The Aeneid


The Aeneid is a cornerstone of the Western canon, and early (at least by the 2nd century AD) became one of the essential elements of a Latin education,[47] usually required to be memorized.[48] Even after the decline of the Roman Empire, it "remained central to a Latin education".[49] In Latin-Christian culture, the Aeneid was one of the canonical texts, subjected to commentary as a philological and educational study,[50] with the most complete commentary having been written by the 4th-century grammarian Maurus Servius Honoratus.[51] It was widely held to be the pinnacle of Latin literature, much in the same way that the Iliad was seen to be supreme in Greek literature.

The strong influence of the Aeneid has been identified in the development of European vernacular literatures—some English works that show its influence being Beowulf, Layamon's Brut (through the source text Historia Regum Britanniae), The Faerie Queene and Milton's Paradise Lost. The Italian poet Dante Alighieri was himself profoundly influenced by the Aeneid, so much so that his magnum opus The Divine Comedy, itself widely considered central to the western canon, includes a number of quotations from and allusions to the Aeneid and features the author Virgil as a major character – the guide of Dante through the realms of the Inferno and Purgatorio. Another continental work displaying the influence of the Aeneid is the 16th-century Portuguese epic Os Lusíadas, written by Luís de Camões and dealing with Vasco da Gama's voyage to India.

The importance of Latin education itself was paramount in Western culture: "from 1600 to 1900, the Latin school was at the center of European education, wherever it was found"; within that Latin school, Virgil was taught at the advanced level and, in 19th-century England, special editions of Virgil were awarded to students who distinguished themselves.[52] In the United States, Virgil and specifically the Aeneid were taught in the fourth year of a Latin sequence, at least until the 1960s;[53] the current (2011) Advanced Placement curriculum in Latin continues to assign a central position to the poem: "The AP Latin: Virgil Exam is designed to test the student's ability to read, translate, understand, analyze, and interpret the lines of the Aeneid that appear on the course syllabus in Latin."[54]

Many phrases from this poem entered the Latin language, much as passages from Shakespeare and Alexander Pope have entered the English language. One example is from Aeneas's reaction to a painting of the sack of Troy: Sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt—"These are the tears of things, and our mortality cuts to the heart" (Aeneid I, 462). The influence is also visible in very modern work: Brian Friel's Translations (a play written in the 1980s, set in 19th-century Ireland), makes references to the classics throughout and ends with a passage from the Aeneid:

Urbs antiqua fuit—there was an ancient city which, 'tis said, Juno loved above all the lands. And it was the goddess's aim and cherished hope that here should be the capital of all nations—should the fates perchance allow that. Yet in truth she discovered that a race was springing from Trojan blood to overthrow some day these Tyrian towers—a people late regem belloque superbum—kings of broad realms and proud in war who would come forth for Libya's downfall.[55]

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