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enamoured of Aeneas, invites him to tell her his history.
In Book II. Aeneas relates1 the storm and sack of Troy and his own escape, along with his father Anchises and his son Ascanius.2
In Book III. the narrative is continued, and Aeneas describes how, in pursuit of that 'Western Land' (Hesperia) which had been promised him by an oracle, he had wandered to Thrace, Crete, Epirus, and Sicily, where his father had died.
Book IV. resumes the main narrative from the end of Book I. Dido's passion for Aeneas becomes overmastering, and he accepts her love, lingering in Carthage unmindful of his quest, until Jupiter sends Mercury to bid him depart at once. In spite of Dido's pleading he sets sail, and she stabs herself.
In Book V. Aeneas reaches Sicily on the anniversary of his father's death, and celebrates elaborate funeral games in his honour. Juno persuades the matrons to set fire to the ships, but Aeneas prays for rain, which stays the flames, and then, leaving the less adventurous among his followers behind, he sets sail for Italy.
In Book VI. Aeneas lands at Cumae, and with the help of the Sibyl discovers the 'golden bough,' which is a passport through the under world. Through it he passes, guided by the Sibyl, and finally finds Anchises, who points out to him the souls of those who are
1 This favourite device of beginning a story in the middle and then making some one relate the preceding events in the form of a narrative is borrowed from Homer, who in Books 9-12 of the Odyssey makes Ulysses relate the earlier history of his wanderings to Alcinous. Hence the phrase ὕστερον πρότερον Ομηρικώς.
2 Otherwise called Iulus, the legendary ancestor of the gens Iulia.
destined to become great Romans and describes their future fortunes, after which Aeneas returns safely to the upper air.
Books VII.-XII. describe how Aeneas allied himself with Latinus, king of the Latins, and received the promise of the hand of his daughter Lavinia, and how Turnus, king of the Rutuli, a former suitor for Lavinia's hand, opposed him, but was at last defeated and slain.
The Aeneid, it will thus be seen, is a sort of national epic intended to connect the origin of the Romans (and especially of the Julian family) with the gods and heroes of Homeric song, and incidentally serving to dignify many Roman customs and ceremonies by identifying them with the customs and ceremonies of the heroic age. At the same time Aeneas and his followers, as through difficulties and dangers, putting their trust in heaven, they steadily press forward to success, afford a visible personification of those virtues which had slowly and surely secured for Rome the empire of the world, while Aeneas himself as a fatherly ruler over his people, their chief in battle, their law-giver in peace, and their high-priest in all spiritual relations,' is clearly a type of Augustus, the founder of the new monarchy.2
As a story of war and adventure the Aeneid cannot compete in freshness and life with the Iliad and the Odyssey. It could hardly do so. Between the bard who chants the glory of heroes' at the feasts of
1 Sellar's Virgil, p. 344.
2 Nor is it unreasonable to see in Dido a type of those seductive charms coupled with unfeminine ambition which the Romans dreaded and detested in Cleopatra.
warrior chiefs in a primitive age and the studious poet who expects the patronage of Augustus and the criticism of Maecenas there is a gulf which nothing can bridge. Indeed the Aeneid and the Homeric poems, though they challenge comparison by their similarity of form, are really so profoundly different in spirit and character that they ought never to be compared. It would be as easy to compare Chevy Chase with the Idylls of the King. The one is a natural growth, the other an artistic creation. The one describes men who live and breathe as they appeared to men of like passions in their own day; the other attempts to give animation to the ghosts of the past, and make them interesting to men whose thoughts, tastes, and tempers are wholly different. To the Homeric story-teller and his hearers the story is the chief thing and its literary form the second; to Virgil and his readers literary art is the first thing, and the actual facts of the story are comparatively unimportant.
Moreover, Virgil is unhappy in his hero. Compared with Achilles his Aeneas is but the shadow of a man.1 He is an abstraction typifying the ideal Roman, in whom reverence for the gods (pietas) and manly courage (virtus) combine, and who therefore ultimately achieves what he aims at in spite of manifold mischances and all the risks of fortune.' 2 Indeed throughout the by 'fate,' visions, and
Aeneid he is so regulated
1 The difference is like that between Tennyson's 'Knights of the Round Table' and 'the Doglas and the Persie,' who
'Swapt together till they both swat
With swordes that were of fine myllan.'
2 Aen. 1. 204 per varios casus, per tot discrimina rerum.
superintending deities that it is hard to take any real interest in his acts and doings. But he is not only unreal and uninteresting; he is displeasing. Sum pius Aeneas is how he introduces himself,1 and all through he goes about with that painful adjective ostentatiously tied round his neck, doing what he ought to do and saying what he ought to say from first to last. Once only he exhibits human frailty, and then it is to show that as a human being he is contemptible. He accepts the love of Dido and then abandons her to despair and death. There is no need to emphasise his crime; Virgil himself has done that sufficiently. The splendid passage (4. 305-392) which describes the final interview between Aeneas and the queen is a masterpiece. To an appeal which would move a stone Aeneas replies with the cold and formal rhetoric of an attorney. Then Dido bursts into an invective which, for concentrated scorn, nervous force, and tragic grandeur, is almost unequalled. Finally, sweeping from the room, she sinks swooning into the arms of her attendants, while Aeneas is left stammering and 'preparing to say many things -a hero who had, one would think, lost his character for ever. But Virgil seems unmoved by his own genius, and begins the next paragraph quite placidly at pius Aeneas...! How the man who wrote the lines placed in Dido's mouth could immediately afterwards speak of 'the good Aeneas etc.' is one of the puzzles of literature, and even the fact that the Aeneid was never finished does not
1 'Can you bear this?' was the observation of Charles James Fox, a warm admirer of Virgil, but who describes Aeneas as 'always either insipid or odious.'
explain so glaring an inconsistency. The point is inexplicable, but we ought in fairness to remember that the chilling shadow of imperial patronage rested upon Virgil. He was not only a poet but a poetlaureate. It is the poet who pens the speeches of Dido, while the poet-laureate describes the 'good Aeneas' to gratify a prince who in order to found an empire-dum conderet urbem-would certainly not have let a woman's ruin stand in the way of state policy or his own ambition.
Although, however, as an epic poem the Aeneid is wanting in vitality and human interest, the praise of eighteen centuries is sufficient evidence of its striking merits. What those merits are has been already partly indicated in referring to the Georgics. Virgil is a master of melodious rhythm, and he is a master of literary expression. The Latin hexameter, which in Ennius, the father of Latin poetry, is cumbrous and uncouth, and in Lucretius, though powerful and imposing, still lacks grace and versatility, has been moulded by Virgil into a perfect instrument capable of infinite varieties and responsive to every phase of emotion; while as regards his literary power it is impossible to read ten lines anywhere without coming across one of those felicitous phrases the charm of which is beyond question as it is beyond analysis. But these external graces are not all. Virgil is a man of deep though controlled feeling. He is a patriot who loves his country with a love 'far brought from out the storied past,' and his pride in her imperial greatness animates the whole poem and lives in many a majestic line:1 1 Aen. 3. 157-9; 6. 852-4; 9. 448, 9.