Vergil, Hebrew Prophecy, and the Roman Ideal:
Aeneas as the Roman Moses
The influence of the Aeneid in shaping European ideas on religion and politics has been incalculably great, and it is the peculiarly Vergilian content of the poem, not the things borrowed from Greek models, that exercised this influence. Because strict adherence to Greek models is for Vergil, as for other Roman poets, the first law of literary composition, his own central convictions are easy to discover; they lie in his deviations from the canons of the Homeric poems.
The Aeneid celebrates an institution, not, as in Homer, a person; an elect and dutiful people, not a self-willed hero. It preaches Roman obedience to a divinely ordained mission, and holds out a hope that the bearers of that mission will, under Providence, bring blessings to all mankind. It is pensive to the point of melancholy, it operates with half-lights, symbols, and evocations. In all these respects, the Aeneid‘s differences from Homer and other Greek models can be readily documented, both in countless details and in the edifice as a whole. But two of these deviations, one having to do with structure and the other with motivation, are particularly worth examining. The structural device is the use of the apocalyptic—the drama of revelation in a situation of crisis—and the motivation is involved in a new concept of the hero.
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