The Aeneid

A Survey of Moral Sentiments in Virgil’s Aeneid College

Sympathy arises from an instinctive desire to identify with the emotions of others. It can lead people to strive to maintain good relations with their fellow human beings and provide the basis both for specific benevolent acts and for the general social order. In dramatic and narrative power, Virgil’s Aeneid is the equal of its great Homeric predecessors, The Iliad and The Odyssey. At the same time, it surpasses them in the intense sympathy it displays for its human actors -- a sympathy that makes events such as Aeneas’s escape from Troy and his search for a new homeland, the passion and the death of Dido, the relationship between Nisus and Euryalus, and the defeat of Turnus among the most memorable and civically valuable in literature. This notion of sympathy, or “representative thought,” can be explored and is summoned in these episodes in the Aeneid through vivid imagery, rhetorical figures, the inherent nature of the characters, and the invocation of memory throughout the epic. Ultimately, the sympathetic relation that Virgil constructs between the text and the reader affects the way in which we communicate complex ideas and emotions, changes the way we view the world, and sharpens our moral judgments.

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