Ancient History & Civilisation



Whatever other uses the Aeneid has been put to, until the middle of the twentieth century it was generally uncontroversial to claim that a central purpose of Virgil’s epic was the celebration of the foundation and history of Rome, and the glorification of Aeneas and his distant descendant Augustus, the first emperor of Rome. The Aeneid plays a major part in the invention of the European myth of empire. While the Greek-speaking eastern Roman Empire, for which the Latin Aeneid was never a central educational or cultural text, survived until the fall of Constantinople in AD 1453, the continuity of the Latin-speaking western Roman Empire was broken in AD 476 with the deposition by the Germanic Odoacer of the last emperor of Rome, the all too aptly diminutive Romulus Augustulus. But the idea of Augustus, and the ambition of recreating the greatness of Augustan Rome, were revived in the institution of the Holy Roman Empire, and in the ideology and panegyric of successive rulers in the various territories into which the Roman Empire fragmented, and indeed beyond. As well as being a charter for empire, the Aeneid is also an epic of nation-building, and it provided one of the templates for the construction of the legendary origins of later European nations.

The choices made by Virgil in shaping his epic on Rome and Augustus made it easily adaptable to other times and places. It is not a historical epic on the particular achievements, at a particular point in history, of a particular ruler. Its legendary hero Aeneas is both the ancestor of Augustus, and a model for the deeds of his historical descendant. Events in Roman history are foreshadowed in the events of the primary narrative of the poem. History is, for the most part, present through analogy and typology, in the sense of ‘typology’ as used in biblical exegesis, whereby persons and events in the past – the Old Testament – prefigure, are types of, persons and events of more recent times – the New Testament.1 Analogy and prefiguration are easily extendable beyond the history of Rome and Augustus to the aspirations and achievements of other nations and other rulers. The Aeneid is open to ever new versions of what Theodore Ziolkowski calls the ‘Roman analogy’.2

Within the frame of the legendary narrative Roman history itself is delivered through self-contained forms of prophecy, vision and display: the Speech of Jupiter in Aeneid 1, sketching out for the benefit of his daughter Venus the whole future course of the history of her son Aeneas’ Roman descendants; the parade of the souls of unborn Roman heroes in the Underworld in Aeneid 6; and the ecphrasis of scenes from Roman history, from Romulus and Remus to Augustus, on the shield delivered to Aeneas by Venus in Aeneid8. In all three cases the view into the future is stamped with the weight of authority, respectively of the supreme god Jupiter, the sanctified father Anchises and the artist-god Vulcan. All three passages are imitated, often in combination, countless times in the later tradition. The visuality of the Parade of Heroes and the Shield of Aeneas also encouraged the use of the Aeneid in visual forms of celebration and propaganda, the pageant, the masque, painting and sculpture.

Both the primary legendary matter and the historical insets of the Aeneid are structured according to a set of narrative patterns that can easily be transferred to other locations and other cast-lists. Repetition and return are related to the structure of analogy. In Italy Aeneas will found the first city (Lavinium) in a series of cities, culminating in the eternal city of Rome. These are in a sense all refoundations of the sacked city of Troy, Troia resurgens (1.206 illic fas regna resurgere Troiae ‘there, in Latium, it is right for the kingdom of Troy to rise again’, Aeneas reassures his men). But these are repetitions with a difference. The new Troy will surpass the old, and the old must be firmly relegated to the past. Nostalgia is a dangerous emotion in the Aeneid. Yet from another point of view the Trojans’ voyage from their destroyed home into exile in Italy is a homecoming, a nostos, the Greek word for Odysseus’ return to Ithaca in the Odyssey, since the Trojan ancestor Dardanus originally came from Italy.

In the fullness of time, Anchises tells Aeneas in the Underworld (Aen. 6.792–4), Augustus will refound another kind of kingdom that formerly existed not in Troy, but in a remote past in Italy itself, the Golden Age once ruled over by the god Saturn when he came as an exile from Olympus to earth, fleeing the victorious arms of his son Jupiter (Aen. 8.319–20). However, the Golden Age of Augustus will be no primitive pre-agricultural and pre-technological idyll (the standard image of a Golden Age), but an age of peace secured by the world-wide conquests of the advanced urban civilization of Rome. This is a paradoxical Golden Age that leads some modern readers to suspect Virgil of insincerity or subversion.3 One might think of it rather as another example of repetition with a difference.

The Aeneid’s version of the Golden Age restored is certainly a repetition with a difference of the return of the Golden Age in Virgil’s fourth Eclogue. This riddling poem announces the arrival of the final age foretold in the Sibyl’s song, with the return of the Virgin (Justice), the return of the Golden Age of Saturn, and the descent from Heaven of a mysterious child. As the child of Eclogue 4 grows up the Iron Race (or Age) will give way to a new age of heroes, before the perfection of a new and lasting Golden Age in a wonderland of nature’s spontaneous bounty. The idea of the return of the Golden Age is perhaps Virgil’s most influential single contribution to a political mythology. The myth of the metal races of mankind in Hesiod’s Works and Days (109–201) is a story of degeneration: the races of Gold, Silver and Bronze (a sequence preserved in the three classes of Olympic medals) are followed by a temporary improvement in the race of Heroes who fought at Thebes and Troy, but which in turn is followed by the woeful present-day race of Iron. For Hesiod the Golden Race is no more than the dream of an irrecoverable time of unfallen bliss in the remote past. Virgil reverses time’s inexorable decline and holds out the possibility of the restoration of a primitive perfection in the near future or even the present day. For the Christian age there is an obvious parallel with another story of fall from an original state of perfection to be followed by restoration, the story, in Milton’s words, of an act of disobedience which (Paradise Lost 1.3–5) ‘Brought death into the world, and all our woe, | With loss of Eden, till one greater man | Restore us, and regain the blissful seat’. Dryden alludes to the Christian myth of the ‘fortunate fall’ (felix culpa) when he translates Ovid’s encapsulation of the Virgilian plot of Troy fallen and Troy restored at Metamorphoses 15.451–2: ‘Troy revived anew, | Raised by the fall, decreed by loss to gain.’

The fourth Eclogue raises the generic level of Virgilian bucolic in the direction of epic. Its schematic story-line of the career of a godlike hero which coincides in time with a second voyage of the Argo and a second Trojan War, leading to a renewal of the Golden Age, might almost be taken as a blueprint of the plot of the Aeneid, in which Aeneas is forced on to a journey that has some elements of a quest for a Golden Fleece, and which takes him to Italy where he must fight a ‘second Trojan War’ in order to assert the Trojans’ right to settle in Italy. That is the precondition for the reintroduction to Rome and Italy by Aeneas’ distant descendant, Augustus, of a new Golden Age, as Anchises prophesies at Aeneid 6.791–4. This passage and Eclogue 4 are the starting-points for the ideological use of Golden Age imagery by any number of later emperors and kings, and non-monarchical regimes, which claim to usher in a new age of peace and prosperity. The parallelism between the temporal patterning of the prophecy of Eclogue 4 and the plot of the Aeneid encourages the frequent combination in later centuries of combined allusion to both texts in political and religious propaganda.

Other patterns in the Aeneid are linear. Two in particular are endlessly suggestive for political allegories. Firstly, the pattern of the outburst of chaotic disorder in the human world, and in a natural world that mirrors the human, followed by the re-imposition of order. This is the simplest of narratives with which a ruling power justifies, or excuses itself for, its elimination of strife or its repression of resistance. Both halves of the Aeneid begin with violent eruptions of disorder engineered by Juno against her human enemy Aeneas. In Book 1 she cajoles the king of the winds, Aeolus, to unleash the forces of the storm against the Trojans (Fig. 6). The hyperbolic storm is quickly calmed by Neptune, who is compared in the first simile in the poem to a Roman statesman calming an angry mob (1.148–53), so establishing the analogy between order and disorder in the human and natural worlds. Jupiter’s prophecy of Roman history, reassuring Venus after Aeneas’ near-death in the storm, ends with the closing of the Gates of War and the image ofFuror, ‘Madness, Frenzy’, in chains, echoing Neptune’s dispatch of the storm-winds back to their subterranean prison.

