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Introduction Notes

Classics Notes > Virgil’s Aeneid Notes

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What are the main elements the poet wishes to emphasise in the opening sequence of the Aeneid?
The main elements which the poet wishes to emphasise at the start of his work are those which will form the core of the rest of the poem. He sets out in no uncertain terms what the eventual end result of the story will be and highlights the difficulties which will have to be overcome to achieve it. Unfortunately for the characters this glorious future for which they strive is distant and somewhat vague, but the danger and suffering is all too imminent and terrifying. The first time the hero of the poem, Aeneas, is met he is in very dire straits indeed. His ships are being tossed about by a storm aroused by Juno as part of her continued vindictiveness against the Trojan people. Terror grips the men and every flash of lightening is said to reveal nothing but death to them; these same flashes reveal Aeneas for the first time to the audience. He is weakened by dread and groans, "O thrice and four times blessed, whose lot it was to meet death before their father's eyes beneath the lofty walls of Troy" (1.94-6). His words are similar to the opening words of Odysseus in the Odyssey, but instead of a fear of a lack of burial, he regrets not having died giving his life in front of his beloved city. From the very beginning he is characterised as a man whose deepest concern is his sense of duty. Although earlier at line 10 he was referred to as insignem pietate, he was not mentioned by name. In this instance he is, but instead of Virgil telling us he is dutiful, he shows it through his own actions on what he feels is his point of death. Odyssey's concern about his own due honour was revealed by what he said and so instantly an important comparison and contrast can be drawn and from the beginning Aeneas is firmly a man of duty. However at the same time the Homeric echoes in his words, equating himself to Hector and Sarpedon, show he is still not totally distant from the old heroic mode; something he has to shake off throughout the story, so again one of the key concepts of the work is pointed out early. The nature of his first appearance also instantly grants him our sympathy and the way in which he is utterly despondent shows this is not the first of his sufferings which again has the same effect. Virgil is keen to emphasise the essential qualities which make Aeneas a worthy and great hero; he also has to give him the tools with which to complete his extra-ordinary task. Another similarly revealing episode about Aeneas is when he consoles his men after they have been saved from the storm and reach dry land. "O comrades- for ere this we have not been ignorant of misfortune- you who have suffered worse, this also God will end...There it is granted that Troy's realm shall rise again; endure and live for a happier day." (1.198-200). These statements to his men mark him out as a good leader, because even though he is not totally convinced by what he says he gives them hope. He knows what he is saying is true, he is just having a hard time believing it himself, which grants him further sympathy and also that he is dutiful as a leader with regard to his men. "Such words he spoke, while sick with deep distress he feigns hope on his face, and deep in his heart stifles his anguish" (1.208-10). Furthermore his knowledge of fate, albeit unspecific, marks him out as favoured by the gods (Jupiter being the one of most concern) as few men would have had knowledge of it and even fewer been the

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