Friday, September 27, 2013

The Aeneid: Virgil and Propoganda

All my life I've wondered one thing: What was Caesar Augustus pointing at?
Although now I realize: He's pointing at my blog post title!
According to what I’ve read during my long and in-depth research for fifteen minutes on the internet, Virgil wrote The Aeneid to justify the reign of Julius Caesar and his current heir, Caesar Augustus. For anyone with historical knowledge, Augustus basically converted Rome from a Republic into an Empire without telling anyone or asking anybody’s permission.  Some of his contemporaries got a little upset at not being asked permission, so Augustus sought to shut them up by propaganda.* This is where Virgil, lowly farmer’s son but having published some awesome poetry about cows, came in.

So Virgil’s job in writing this epic poem was not only to write something artistic, the Great Roman Novel as it were, but also to validate Augustus’ rule. And to do that, he had to validate that Julius Caesar really shouldn’t have been assassinated but was the rightful heir to the (nonexistent) Roman throne.

He does this early on by saying that Aeneas, ipso facto ruler of the Trojans since he was somehow related to King Priam, had a son named Ascanius, whose nickname was Iulus…which is Julius Caesar’s name, by golly! Wow!  So all along Julius Caesar was related to Aeneas? Who’da thunk! Guess he was the rightful ruler of Rome after all! Wouldn’t Brutus feel like a heel for killing him, if Brutus weren’t dead already by this point!

Virgil, having accomplished this undertaking early in the epic poem, continues to beat the reader of the head with how awesome Aeneas and his entire family are Destined To Be. It’s so over-the-top I started to get the feeling Virgil was being sarcastic about the whole thing.  He even lets Aeneas go down into the Underworld and somehow see all his fantastic descendants, including Julius and Augustus where Augustus’ face is all shiney like a ray of sun.

Luckily for Aeneas, however, the prophetic visions stop there. Obviously since Virgil was no prophet himself, he couldn’t foretell how FANTASTIC the last of Aeneas’ supposed descendants, Nero, would turn out to be. And frankly all the other Caesars aren’t much better.  

(Again, I’m thinking of Seutonius’ The Twelve Caesars when I say this.  A book I can’t recommend to anyone under 18 since it’s basically rated R for Roman.)

Then again, Caesar Augustus was the last of Aeneas’ line anyway, since he never had an heir and his successor Tiberius was his adopted son rather than of any blood relation. Okay, okay, I get it. The history geek in me got a little carried away. I’ll try to talk about the actual Aeneid plot from now on.

*And when that didn’t work he could always have them exiled or poisoned.  He wasn’t picky.

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