In Book 7 Juno summons the Fury Allecto from the Underworld in order to unleash a storm of war that will not be calmed until the very end of the poem. The model offered by the re-motivation of the epic action at the start of the second half of the Aeneid by a Hellish disorder was particularly attractive to rulers and ideologues of Christian Europe, who could represent their opponents as the agents of Satan. The late-antique epic poet Claudian (b. c. 370), probably Christian, but working within the conventions of the pagan divine machinery, set a precedent for beginning an epic narrative with the agency of Hell when he started his Against Rufinus with a Council of Furies (see Chapter 2, pp. 27–8). Many later epic narratives working with an overtly Christian theology begin with an intervention of the Devil, either on his own or in council with his fellow-devils. Potent examples of this ultimately Virgilian plot device in the mythology of a British Protestant nationalism are found in a series of Latin poems on the Catholic plot to blow up the House of Lords in 1605, ‘Anglo-Latin gunpowder epic’ as it has been called.4 One specimen is the 17-year-old Milton’s ‘On the Fifth of November’, which begins with Satan’s envious outburst at the sight of the prosperous condition of James I’s Britons, referred to as ‘the people of Trojan descent’ (Teucrigenas populos), an allusion to the myth of the Trojan origin of Britain (see p. 123 below). These opening lines rework Juno’s outburst in Aeneid 7 when she sees Aeneas and his Trojans happily arrived in Italy. Gunpowder, as often in the Renaissance, is presented as a devilish invention; the Pope, urged on by Satan, instructs his agents to blow the British king and his ministers into thin air with ‘Tartarean dust’ (Tartareo puluere).

Fig. 6. Juno and Aeolus. After design by Bartolomeo Pinelli.

The models offered by the version of the ‘order restored’ plot at the beginning of the Aeneid, the calming of the storm and Furor bound, also spawned imitations. Neptune calming the winds made for a stirring composition in the visual arts, often bearing a political message (Fig. 7). Rubens’ painting of the scene formed part of the lavish pageant for the entry to Antwerp on 17 April 1635 of the Hapsburg Ferdinand Cardinal Infante of Spain, brother of Philip IV, to serve as governor of the Netherlands (Plate 4)).5The image alluded to adverse winds that had held up Ferdinand on a sea-journey from Barcelona to Genoa, but there was also a Virgilian message about the calming of political storms by the wise ruler. There is furthermore a Christianizing touch, in the similarity between the white-haired and bearded Neptune and God the Father in Rubens’ religious pictures.6 The temporary structures erected for Ferdinand’s entry bore other Virgilian images and texts. The inscription on the title page of the sumptuous folio of engravings of the pageant edited by Rubens’ humanist friend and adviser Jean Gevaerts7 adapts some of the most frequently cited lines in the Aeneid, Anchises’ advice on good kingship at Aen. 6.851–3: ‘German prince, be mindful to govern the Belgians with your rule, and to spare the submissive and crush in war the proud.’

Rubens’ paintings for the entry included those for a Temple of Janus, its doors burst open and a torch-bearing Furor ‘Fury’ rushing out. On either side were scenes of Peace and War, with an adaptation of Jupiter’s words, at the end of his prophecy of Roman history in Aeneid 1, on the closing of the Gates of War and the chaining of Furor (1.291–6). The binding or conquest of Furor figures both in composite political allegories, and in single groups. In an earlier example, a panegyrist of Constantine the Great imagined among the personified vices paraded in a triumph ‘Furor bound and bloody Cruelty gnashing their teeth’ (Panegyrici Latini 4.31.3). In a sixteenth-century statue by Leone Leoni, now in the Prado, a heroically nude Charles V stands over Furor defeated and in chains.

The analogy between political disorder and disorder in the natural world suggests a mystifying legitimation of the power of the human ruler as a reflection or manifestation of a providential ordering of the cosmos itself. Virgil’s account of the demonic storm-winds released by Aeolus from their subterranean prison where they had been imprisoned by a Jupiter fearful that they might otherwise bring chaos to earth, sea and sky (Aen. 1.58–63) alludes to the myth of Gigantomachy, the story of the assault by Giants (or Titans) against the Olympian gods and their ruler Jupiter (Zeus). The myth was often used as an allegory of political rebellion and of the need for a strong ruler acting under the aegis of a divinely sanctioned order. The Aeneid makes recurrent allusion to Gigantomachy, right up to the death of Turnus in the last scene of the poem, whose complex layers of meaning include the image of Turnus as an enemy of the gods blasted by Aeneas in the role of a Jupiter wielding a figurative thunderbolt.8 The exaltation of the hero or emperor to a status like that of Jupiter, ruler of the universe, also coheres with another strand in the Aeneid’s political imagery, the expansion of Roman power to world-rule, and the equation of urbs ‘city’ and orbis ‘world’, a jingling pairing attested before Virgil. Although the wordplay itself is not found in the Aeneid, the Shield of Aeneas at the end of Book 8 is a large-scale icon of Roman history viewed as the growth of the city of Rome to rule the world, and the description of the climactic battle of Actium contains Gigantomachic imagery.9 Ovid neatly presents the urbs/orbis equation at Fasti 2.683–4: ‘other peoples have lands with a fixed boundary; the city of Rome covers the same space as the world’ (Romanae spatium est urbis et orbis idem). The jingle survives in Vrbi et Orbi ‘for the city and the world’, the phrase that introduces the Apostolic Blessing of the Bishop of Rome, the Pope, head of the Rome-based power that sees itself as the successor to the claim to universal rule by the pagan Roman Empire.

Fig. 7. Quos ego: Neptune calming the storm. Engraving by Raimondi after Raphael.

The second linear pattern offered by the Aeneid is the progression from human to divine, the apotheosis of the ruler. The Homeric hero is ‘godlike’ in his strength and beauty, and he may, like Achilles, be the child of a god or goddess, but he is irredeemably separated from the gods by his mortality. Virgil’s Aeneas is both the son of a goddess, and destined himself for godhead after his death. Jupiter reassures Venus of this in Book 1 (259–60), and reminds Juno of this fact in his final interview with his wife (12.794–5), although the main narrative of the Aeneid does not extend as far as a detailed account of Aeneas’ divinization. The path taken by Aeneas to Heaven will be followed by his distant descendants, firstly Julius Caesar, whose apotheosis, as the ‘Divine Julius’ was the model for the deification of subsequent Roman emperors, including that of Julius Caesar’s adoptive son, Augustus. The major Virgilian text for the apotheosis of the ruler is the proem to the first Georgic, in which an invocation to the gods of the countryside culminates with speculation as to which part of the universe, earth, sea or sky, Octavian will choose for his habitation as a future god, concluding with an invitation to the human ruler to start getting used to being the object of prayers. The Virgilian texts contribute to the construction of the divinity of the Roman emperor, whose iconography fed the fantasies of panegyric of the ruler or great man in the Renaissance and later, for example in Rubens’ Apotheosis of James I on the ceiling of the Banqueting House in Whitehall, or the same artist’s Apotheosis of Henri IV and Proclamation of the Regency of Marie de Médicis (Louvre). The imperial idea is revived in Appiani’s Apotheosis of Napoleon in the throne room of the Palazzo Reale in Milan (1808), and put to the service of an anti-imperialist hero in the Apotheosis of Washington by Constantino Brumidi in the rotunda of the Capitol in Washington DC (1865).

Virgil’s imperial iconography instantly became the common coin of subsequent Roman poets praising Augustus and later Roman emperors, with whatever degree of sincerity or detachment. The return of the Golden Age is proclaimed again and again at the beginning of a new reign, loudly, for example, at the accession of Nero. Repeated disenchantment did nothing to tarnish the image in ancient Rome, or in later centuries. Hope springs eternal in the panegyrist’s breast. Ovid spins deft variations on the Virgilian themes of rebirth out of destruction, Gigantomachy and cosmocratic imperialism, for example in the submerged political allegory underlying the accounts in Metamorphoses 1 of the creation of the world and the primitive struggles between the gods and the forces of evil, and explicitly in the narratives of Trojan and Roman history in the last books of the poem. The Metamorphoses contains three full accounts of Trojan-Roman apotheosis, for Aeneas, Romulus and Julius Caesar. At the beginning of Ovid’s elegiac poem on the religious calendar, the Fasti, which together with the hexameter Metamorphoses represents Ovid’s response to the challenge laid down by the Aeneid to all later epic poets, the two-faced god Janus prefaces the historical matter of the Roman calendar with an account of the creation of the universe. Part of the doubleness of Janus is that he is a guardian of both the natural order and of Roman world-power, a fitting emblem for the Virgilian pairing of cosmos and imperium. Ovid often has his tongue in his cheek: present-day Rome is the true Golden Age, because girls will only give themselves to their lovers for gold (Art of Love 2.277–8). ‘Golden Rome’ of the present day is where Ovid wants to be because of its elegance and refinement (cultus, Art of Love3.113–28).

