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The Aeneid

The Aeneid

by Virgil

Power Quotes

How we cite our quotes:

Quote #4

(Oracle):
"Propose no Latin alliance for your daughter,
Son of mine; distrust the bridal chamber
Now prepared. Men from abroad will come
And be your sons by marriage. Blood so mingled
Lifts our name starward. Children of that stock
Will see all earth turned Latin at their feet,
Governed by them, as far as on his rounds
The Sun looks down on Ocean, East or West." (7.125-132)

This prophecy given to King Latinus expresses, once again, the Aeneid's pervasive theme of a future world dominated by Roman power. This quotation in particular illustrates the popular saying that "history is written by the victors." This can be seen in the fact that Latins will have their name "lifted starward" – and thus recorded in the annals of history – if they join forces with the Trojans. The implication seems to be that if they don't join forces with the Trojans, they will soon be forgotten. As the rest of the quotation notes, conquerors seek to remake the conquered in their own image, and blot out the traces of what was there before; if the Latins don't get to "see all earth turned Latin at their feet," then some other conquering people will see it turned into a reflection of themselves. Do you think this is an accurate portrayal of how empire works? More importantly (since we are talking about literature after all), do you think the rest of the Aeneid confirms this portrayal of how empire works?

Quote #5

But Caesar then in triple triumph rode
Within the walls of Rome, making immortal
Offerings to the gods of Italy—
Three hundred princely shrines throughout the city.
There were the streets, humming with festal joy
And games and cheers, an altar to every shrine,
To every one a mothers' choir, and bullocks
Knifed before the altars strewed the ground. (8.965-972)

These lines come from the description of the shield made for Aeneas by Vulcan in Book 8. The "Caesar" they refer to is Caesar Augustus, the first Roman emperor, who was just consolidating his political power when Virgil wrote his poem. Why do you think Virgil might have wanted to emphasize that Caesar made "offerings to the gods of Italy" in a poem that depicts Augustus's supposed ancestor, Aeneas, making war against the Italians? Between this brief image and the rest of the Aeneid, who do you think is more important in guaranteeing political power: the gods, or the people?

Quote #6

The man himself, enthroned before the snow-white
Threshold of sunny Phoebus, viewed the gifts
The nations of the earth made, and he fitted them
To the tall portals. Conquered races passed
In long procession, varied in languages
As in their dress and arms. Here Mulciber,
Divine smith, had portrayed the Nomad tribes
And Afri with ungirdled flowing robes,
Here Leleges and Carians, and here
Gelonians with quivers. Here Euphrates,
Milder in his floods now, there Morini,
Northernmost of men; here bull-horned Rhine,
And there the still unconquered Scythian Dahae;
Here, vexed at being bridged, the rough Araxes. (8.973-986)

The preceding quotation shows Augustus's domestic power, expressed in his people's fervent love for him; these lines show Augustus's power over foreign nations (though the line blurs a bit when he hangs up his trophies on "the tall portals" of Rome, which is clearly designed to impress his own people). We think the final lines of this passage are especially amazing. If you want, you could take Virgil's reference to the rivers as an instance of the poetic technique of "metonymy," in which you refer to something by something connected to it. Thus, the "Euphrates" would really just mean "the people who live around the Euphrates." On the other hand, you could also take it literally, or at least as a literal representation of the vanity of emperors, who would love it if geography itself resented their power – just as here the River Araxes resents having a bridge built across it.

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