful conqueror of other nations. Not only that, but the strong emphasis on duty is frequently mocked. These underlying ideas would seem to run contrary to the theory that Virgil was simply producing a synthesized history of ancient Romans. In order to determine the true intent of the Aeneid, it is important that both ideas presented be examined.

"I sing of warfare and a man at war…Till he could found a city…the high walls of Rome." (Book I, 1-12) There can be no dispute that the Aeneid is an account of the history of Rome. There are several items which with Virgil links the story of Aeneas to the Rome of his time period. Probably the most obvious of these is the surplus of predictions concerning Rome’...

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...many readers today still are).

No one can be entirely sure of Virgil’s true intent in writing the Aeneid. Perhaps he meant it as a glorification of Rome that had some discrepancies in it. Perhaps he meant it as an attack upon the character of Rome with some inconsistencies. Either way, it does not work well. Whatever Virgil’s argument, he compromises it by playing up the opposite argument. If Virgil meant to attack Rome, he failed in some respects. Likewise, if he meant the Aeneid to be a work of Roman propaganda, he was ineffective.

Works Cited and Consulted

Horsfall, Nicholas, ed. A Companion to the Study of Virgil. Leiden, New York, and Köln: E. J. Brill, 1995.

Putnam, Michael C. J. “Anger, Blindness, and Insight in Virgil's Aeneid.” Apeiron 23 (1990): 7-40.

Virgil. Aeneid. Dover Thrift Edition. Trans. Charles J. Billson. New York: Dover, 1995.