Lucan, in the proem to his epic on the Civil War, looks forward to the apotheosis of Nero, alluding to the prospective apotheosis of Octavian at the beginning of Virgil’s Georgics. Gigantomachy and the cosmic analogy pervade Lucan’s narrative of Roman civil war. The destruction of Republican Rome is tantamount to the destruction of the world. History repeats itself, city follows city, but not in a constructive way. After the climactic battle of Pharsalus in which Pompey is defeated and the Roman Republic destroyed, Julius Caesar pays a sightseeing visit to the ruins of Troy. There he surveys a landscape that mirrors both the rural site of Rome in Aeneid 8 before the city has been founded, and the pale imitation of Troy that is the city founded by the Trojan exile Helenus at Buthrotum (on the coast of modern Albania) in Aeneid 3, an example of how not to make Troy rise again in greater form. The wasteland of what was once Troy is an image of what civil war is doing to the landscape of Italy. Caesar, distant descendant of Aeneas, is the opposite of a founding hero. Critics continue to be puzzled by the dissonance between the praise, based on the model in the Georgics, of the current Julio-Claudian emperor in the proem of Lucan’s Civil War and the inversion of the plot of the Aeneid in the ‘anti-Aeneid’ that constitutes the main narrative of the epic.

A more straightforward imitation of the political messages of the Aeneid is found in the late first-century AD Punica by Silius Italicus, devoted follower of Virgil (see Chapter 1, p. 9). In Silius the commonplace that the war was a struggle with Carthage for world-rule is transformed into a theological struggle between the forces of cosmic good and evil. Jupiter and Hercules, champions of Rome, oppose the Titans and Giants in the persons of Hannibal and his supporters. ‘The Punica tends to the status of a philosophically coloured Gigantomachy in a historical dress.’10

Virgilian themes and images form the armature for the narratives in the classicizing late-antique epics and panegyrics of Claudian, celebrating the emperors Theodosius and Honorius, and the regent Stilicho.11 These were Christian rulers, but Claudian drapes their deeds in the pagan mythology of the Virgilian tradition, to make the point that they are the legitimate rulers of the Roman Empire against their usurping enemies. Theodosius has restored the Golden Age (Against Rufinus 1.51–2), and embodies the pietas of Aeneas against the furor of his opponents. Nature, as well as the gods, are on the side of Theodosius and Honorius: at the battle of Frigidus (394) a Virgilian storm had blown back their weapons on the enemy: On the Third Consulship of Honorius 96–8 ‘O much beloved of the god, in whose service Aeolus unleashes the armed storms from their cave, for whom heaven goes to war, and the winds muster under oath at the call of the trumpet.’ The winds of Aeolus which had attacked Aeneas in the storm at the beginning of the Aeneidnow fight with the pious young Augustus, Honorius – just as, by the end of the Aeneid, Aeneas figuratively embodies the force of the storm. Claudian makes recurrent use of the image of Gigantomachy for his propagandistic purposes.12

Virgilian motifs and parallels also punctuate the imperial panegyrics in prose of the late third and fourth centuries AD collected in the Panegyrici Latini, for example in two speeches on Constantine’s decisive victory over Maxentius at the battle of the Milvian Bridge (AD 312). The role given to the river Tiber in aiding Constantine recalls the aid given to Aeneas in Aeneid 8 both by the river-god and by the waters of the river itself. We are also reminded of the Sibyl’s vision, in her prophecy to Aeneas of the coming war in Italy, of the Tiber foaming with blood (Aen. 6.87),13 a line which saw Virgil briefly propelled into the modern British political spotlight when it was used by a politician who was also a classical scholar, Enoch Powell, in his notorious 1968 ‘rivers of blood’ speech against Commonwealth immigration.

After the fall of Rome Aeneas continues his journey from east to west, crossing the Alps to participate in the myths of foundation and empire of new nations and new kingdoms which seek to inherit the mantle of Rome. The Aeneid’s plots of transition, from one powerful city to another, and from Greek cultural hegemony to the rivalrous pretensions of a Latinate culture, make it a natural text for successive instalments of the translatio imperii, the transfer of imperial power from Rome, and the translatio studii, the transfer of education and culture from Greece to Rome, and thence to other countries and other languages.14 Charlemagne’s coronation as Holy Roman Emperor in Rome on Christmas Day, AD 800, marked his claim to be the successor to the western Roman Empire. The so-called ‘Carolingian renaissance’ is the first of a series of revivals of classical learning and culture before the Italian Renaissance of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. One of its leading lights was the Northumbrian Alcuin, who joined the group of scholars at the court of Charlemagne and taught the king himself.15 The Life of Alcuin (5) tells us that as a boy he was more a lover of Virgil than of the Psalms. A continuing tension in Alcuin’s own writings between a love of Virgil and the self-admonition to cleave more strictly to biblical texts is perhaps in part a defensive reaction to the central place occupied by Virgil in Carolingian culture and ideology. In a panegyric addressed to Charlemagne in Rome Alcuin celebrates the recently crowned emperor as a new King David, but he also reaches for Virgil in alluding to Anchises’ instructions to his son on how to be a good king (Carmina 45.67–8 Dümmler): ‘raise up the defeated and now put down the proud, so that peace and holy piety may everywhere reign’ (erige subiectos et iam depone superbos, | ut pax et pietas regnet ubique sacra; cf. Aen. 6.853); the epithet sacra Christianizes Aeneas’ key virtue of pietas.16

In an anonymous poem on the meeting at Paderborn of Charlemagne and Pope Leo III in AD 799, the Frankish king is given the title Augustus, and Aachen, the seat of Charlemagne’s court, is a second Rome.17 The description of the building of Aachen alludes to several city-building moments in the Aeneid: Dido’s foundation of Carthage in Book 1, Aeneas’ foundation of the Sicilian city of Segesta in Book 5, and his construction of a camp at the mouth of the Tiber in Book 7, the first Trojan act of ‘city’-founding on Italian soil – so suggesting a correspondence between Aeneas and Charlemagne as city-builders. As Rome was a second Troy, so Aachen is a second Rome. The idea of the second Rome is combined with the idea of the Golden Age in Moduin’s Egloga, which uses Virgilian pastoral as the frame for thinking about the new imperial age, 24–7 ‘looking from the high citadel of the new Rome my dear Palemon [a pastoral mask for Charlemagne] sees that through his triumph all kingdoms are a part of his empire, and that the times have changed back to the ancient ways. Golden Rome, once more renewed, is born again for the world’ (aurea Roma iterum renouata renascitur orbi). This last line is already part of a chain of literary repetition and renovation, alluding to the Neronian bucolic poet Calpurnius Siculus’ reworking of Virgil’s fourth Eclogue in his own first eclogue, v. 42 aurea secura cum pace renascitur aetas ‘the Golden Age is born again in carefree peace.’

Dante, a great believer in the imperial idea, acclaimed the crossing into Italy in 1310 of Henry VII of Luxembourg on his way to being crowned as Holy Roman Emperor (1312) as the return of the successor of Caesar and Augustus. ‘Many, anticipating their prayers, joyfully sung, with Virgil, of the return of the reign of Saturn and of the Virgin’ (Epistle 7.1). Dante criticizes Henry for tarrying in north Italy and for forgetting that the ‘glorious power of the Romans’ is not circumscribed by geographical limits. The world awaits Henry. Dante then turns to the Aeneid for Jupiter’s prophecy of the birth of a Caesar of Trojan descent, whose empire will be bounded by the Ocean, his fame by the stars (Aen. 1.286–7). Further to stir Henry into action, Dante reminds him of the expectations of his son Prince John, a second Ascanius, and quotes the words with which in Aeneid 4 Mercury rebukes Aeneas for dallying ingloriously in Troy, telling him at least to have a care for the hopes of his son, who is owed an Italian kingdom and the land of Rome (Aen. 4.272–6).18

The imperial idea is resurgent in the sixteenth century, firstly in the spectacular revival of the ideal, if not the substance, of the empire in the person of the Holy Roman Emperor, the Hapsburg Charles V, and secondly in the strongly nationalistic monarchies of England and France.19 In the full flood of the Renaissance, the political iconographies are heavily classical, and Virgilian themes and images play a central part. A typical example of Hapsburg panegyric, near the beginning of a tradition which saw Virgilian-style epics in praise of emperors being produced in Vienna well into the nineteenth century, was the pageantry for Eleanor of Toledo’s entry into Florence on 29 June 1539, as the wife of Cosimo I de’ Medici. This included a triumphal arch in honour of Charles V, with the inscription AUGUSTUS CAESAR DIVUM GENS AUREA CONDIT SAECULA ‘Augustus Caesar, of the race of the gods, founds the Golden Age’ (adapted from Aen. 6.792–3).20 A 1576 epic on Rudolf I, the founder of the Hapsburg dynasty, uses the full Virgilian machinery, including the incitement of Rudolf’s main opponent, Ottokar, by a Fury, a prophetic shield with scenes of future Hapsburg rulers down to Maximilian II, the appearance of a river-god, here the Danube not the Tiber, to prophesy the building of Vienna as the new Rome, and the discovery of the New World.21

