The Aeneid


The Aeneid was written in a time of major political and social change in Rome, with the fall of the Republic and the Final War of the Roman Republic having torn through society and many Romans' faith in the "Greatness of Rome" severely faltering. However, the new emperor, Augustus Caesar, began to institute a new era of prosperity and peace, specifically through the re-introduction of traditional Roman moral values. The Aeneid was seen as reflecting this aim, by depicting the heroic Aeneas as a man devoted and loyal to his country and its prominence, rather than his own personal gains. In addition, the Aeneid gives mythic legitimization to the rule of Julius Caesar and, by extension, to his adopted son Augustus, by immortalizing the tradition that renamed Aeneas's son, Ascanius (called Ilus from Ilium, meaning Troy), Iulus, thus making him an ancestor of the gens Julia, the family of Julius Caesar, and many other great imperial descendants as part of the prophecy given to him in the Underworld. (The meter shows that the name "Iulus" is pronounced as three syllables, not as "Julus".)

The perceived deficiency of any account of Aeneas's marriage to Lavinia or his founding of the Roman race led some writers, such as the 15th-century Italian poet Maffeo Vegio (through his Mapheus Vegius widely printed in the Renaissance), Pier Candido Decembrio (whose attempt was never completed), Claudio Salvucci (in his 1994 epic poem The Laviniad), and Ursula K. Le Guin (in her 2008 novel Lavinia) to compose their own supplements.

Despite the polished and complex nature of the Aeneid (legend stating that Virgil wrote only three lines of the poem each day), the number of half-complete lines and the abrupt ending are generally seen as evidence that Virgil died before he could finish the work. Some legends state that Virgil, fearing that he would die before he had properly revised the poem, gave instructions to friends (including the current emperor, Augustus) that the Aeneid should be burned upon his death, owing to its unfinished state and because he had come to dislike one of the sequences in Book VIII, in which Venus and Vulcan made love, for its nonconformity to Roman moral virtues. The friends did not comply with Virgil's wishes and Augustus himself ordered that they be disregarded. After minor modifications, the Aeneid was published. Because it was composed and preserved in writing rather than orally, the text exhibits less variation than other classical epics.

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