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Classics Notes > Virgil’s Aeneid Notes

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What is the symbolic importance of the Hercules/Cacus episode and the shield of Aeneas is the ideological scheme of the Aeneid?
The ideological scheme which runs through the entire Aeneid is, obviously, a very strongly pro-Roman, pro-Augustan one. The three set-piece celebrations of this are the prophecy in book one, the parade in book six and now the shield of Aeneas in book eight. However, in the light of such powerful exponents of Virgil's ideology, it is important not to ignore other aspects of it. Aeneas' progress through the story is marked most of all by the development of his character from Homeric hero to Roman statesman and it is clear that his characteristics of the latter form part of this ideology as well. This is because Virgil is often keen to point out what it takes to create an empire as grand as the Romans will forge; the cost of this and most importantly the unique features of the Roman character which makes this possible. The Hercules/Cacus episode is a perfect example of this; it is the most elemental story of good versus evil. The story is certainly not meant to be an aetiological footnote on the nature of a certain aspect of Evander's kingdom; the lengthy preparation ensures that it has an integral part in the ideological scheme of the Aeneid. It is first mentioned at line 102 that they are in the process of worshipping Hercules and the actual story does not begin until 82 lines later. In the mean time Evander warmly greets the Trojans, invites them to join them in their worship and feast before sitting Aeneas down on a lion skin rug to tell him the tale. It begins with a description of both Cacus and Hercules which presents them in very stark and emphatic terms; one is evil and despicable, the other is the epitome of good and heroism. Cacus is half human and is the son of a god, but it is clear that he has no humanity and is a true, "monstrum." His cave always reeks of fresh blood and on his doorposts "faces of men hung pallid in ghastly decay." On the other hand Hercules is a god and "the mightiest of avengers" that comes to save them just in time. Certain elements of this story have been adapted from their original form in Livy and Dionisyios in order to make their relevance more noticeable, for example the fact Cacus is divine, is actually a monster and the long description of the combat. In terms of ideology this episode has parallels with Augustus and Aeneas, and both men contribute something different to it. Virgil is trying to create a new national hero in Aeneas when previously he was only a hero unique to the Julian family. This was, no doubt, a huge task on his part because the people would have to identify with, understand and then come to love Aeneas for it to be possible. For this reason Aeneas was built on the traditional Homeric model which was integral to most ancient Mediterranean cultures and more importantly he created allusions to an already established Italian hero. Hercules was immensely popular and widely worshipped in many parts of Italy at this time and so if Virgil could make his hero Herculean in proportions he would be half way towards integrating him fully into a high position in Italian tradition. Such conceptions of Aeneas are an important aspect of Virgilian ideology because he is the very first exempla for the Roman people; he was just not in the parade. It was obviously meant to be for him, but the way Anchises seems to

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