In France a tradition of Augustan imperialism began with Henri IV (ruled 1589–1610), to reach its apogee with Louis XIV.22 In England a full-blown use of Virgilian motifs in praise of the ruler starts early in the Tudor dynasty. In 1496 the itinerant poet Johannes Michael Nagonius presented Henry VII with a deluxe illuminated manuscript of panegyrical poetry, a diplomatic gift from Pope Alexander VI angling for support against the French king Charles VIII. The Sibyl of Cumae has foretold Henry’s reign as a successor of Aeneas, with a Parade of Heroes culminating in the appearance of Henry as a second Augustus.23

The return of the Golden Age is a cliché of European imperialisms, but has a particular aptness in late sixteenth-century England, because of Virgil’s proclamation at the beginning of the fourth Eclogue of ‘the return of a virgin’. The ‘virgin’ is Justice, who, according to the Greek astronomical poet Aratus, fled from earth in the Iron Age and took up her place in the skies as the constellation Virgo. She receives the name ‘Astraea’ in Ovid’s version of the Iron Age (Met. 1.149–50). In the anti-Papist ideology of sixteenth-century England Queen Elizabeth is the imperial virgin who brings in the golden age of pure religion and national peace and prosperity.24 Elizabeth as the Golden Age Virgin is combined with the Arthurian story and the legend of the Trojan origin of the Britons (on which see pp. 123–5 below) in Thomas Hughes’ tragedy The Misfortunes of Arthur (1588), performed before the queen at Greenwich in 1588, in which Elizabeth is described as ‘That virtuous Virgo born for Britain’s bliss: | That peerless branch of Brute: that sweet remain | Of Priam’s state: that hope of springing Troy’.

James I’s triumphal entry into London in March 1604 took over much of the Elizabethan iconography.25 Astraea has fled to Heaven with the death of the queen, but returns with the new just king. In his printed account of the entry, The Magnificent Entertainment(1604), Thomas Dekker says that the four kingdoms united under James ‘touch not only earth, but they kiss heaven, | From whence Astraea is descended hither, | Who with our last Queen’s spirit, fled up thither, | Fore-knowing on the earth, she could not rest, | Till you had locked her in your rightful breast’.26 The seven triumphal arches commissioned from the joiner and architect Stephen Harrison to stand at points along the route included various Virgilian tags drawn from both the Eclogues and theAeneid.27 The Arch of Londinium had a model of the city of London on its roof (Fig. 8). Below was the figure of British Monarchy, with on her lap a globe bearing the inscription Orbis Britannicus. Divisus ab orbe ‘The world of Britain, divided from the world’, alluding to Eclogue 1.66et penitus toto diuisos orbe Britannos ‘and the Britons utterly divided from the whole world’. For Virgil’s shepherd Meliboeus Britain is a place of harsh exile from the pastoral landscape, at the end of the world. British writers of the Renaissance frequently allude to the line in a positive way, to refer to Britain’s special geographical position, protected from invasion by the surrounding sea; in Ben Jonson’s words, A Masque of Blacknesse 241–5, ‘Britannia […] this blest isle […] A world, divided from the world.’ The Italian Arch, commissioned by the Italian residents in London, turns to the Aeneid for its texts (Fig. 9). The panel at the top of the arch showed Henry VII seated, with James I approaching on horseback to receive the crown, a scene of royal aduentus (‘arrival’), with the inscription, Hic Vir Hic Est ‘This is the man, this is he’, the words with which Anchises announces the appearance of Augustus at the climax of the Parade of Heroes in the Underworld (Aen. 6.791). James’ legitimacy is sealed by his descent from Henry VII, and implied is the intervening parade of Tudor monarchs. The royal arms are beneath this panel, and below that another piece of Anchises’ advice to Aeneas, Tu Regere Imperio populos Iacobe memento ‘Be mindful to govern the peoples with your rule, James’, substituting Iacobe for Romane (Aen. 6.851). The final arch at Temple Bar took the form of a Temple of Janus, in which the principal figure was Peace with War grovelling at her feet. The iconography of this arch was laden with the scholarship of no less than Ben Jonson, who included the inevitable tag from Eclogue 4, redeunt Saturnia regna ‘the reign of Saturn returns’, on which Jonson comments, ‘Out of Virgil, to show that now those golden times were returned again’.28The scholarly James I was the ideal audience for this show, very familiar as he was with the Virgilian texts: he concludes Basilikon Doron (‘royal gift’) (printed 1599) which, as James VI, he had written as advice on ruling for his eldest son Henry, later Prince of Wales, as follows: ‘Let it be your chiefest earthly glory, to excel in your own craft, according to the worthy sentence of that sublime and heroical poet Virgil, wherein also my dictone [dictum] is included’, quoting Anchises’ advice to his son Aeneas on how to be a good ruler at Aeneid 6.847–53, ending with ‘to spare the submissive and crush in war the proud’.29

Fig. 8. Arch of Londinium, from Stephen Harrison, The Arch’s of Triumph Erected in Honour of the High and Mighty Prince James I (London, 1604).

The pageantry for James I was repeated at the restoration of the Stuart monarchy, with four arches erected for Charles II’s procession from the Tower of London to his coronation in Westminster Abbey in 1661.30 The idea of the return of the Golden Age was particularly apposite in the context of a returning king. The publication of engravings of the arches by John Ogilby, a translator of Virgil, is accompanied by a weighty paraphernalia of classical learning, citing the evidence of coins and inscriptions, as well as Virgil and other ancient poets, including lots of Claudian, whose Virgilianizing imperial panegyric was popular in the Renaissance. The second, Naval, arch (Fig. 10) celebrated the ‘British Neptune, Charles II, at whose command the seas are either freely open or closed’, which will remind us of the equation of Neptune with the Roman statesman at the beginning of the Aeneid. In the attic of the arch are two small scenes. A quotation from the Georgics, 4.249 generis lapsi sarcire ruinas ‘to repair the ruin of their fallen race’ (of the bees eager to restore the damaged hive), accompanies a scene of the Royal Exchange, the hive of activity in the newly restored civil society: the restoration of Aristaeus’ bees at the end of Georgics 4 is often read as alluding to the restoration of Roman society by Octavian after the civil war. This is balanced with a picture of the Tower of London, labelled claudentur Belli portae ‘the Gates of War will be closed’ (Aen. 1.294), from the end of the prophetic Speech of Jupiter. Above, under the main scene, of Charles inspecting a naval dockyard, are the lines o nimium dilecte deo cui militat aequor | et coniurati ueniunt ad classica uenti ‘o much beloved of the god, in whose service the sea goes to war, and the winds muster under oath at the call of the trumpet’, a lightly adapted version (aequor ‘sea’ for aether ‘sky’) of the lines in which Claudian diverts the Virgilian topos of divinely favoured control of the storm to the victory of Honorius at the battle of Frigidus (see p. 102 above).

Fig. 9. The Italian Arch, from Stephen Harrison, The Arch’s of Triumph Erected in Honour of the High and Mighty Prince James I (London, 1604).

Fig. 10. The Naval Arch, from John Ogilby, The Entertainment of His Most Excellent Majestie Charles II, in his passage through the City of London to his coronation (London, 1662).

Similar use of Virgilian themes is found in panegyrics on Charles II by Dryden, perhaps the most Virgilian of all the English poets, endlessly inventive in reading contemporary political messages into Virgilian texts, messages which shift according to Dryden’s stance vis-à-vis the reigning monarch, both in his independent compositions and in his translations of the works of Virgil.31

Dryden’s Astraea Redux, ‘A poem on the happy restoration and return of his Sacred Majesty Charles II, 1660’, has for epigraph the expected line from Eclogue 4 (6) Iam Redit & Virgo, Redeunt Saturnia Regna. Its account of the events leading to the restoration of Charles culminates in a reminiscence of Anchises’ prophecy in Aeneid 6 of the return of the Golden Age with Augustus: 320–3 ‘Oh happy age! Oh times like those alone | By Fate reserv’d for great Augustus’ throne! | When the joint growth of arms and arts foreshow | The world a monarch, and that monarch you.’

The title of Dryden’s Annus Mirabilis (‘The year of wonders, 1666’) takes for its title a phrase familiar in the non-conformist vocabulary of prophecy and apocalypse, and diverts it to an epic poem on episodes of loss and recovery that work to the glory of King Charles.32 Classical, and specifically Virgilian, themes and language help to articulate the narrative of the naval war with Holland, followed by the Great Fire of London. In the prefatory letter to Sir Robert Howard, Dryden says that Virgil ‘has been my master in this poem […] my images are many of them copied from him, and the rest are imitations of him.’ The reader is called on to compare ancient and modern, in a nuanced form of panegyric. The sea-battle of the Duke of Albemarle is mythologized according to Virgilian archetypes: the Dutch ships come on (329–30) ‘silent in smoke of cannons | (Such vapours once did fiery Cacus hide)’, alluding to the monstrous Cacus’ vain attempt to outwit Hercules (Aen. 8.251–5). A few lines later elemental imagery is combined with a hint of Gigantomachy, 335–6 ‘Two grappling Etnas on the ocean meet, | And English fires with Belgian flames contend.’ This alludes to Virgil’s comparison of the clash of fleets at the climactic battle of Actium to the uprooted Cyclades or mountains clashing with mountains (Aen. 8.691–2). These are the weapons used in the war of the gods and giants, as also in Milton’s Gigantomachic war in Heaven, Paradise Lost 6.664–5 ‘So hills amid the air encountered hills | Hurled to and fro with jaculation dire.’

The battle of Actium, between the forces of the west, backed by the Greco-Roman Olympian gods, and the barbarian hordes of the east, led by the monstrous gods of Egypt, in the distorted and propagandistic version portrayed on the Shield of Aeneas, is the last of the military encounters between Roman and foreign forces before the final establishment of the pax Augusta. The greatest of these encounters, the wars for which Dido’s dying curse against Aeneas is the legendary cause, was that with Carthage. There is then a Virgilian perspective to Dryden’s comparison, not peculiar to him, of the flourishing mercantile state of Holland to Carthage, Annus Mirabilis 17–20 ‘Thus mighty in her ships stood Carthage long, | And swept the riches of the world from far; | Yet stooped to Rome, less wealthy but more strong: | And this may prove our second Punic War.’ Later Carthage’s trading wealth might be seen as a more suitable analogy for commercial Britain, with the more aggressive role of Rome assigned to France.33

One of the Latin epigraphs to Annus Mirabilis alerts the reader to the model of the burning of Troy for the Fire of London, (Aen. 2.363) Urbs antiqua ruit, multos dominata per annos ‘An ancient city that had ruled for many years, collapsed.’ With an eye on the Virgilian revival of Troy in Rome, Dryden looks forward to the rise of a new and greater city from the ashes of the old London, 1177–8 ‘More great than human, now, and more August, | New deified she from her fires does rise.’ The epithet ‘August’ is glossed with the note: ‘Augusta, the old name of London.’34 The association with this late-Roman name may remind us that Augustus famously claimed to have transformed the face of Rome, finding it a city of brick and leaving it a city of marble (Suetonius, Life of Augustus, 28). The rebirth of London is anticipated at the beginning of the section on the Fire, with a cosmic image that suggests the Virgilian equation of city and world, and the role of Fate in determining the death and birth of cities, 845–8:

Yet, London, Empress of the northern clime,

By an high fate thou greatly didst expire:

Great as the world’s, which at the death of time

Must fall, and rise a nobler frame by fire.

A late example of Virgilianizing Stuart panegyric is Alexander Pope’s Windsor-Forest, published in March 1713 to celebrate the imminent Peace of Utrecht, and more generally trumpeting the age of peace of the Stuart queen Anne, who by a quasi-divine fiat (‘Let Discord cease!’) has brought an end to the catalogue of plague (1665), fire (1666) and ‘intestine wars’ viewed as punishment for the execution of Charles I. ‘Peace and plenty tell, a Stuart reigns’ (42). Pope will have been aware that in 1607 the first Stuart, James I, set out his vision of an age of ‘peace, plenty, love’, to be achieved through the union of England and Scotland, a union which was finally realized a hundred years later in 1707 when another Stuart, Queen Anne, gave the royal assent to the Act of Union.

In Windsor-Forest ‘Pope drew upon a particularly rich and various background of both classical and native materials […] Like the England it celebrates, the poem is sustained by a rich and far-flung commerce.’35 Permeating the whole is a series of Virgilian allusions and structures that draws on all three of Virgil’s major works, so acknowledging the far-reaching strands of continuity that tie together the three different genres, pastoral (Eclogues), agricultural-didactic (Georgics) and epic (Aeneid) (see Chapter 1, p. 3). This Virgilian underpinning gives the lie to an earlier critical commonplace that the poem falls into two ill-coordinated parts, a first portion (to line 290) that is essentially a juvenile work of ‘pastoral simplicity’, to which, in 1712, Pope attached a piece of Tory political propaganda. The poem starts in pastoral ‘forests’, but these are the green retreats of Windsor, seat of kings: ‘At once the monarch’s and the Muse’s seats’ (2), so suggesting the combination of lofty deeds and poetic-pastoral retreat that characterizes Virgil’s fourth and fifth Eclogues. This specimen of ‘local poetry’, for which Denham’s Cooper’s Hill (1642) is the dominant model in English literature, gravitates, in terms of the Virgilian models, above all to the Georgics, in its celebration of present-day agricultural plenty against the backdrop of a long view of the vicissitudes of history, culminating in the urban prosperity and world-wide empire, in this case mercantile rather than military, of Queen Anne’s new age of peace and prosperity, whose capital London is referred to as ‘Augusta’, suggesting a new Augustan age.

Fig. 11. The Tiber appears to Aeneas in a dream. After design by Bartolomeo Pinelli.

As we move to the end of the poem a more epic register asserts itself: the Thames of the pastoral landscape at Windsor becomes ‘Old Father Thames’, a prophetic river-god as numinous as the Father Tiber who prophesies to Aeneas at the beginning of Aeneid 8 (Fig. 11). The forests themselves will metamorphose into the vehicles for world-wide empire, 384–6 ‘Thy trees, fair Windsor! now shall leave their woods, | And half thy forests rush into my floods, | Bear Britain’s thunder, and her cross display.’ Strangely attired peoples from the ends of the earth will sail to London, just as the various and variegated conquered nations of the world process in the triumph of Augustus at the end of the prophetic Shield of Aeneas in Aeneid 8, a vision of the pax Augusta to which corresponds the reign of ‘fair peace’ foretold by the Thames, with the difference that in Pope’s enlightened British Empire not only will ‘conquest cease’ (408), but also ‘slavery [shall] be no more’. Father Thames concludes with a vision of the binding of Discord and other personifications of disorder, including ‘hateful Envy’, combining allusion to passages from both the Georgics and the Aeneid: firstly, Envy consigned to Hell at the conclusion of the description of scenes of the triumph of Octavian/Augustus on a poetic temple at the beginning of the third Georgic, a trial run for the ecphrasis of Augustus’ victory and triumph on the Shield of Aeneas in Aeneid 8; and, secondly, the closing of the Gates of War and the chaining of Furor at the end of Jupiter’s prophecy of Roman history in Aeneid 1. The last words of Father Thames strongly evoke Jupiter’s final image of Furor bound in chains, roaring and with bloody mouth: 421–2 ‘There Faction [shall] roar, Rebellion bite her chain, | And gasping Furies thirst for blood in vain.’

In later eighteenth-century Britain the Whig idealization of the liberty of Republican Rome led to a less favourable assessment of the monarchical or tyrannical Augustus, and to an unease with a contemporary application of the imperialist plot of the Aeneid (see Chapter 1, p. 13). This was only strengthened by British hostility to Louis XIV’s pretensions to an Augustan-style autocracy, and then to Napoleon’s claim to the title of emperor. There also developed an English poetic tradition of anti-imperialism, stretching from Milton on into the nineteenth century, and which works itself out through largely Virgilian patterns.36 Nevertheless a straightforward analogy between Virgilian statements of achieved empire and the British Empire is still possible in the nineteenth century, for example in Tennyson’s ‘To the Queen’ (1872), the envoi to the Idylls of the King, in which Tennyson speaks patriotically (and against calls for the separation of Canada from the Empire) of ‘Our ocean-empire with her boundless homes | For ever-broadening England, and her throne | In our vast Orient’ (Victoria was soon to be crowned Empress of India): imperium sine fine.37 But a more complex Virgilianism pervades the Idylls of the King themselves, which have been described, in terms closely corresponding to a late twentieth-century view of the Aeneid, ‘as poems intended both to laud the growing British empire and to respond to its moral and human costs’.38 Norman Vance says that the Idylls ‘enshrine a moral vision, an ideal of order for the contemporary world, set about with difficulties as was the quest of Aeneas and the founding of Rome, drawing on dim legends of an earlier time touched with strangeness as well as sadness, like Virgil’s poem’.39 The Aeneid’s quality of being a poem of transition, a narrative that unfolds between two places and two times, was foregrounded above all in Christianizing readings of Virgil as the poet who somehow looks towards the Christian era that he himself did not live to see (see Chapter 6, pp. 128–9, 143–5). A sense of reaching towards something that cannot (yet) be securely grasped is found in the 12th and last of the Idylls (whose number corresponds to the number of books of the Aeneid), ‘The Passing of Arthur’, which ends with reference to what lies beyond a limit, and cannot be encompassed within a present British order of things, a boundary beyond, 457–69 (Sir Bedivere):

Then from the dawn it seemed there came, but faint

As from beyond the limit of the world,

Like the last echo born of a great cry,

Sounds, as if some fair city were one voice

Around a king returning from his wars.

Thereat once more he moved about, and clomb

Even to the highest he could climb, and saw,

Straining his eyes beneath an arch of hand,

Or thought he saw, the speck that bare the King,

Down that long water opening on the deep

Somewhere far off, pass on and on, and go

From less to less and vanish into light.

And the new sun rose bringing the new year.

Tennyson footnotes the sources in Malory and Layamon for the belief that Arthur will return to Britain, a parallel to the central motif of return in Virgilian ideology. The return of the new year in the last line suggests the possibility, but no more, of the return of the king in some remote age. An awareness that ‘and saw […] Or thought he saw’ (463–5) is a translation of the words that describe Aeneas’ difficulty in making out the shade of Dido in the darkness of the Underworld (Aen. 6.454 aut uidet aut uidisse putat) heightens the spectral pathos of the scene.

It has even been claimed that the sense of being at a turning-point in history in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is a Virgilian reflex, as the fall of Sauron brings in the Fourth Age, the age of humans.40

Doubts and dishonesties

Virgil’s works provide strong models for optimistic and teleological myths of nationhood and empire, for one-sided panegyric and sloganizing. Since antiquity he has faced the charge of being a court poet, a lackey to Augustus. Individual episodes in theAeneidtaken out of context, such as Jupiter’s prophecy in Book 1 or the Shield of Aeneas, make this an easy charge to press. But a larger view of the contexture of the poem yields a more nuanced nationalism and imperialism, one less certain of the goals towards which it is travelling. Furthermore there is a disparity of perspectives. Jupiter’s universal view, which may be a view that Virgil’s contemporary reader is invited to share, envisages sharply defined beginnings and ends (the distant ancestor Dardanus, the apotheosis of Aeneas, the final triumph of Augustus). But the primary narrative, and hence the experience of Aeneas and his fellow-Trojans, is located in a space in-between. From this perspective the Aeneid is an epic of displacement, exile, mobility, of intermittent hope rather than final and lasting achievement.41 This too has been registered in the political reception of the poem.

The dubieties and uncertainties of the poem form a counterbalance to its optimistic prophecies, of which the most confident is Jupiter’s proclamation of the eternal city when he tells Venus ‘I have granted them empire without end’, imperium sine fine dedi.42This was shown up as the hostage to fortune that it is when Rome was sacked in AD 410. Augustine (Sermon 105.10) imagines Virgil’s reply to the taunt that his prophecies were inaccurate:

I know. But what was I to do, when I was selling my words to the Romans, except flatteringly to promise something that was false. However I was careful in this: when I said ‘empire without end’, I wheeled on their Jupiter to make the statement. I would not have uttered falsehoods in my own person, but I made Jupiter wear the mask of falsehood. The poet was mendacious to the extent that the god told lies.

This is not so far from the responses of some modern critics, who have stressed the fact that Jupiter is, in the end, just another character in a work of fiction,43 and also noted that, within that fiction, Jupiter’s speech is a piece of rhetoric addressed in the first instance not to the Romans, but to Venus, who needs reassuring that her son and his family do have a future: consolation rather than adulation.44

Noting Virgil’s sleight of hand in presenting history in the form of prophecy, Augustine referred to pagans who criticized Judaeo-Christian prophecies as having being written after the event, in the same way as the Virgilian Parade of Heroes (Sermon 374.2): ‘Aeneas was shown the Roman leaders yet to be born, when the writer of this episode himself knew of them as having already been born. For he told of events in the past, but he wrote them as prophecies, as if they were events in the future.’ This is the ground on which W.H. Auden criticized the intellectual honesty of Virgil’s celebration of Augustan empire, in his poem ‘Secondary Epic’ (1959). Auden takes issue with the prophetic mode of the Shield of Aeneas at the end of Aeneid 8, whose scenes of Roman history, fashioned by the god Vulcan, ‘not without knowledge of time to come’ (Aen. 8.627), go up to, and no further than, the climactic triumph of Octavian/Augustus in 29 BC. Whatever Vulcan may know, the mortal poet Virgil cannot see beyond this point. Auden scoffs, ‘Not even the first of the Romans can learn | His Roman history in the future tense,| Not even to serve your political turn; | Hindsight as foresight makes no sense.’ Proclaiming the end of history is always dangerous, and with the benefit of a further two thousand years of hindsight Auden shows just how wrong Virgil was. ‘Wouldn’t Aeneas have asked: – “What next? | After this triumph, what portends?”’ Auden imagines a continuation scrawled in the margin of the text by a late antique ‘refugee rhetorician’ seeking employment in the service of a Germanic ‘blond princeling’, a scrap of panegyric praising the throwing off of the Roman yoke by Vandals and Goths, and ending with the news that ‘Alaric has avenged Turnus’, at the sack of Rome in AD 410. Jumping forward some decades, Auden asks why the long-sighted Anchises could not foresee the final conclusion to the Parade of Heroes with the deposition by ‘Arian Odoacer’ in AD 476 of the last western Roman emperor, whose names must surely have been predestined by that Providence, or Fate, of which the Aeneid purports to be the script: Romulus Augustulus. A last emperor bearing the names of the first and second founders of Rome must be more than a coincidence.

Auden criticizes the shortsightedness of both Vulcan, in Aeneid 8, and Anchises, in Aeneid 6. But where the Shield of Aeneas ends with triumph and world-rule, the Parade of Heroes, appropriately enough within the quasi-funereal setting of the Underworld, ends not with a triumph but a funeral, that of the younger Marcellus, Augustus’ nephew, who died prematurely in 23 BC. This is also a question-mark left hanging over the confident expectation that the roll-call of great and successful Roman leaders will extend into the indefinite future, sine fine. At the beginning of the Augustan principate it was not certain that the new order, which had put an end to the disastrous civil wars of the preceding decades, would outlast the lifespan of its none too robust leader. The question of imperial succession, a recurrent and often disastrous problem in the history of the later Roman Empire, is already felt as a keen issue in the Aeneid’s thematization of fathers and sons. The very personal grief for the death of the younger Marcellus is registered in the anecdote that his mother Octavia, Augustus’ sister, fainted when Virgil recited this passage to the imperial family, a scene popular in neoclassical paintings by Angelica Kaufmann, Ingres and others. This was also the national and public loss of a prince who may have been being groomed for the succession, rupturing both the generational and the political continuity emblazoned in the grand sweep of the parade of Roman heroes up to this point in the Underworld. Pace Auden, this is an uneasy point of provisional closure at the end of the first half of the epic.

In The Faerie Queene Spenser faces the problem head-on in one of his reworkings of the Virgilian Parade of Heroes, Merlin’s prophecy to the warrior-maiden Britomart, ancestor of the Tudor dynasty. After prophesying the Tudors and Elizabeth, Merlin delivers a half-line, ‘But yet the end is not’ (III.iii.50), and then breaks off suddenly, as he might if he had seen some ‘ghastly spectacle’. But neither we nor the two women listening to him, Britomart and her nurse, discover the reason, and once the fury is past Merlin resumes his ‘cheerful looks’. Our uncertainty as to whether this fictional character is really cheerful, or just putting on a show for his audience’s sake reflects the uncertainty that necessarily confronts Spenser as he peers into the future.

Merlin’s refusal to say more has a counterpart in the episode in the third canto of Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, through which the Virgilian Parade of Heroes is mediated to the Spenserian episode of Britomart and Merlin. Bradamante has been tricked into falling into a deep hole, a kind of comic katabasis ( ‘And had been taught a gambol for the nonce, | To give her death and burial at once’ (Harington’s translation). She finds herself in a subterranean church containing the tomb of Merlin, within whose ‘dead corpse the living soul doth dwell’. Merlin himself delivers a brief prophecy of the glorious progeny of Bradamante’s womb, great warriors and righteous magistrates who will ‘to us bring back the golden age’. But it is the witch Melissa who assembles a crowd of spirits who take on the resemblance of a parade of the descendants of Bradamante, ancestress of the d’Este family of Ferrara, Ariosto’s patrons. At the end of the famous show, Bradamante asks to know the identity of two who ‘differed from the other, | That came with backward steps and looked so sad’ (III.lx-lxi), like Virgil’s Marcellus ‘with no cheerful look and eyes cast down’ (Aen. 6.862). Here the sadness is not that of undeserved premature death, but that of two traitors in the d’Este family, Ferrante and Giulio, who conspired against the virtuous and glorious Ippolito and Alfonso. A cadence in a minor key to end the parade, the full meaning of which is withheld from Bradamante by Melissa, who breaks off further explanation with the words, ‘I must (said she) deny you this desire, | I say no more, content you with the sweet, | For you this sour morsel is not meet.’

One response to the problem highlighted in Auden’s ‘Secondary Epic’ is to accept that Rome will fall, but that the empire will be continued or renewed elsewhere, by a translatio imperii that is a further instalment of the Virgilian pattern of destruction followed by rebirth. A Renaissance commentator, Badius Ascensius (Josse Bade, 1462–1535), notes on Jupiter’s promise of empire without end at Aeneid 1.278–9: ‘its years are not yet complete, since we see that the empire has now been transferred (translatum) to the Germans.’45 In one of the many Hapsburg exercises in imperial panegyric in a Virgilian vein, a Supplement in Latin to Aeneid 6 by L.B. Neander published at Vienna in 1768, the story told in the Parade of Heroes is taken down to the Hapsburg Empire and the Golden Age restored by Maria Theresa.46 In Neander’s version Aeneas’ ‘thirst for the future’ does persuade a reluctant Anchises to continue, and Aeneas is shown the destruction of Rome by the Vandals and Goths, in a repetition of the sack of Troy. But what has fallen will rise again, through the rise and civilization of the Germans and the foundation of a new Rome, Vienna. In the Hapsburg Parade of Heroes particular weight is given to Charles V, as a new Augustus: ‘This is the man, this is he, whose crown will be the equal of the Roman empire, and who will cross the Ocean to the Indies.’ The Dark Ages, unforeseen by Virgil, are also put to the service of panegyric of the Medici family by the Italian neo-Latin poet Girolamo Vida in his didactic poem Art of Poetry (1527), in a history of letters that tells of the restoration of the Muses to Italy by the Medici after the long process of decline from the time of ‘golden Virgil’ (1.172 aureus), firstly through literary degeneration and then through barbarian invasions. Here the Virgilian pattern of renewal coincides with what we call the Renaissance.

The experience of exile

In the Aeneid lengthy sufferings of exile precede narratives of foundation and restoration. Aeneas’ exilic experience is put to work in later accounts of exile that may or may not be followed by homecoming. In Ovid’s self-mythologization of his own exile the model of Aeneas is used together with that of Ulysses to create a picture of the epic quality of the poet’s sufferings, starting with the detailed comparison in Tristia 1.3 of Ovid’s last night in Rome to the night of the sack of Troy in Aeneid 2. Ovid’s vivid recollection of that sad night is also a literary recollection of the Virgilian narrative through which he re-experiences his own enforced flight from his city. Ovid’s ‘Aeneid’ was not to have a happy ending; for Ovid there was to be no homecoming of any kind.

The Dryden who had adapted Virgilian plots to celebrate the return from exile of Charles II in the 1660s, came himself to sympathize with the exiled Aeneas after his conversion to Roman Catholicism, probably in 1685. The Hind and the Panther is a dialogue between a milk-white hind (the Church of Rome) and the beautiful but dangerous panther (the Church of England). The Panther draws an analogy between the terms offered by the Hind and the terms of peace offered by Aeneas to King Latinus in Book 7 of theAeneid, 3.766–80 (cf. Ilioneus’ speech to Latinus at Aen. 7.213–48):

‘Methinks such terms of proffered peace you bring,

As once Aeneas to the Italian king:

By long possession all the land is mine;

You strangers come with your intruding line,

To share my sceptre, which you call to join.

You plead like him an ancient pedigree,

And claim a peaceful seat by fate’s decree.

In ready pomp your sacrificer stands,

To unite the Trojan and the Latin bands;

And, that the league more firmly may be tied,

Demand the fair Lavinia for your bride.

Thus plausibly you veil the intended wrong,

But still you bring your exiled gods along;

And will endeavour, in succeeding space,

Those household puppets on our hearths to place.’

The Hind’s claim to an ancient pedigree, mirroring the Trojans’ claim to an Italian ancestor of their own in Dardanus, is brushed aside as specious by the Panther. Dryden’s own position is indicated by one of the Latin epigraphs to the poem, Antiquam exquirite matrem ‘search out your ancient mother’ (Aen. 3.96). Dryden’s sympathy for exiles, and his personal sense of exile, increased after the ‘Glorious Revolution’ and the ousting of the Catholic James II by the Protestant William III.47

The Trojans’ experience of exile is one with which those, like Dryden, convinced of the right of their cause may buoy themselves up. Exile may be a potent element in myths of nationhood or religious confession. One of the most famous works of Joost van den Vondel, the greatest writer of the Dutch Golden Age and the author of a prose translation into Dutch of Virgil’s works (1646), is his historical drama Gijsbreght van Aemstel (1637), written to inaugurate the first city theatre in Amsterdam, and performed annually on New Year’s Day between 1638 and 1968. The subtitle of the play is ‘the destruction of his city and his exile’. The hero Gijsbreght, modelled on Aeneas in Aeneid 2, was the Lord of Amsterdam who unsuccessfully defended Amsterdam against a siege in 1304, and went into exile in Prussia, never to return. He is finally dissuaded from his pious defence of the city by the angel Raphael, who tells him that the city is lost, and that he is to found a new Holland in Prussia, but that in 300 years a glorious new Amsterdam will rise. It is as if Virgil’s national Roman epic consisted just of Book 2 of the Aeneid. Exile also had contemporary resonances for Vondel: the play is dedicated to Hugo Grotius, in exile in France at the time because of his opposition to Calvinist ideas, and the Catholic Middle Ages may have appealed on a personal level to Vondel, like Dryden at odds with the national religion of his time, and who converted to Catholicism in 1641.48

Trojan genealogies

In the Aeneid there is an analogical relation between the adventures of Aeneas and later Roman history, above all the career of Augustus, through various kinds of ‘typology’ and foreshadowings. There is also a direct genealogical relation, since Aeneas is the ancestor of the Julian family, and so of Julius Caesar and Augustus. Other leading Roman families also claimed descent from Trojan ancestors, in a genealogical chic. More generally Aeneadae ‘descendants of Aeneas’ is a poetic name for the ‘Romans’. Family trees also matter for the medieval and Renaissance political uses of the legend of Troy and the Virgilian story of Aeneas, through the claim for Trojan descent by a number of European peoples. Furthermore, the Trojan line is extended backwards into a biblical lineage descending from Noah, so effecting a syncretism of the pagan Trojan and the biblical, Hebraic, traditions.

The legend of Rome’s Trojan ancestors originated with Greek historians concerned to find a place for Rome within Greek historical traditions, but the Romans themselves found diplomatic, political and cultural uses of their own for the Trojan legend.49 Among other things, the Aeneid is a large-scale exercise in defining the place of Rome in relation to the Greek world, hitherto culturally superior to Rome, if now militarily subject. Similarly, post-classical uses of the Trojan legend serve to lay claim to political and cultural authority. These legends develop a momentum independent of the Aeneid, but not least of their uses is that of facilitating the writing of national epics parallel to and imitative of the Aeneid.50

Writing in the mid-twelfth century the historian Henry of Huntingdon commented that ‘Like many of the peoples of Europe, the Franks derive their origin from the Trojans.’ The Trojan legend of the Franks goes back to the seventh-century ‘Chronicle of Fredegar’ and the eighth-century Liber Historiae Francorum, and underwent various evolutions over the centuries. In the version of Jean Lemaire de Belges, Illustrations de Gaule et singularitez de Troye (1510–14), it was Gauls who founded Troy, and the arrival of the Franks in Gaul was thus a homecoming, as in Virgil the Trojans, the descendants of Italian Dardanus, are returning to their original home. The Fourth Crusade of 1204, when the Franks sacked Constantinople, could be presented as the revenge of the Franco-Trojans on their old enemy the Greeks. Serious French historians had exploded the Trojan legend by the later sixteenth century, showing that the Franks were in origin a Germanic people, but the more flattering story of Trojan descent continued to be peddled in the seventeenth century. As late as 1714 the scholar Nicolas Fréret was thrown into the Bastille for showing that the Franks were Germans.51

Ronsard took the Trojan legend of the Franks, substantially from the version of Jean Lemaire de Belges, as the subject for his attempt at a French national epic, the Franciade, largely a patchwork of sustained imitations of passages from Homer, Virgil and Apollonius of Rhodes’ Argonautica, and dedicated to Charles IX.52 In the preface he says that he is not bothered whether the story is true or not, whether our kings are Trojans or Germans, Scythians or Arabs. Unlike the historian, the poet is concerned only with what is possible, not what is true. Only the first four books (published in 1572) were completed of a planned 24 that would have taken the hero Francion to Gaul and celebrated the glorious deeds of his descendants down to Charles IX. The St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of 1572, followed by the death of Charles in 1574, probably squashed any incentive to continue with what has never been regarded as one of Ronsard’s more successful works. Basing himself closely on Homeric and Virgilian models, the four books tell the story of Francion (Francus), who is in fact Hector’s son Astyanax, who was not after all killed when Troy was taken. In the Aeneid the ghost of Hector hands over to Aeneas the mission to find a future for the Trojans and their descendants. Ronsard swerves from his poetic model Virgil by reverting to the bloodline of Hector. Elements of the Virgilian plot are rearranged as the founding story of the Franks runs parallel to the Aeneid’s founding story of the Romans. Jupiter sends down Mercury to bestir Francion from his leisurely life with his uncle Helenin (Helenus) in Buthrotum to pursue his destiny, just as Mercury is sent to Carthage to shock Aeneas into leaving Carthage. A Virgilian storm, raised by Neptune and Juno, drives Francion to Crete, where he is embroiled in a love interest with the two rivalrous daughters of the king. The fourth book is a book of prophecy, in which Francion learns of his voyage to Gaul, and is shown a parade of future French kings, both good and bad, down to Pépin. The Virgilian Parade of Heroes ends with the prematurely dead Marcellus; in the 1578 edition Ronsard appended to his incomplete epic an epilogue on the early death of a French king: ‘If King Charles had lived, I would have finished this long work. As soon as death overcame him, his death overcame my resolve.’

The British myth of Trojan origins received its standard formulation in the twelfth-century Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain. In a narrative that partly follows in the footsteps of Virgil’s story of Aeneas, a great-grandson of Aeneas, Brutus (or Brut), leaves Italy to go into exile after tragically fulfilling a prophecy that he would kill both his parents. In Greece he frees a band of Trojans enslaved by a Greek king. Brutus and his Trojans have various adventures in the Mediterranean and Gaul, including a visit to an island with an abandoned temple of Diana, where the goddess gives him a vision of the island in the western ocean that he is destined to settle. He finally arrives at Albion, where he kills the native giants, and becomes the first king of the island, which Brutus renames Britain after himself. On the banks of the Thames he founds a city called Troynovant, ‘new Troy’ (later renamed London after King Lud).53

The story of Brut is central to the genealogies of Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, in which the Tudor dynasty marks the return to the British throne of Briton blood, descended from Britomart, the Amazonian knight of chastity, who is herself descended from the Trojan Brut. The story of Albion and Brutus is first told in the chronicle of ‘Briton moniments’ that Prince Arthur reads in the House of Alma (Faerie Queene II.x.5–13). We return to the origins of Troynovant in a densely Virgilian context in the next book, at the dinner-table of Malbecco and his wife Hellenore (III. ix.33–51). In order to ingratiate himself with Hellenore, the knight Paridell tells of his descent from Paris, whose rape of Helen he will repeat in his seduction and rape of Hellenore. For Paridell Troy, which fell because of his ancestor’s sexual misdemeanor, is now ‘nought but an idle name, | And in thine ashes buried low dost lie’. Britomart, also at the table, on hearing ‘Of Trojan wars and Priam’s city sacked’, feels pity and indignation at the Greeks’ cruel acts. Spenser now starts to tread in Virgilian footsteps: Britomart asks Paridell to tell of ‘What to Aeneas fell’ at the sack of Troy, as Virgil’s Dido asked Aeneas himself about ‘what befell his people’ (Aen. 1.754). Paridell then moves quickly beyond Aeneas’ narratives of the fall of Troy and his wanderings before reaching Carthage, to take the story down to the Trojans’ arrival in Latium, and the subsequent foundations of Alba Longa and Rome. Britomart then takes over, describing Rome as the revival of Trojan glory (‘And Troy again out of her dust was reared’), and continues with the prophecy of a third kingdom that

yet is to arise

  Out of the Trojans’ scattered offspring

  That in all glory and great enterprise,

Both first and second Troy shall dare to equalise.

It Troynovant is hight, that with the waves

  Of wealthy Thamis washed is along,

  Upon whose stubborn neck, whereat he raves

  With roaring rage, and sore him self does throng,

  That all men fear to tempt his billows strong,

  She fastened hath her foot; which stands so high,

  That it a wonder of the world is sung

  In foreign lands; and all which passen by,

Beholding it from far, do think it threats the sky.

The ‘new Troy ’ (London) repeats the Virgilian trajectory of Rome, rising from the destruction of the original Troy. Like Rome, London challenges the elements: the prophetic scenes of Roman Empire on the Shield of Aeneas end with an image of the eastern river Araxes ‘chafing at a bridge’ (Aen. 8.728), and Virgil also has an image of a sky-scraping Augustan Rome (Aen. 8.99–100).

The subject of Brutus continued to attract poets into the eighteenth century. Towards the end of his life Alexander Pope planned an epic in blank verse on Brutus as a founding hero of enlightenment and benevolence, of which only the opening sentence survives, beginning, in Virgilian manner: ‘The Patient Chief, who lab’ring long, arriv’d | On Britain’s Shore and brought with fav’ring Gods | Arts Arms and Honour to her Ancient Sons: | Daughter of Memory! from elder Time | Recall.’

In 1792 the playwright and artist Prince Hoare put on an opera Dido Queen of Carthage (an adaptation of Metastasio’s Didone) at the Haymarket Theatre in London, with music by Storace.54 It was a celebration of empire and the spoils of conquest, setting the European Aeneas against the wily Moor Iarbas. The opera was followed by The Masque of Neptune’s Prophecy, in which Neptune tells Aeneas and Ascanius of the race of kings that will descend from them. ‘Third from thy sire shall Brutus rise, | Who, far beneath yon western skies, | Ordain’d to empire yet unknown, | On Albion’s coast shall fix his throne, | And, crown’d with laurels, spoils, and fame, | Shall change to Britain Albion’s name.’ The opera closed after only five performances.

Geoffrey of Monmouth is also the major source for that more enduring legend of British kingship, Arthur. In The Faerie Queene Arthur, who is in love with Gloriana the Fairy Queen, is the embodiment of Magnificence, the perfection of the several virtues represented by the knights of the individual books. Milton planned an epic on Arthur before turning to a biblical subject-matter. King Arthur is a transparent allegory for William III in the much derided epics by Richard Blackmore, Prince Arthur (1695, in ten books) and King Arthur (1697, in 12 books), which combine Virgilian plot-lines with a Miltonic dualism of angels and devils that was itself part of a long tradition of Christianizing the Heaven–Hell dualism already present in the Aeneid.55 For example, Prince Arthur begins with the intervention of Satan and a storm raised against Arthur, and ends with the Turnus-like death of Tollo. This is a world away from the Arthurianism of Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, which also embody a very different reading of the Aeneid(see pp. 114–15 above).

Many other European nations also had their legends of Trojan origins; more surprisingly, so too did the Turks, helped by the closeness in sound between Turc(h)i and Teucri, one of Virgil’s names for the Trojans, derived from one of their ancestors, Teucrus.56After taking Constantinople in 1453, the Ottoman Mahomet II is said to have visited the site of Troy, a short journey down the Hellespont, and announced himself as the avenger of Troy, sacked by the Greeks. An epigram by Julius Caesar Scaliger points up the repetitions of legendary history: ‘Twice ancient Troy was overthrown by Greek arms; twice has new Greece mourned for her victorious ancestors, once when great Rome brought back the descendants of the Trojans, and again now that the Turks hold sway.’57 The neo-Latin Amyris (the title derives from the Arabic ‘amir’, meaning ‘prince’, ‘emir’) by Gian Mario Filelfo, written in the 1470s, is a curious example of ‘humanistic Turcophilia’, an epic on the life of Mahomet II.58 In a replay of the ‘Choice of Hercules’ (choosing Virtue over Pleasure), the young Mahomet rejects Venus in favour of Bellona, goddess of war, who appears in a vision to tell him to avenge Troy. A further mark of Greek perfidy is their transfer of the seat of empire from Trojan Rome to Greek Constantinople. In an example of the diplomatic use of Trojan origins, whose history stretches back to the alliance between Rome and the Sicilian city of Segesta in the First Punic War on the basis of their shared Trojan ancestry, Mahomet II is alleged to have written a letter to Pope Nicholas V, complaining of the preaching of a crusade in Europe, and appealing to the Trojan ancestry shared by the Turks with European nations. This is not an argument that has been aired in recent discussions about the enlargement of the European Union.

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