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Political Propaganda in The Aeneid by Virgil Essay

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Updated: Jun 26th, 2020

Introduction

Political propaganda has dominated most of literature works. Various literature books contain half-truths or blatant false stories that are meant to serve the interest of some nations, communities, emperors, kingdoms, and religious beliefs. The misinformed approach in literature books seeks to persuade, influence, or manipulate readers using information that is specifically defined and disseminated for this purpose. As a medium of communication, leaders have used literature works over the years to brainwash, deceive, persuade, and enhance certain euphoria on people.

Propaganda is packaged in a strategic way that makes it difficult for people to distinguish the thin line between truth, half-truth, and falsehood. Various elements of propaganda such as repetition of certain concepts, simplicity of certain actions and decisions, imagery of results, and sentiments from people who have already taken the action and/or are willing to take the action are dominant in literature books. Some of the most common literature books that have used the propaganda approach to attain certain ends include Tales for Little Rebels by Maria Popova, The Future by Al Gore, and The Aeneid by Even Virgil. This paper will explore why the latter. As the paper reveals, The Aeneid is a political epic that was written with a political agenda to justify the founding of the nation of Rome.

Political Propaganda in The Aeneid

The Aeneid uses scanty details on issues of love, religion, and control, which are packaged in a way that draws strong emotions from the reader. According to Cooksey (2008), Virgil successfully uses love, fear, sympathy, and hope in appealing to the sentiments of the reader to yearn being like the characters or to wish that a certain remedial action is taken to curb a certain habit. According to Prince (2014), The Aeneid draws love as a powerful force that controls human beings. However, the ultimate impact of love is depicted as death, thus instilling fear on readers. Love should be embraced with caution. For instance, Virgil (2008) says, “and more than anyone, the Phoenician queen, luckless, already given over to ruin, marveled and could not have enough: she burned in pleasure in the boy and in the gifts… and she with all her eyes and heart embraced him” (p. 971). These words indicate that love may have a hidden agenda. The premise is that propaganda dwells on emotions.

Fear is a powerful tool in developing, raising, and hastening readers’ emotions. For example, Dido’s love for Aeneas distracts him from focusing on his earlier goal of finding a new city. Virgil (2008) says, “And Dido, fated queen, drew out the night with talk of various matters while she drank long draughts of love… the son of dawn, had worn; now of the team Diomedes drove; now of the huge Achilles” (p. 1021). People, especially leaders, are therefore warned that they should never mix leadership and love. Love is drawn as an enemy that can destroy strong kingdoms. Emotions that emanate from love are also tailored to fit the agenda of the writer. In fact, he portrays Nisus, a Trojan warrior, sacrificing himself in an attempt to save Euryalus his friend. Virgil (2008) says, “No, me! Me! Here I am! I did it! Take Your swords to me, Rutulians…All the trickery Was mine.

He had not dared to do anything, He could not… all he did was care Too much for a luckless friend” (p. 605). These words indicate that love can lead to selflessness and courage, which are necessary aspects in leadership. The concept that The Aeneid attempts to propagate at this point is that warriors should remain united in fighting for their nation to a point of losing their lives. As propaganda, this strategy is meant to make leaders and future warriors of Roman kingdom remain united against their enemies with a premise that an enemy to one person is a rival to all people. Individuality and free will of the people are therefore nabbed and tied together in the name of nationalism and loyalty to the kingdom.

As Prince (2014) observes, religion was part of every facet of human life in the Roman kingdom. The Aeneid was therefore well calculated in making propaganda on matters of religion since it appealed to what people considered important. Cooksey (2008) asserts that gods are painted in a way that depicts them accepting sacrifices and making people’s lives better. However, besides destroying the lives of others for no reason, they control the fate of the leaders and leadership. For example, Aeneas and his Trojan make sacrifices to Juno the goddess, although she never stops hating them. “When gods are contrary…they stand by no one (Virgil, 2008, p. 532). This observation implies that the will of gods cannot be changed since it is controlled by fate. This situation tells the reader that it is dangerous to annoy the gods since even sacrifices that they make to them may never change their wrath. According to Pinkster (1999), the principle of instilling fear of the unknown on followers is brought out. People are wary of annoying supernatural beings that they cannot appease by opposing their appointed leaders.

Everyone has a duty to respect what gods say as seen in the words, “So he called out, then turned to poke the embers…The drowsing fire on his hearth, and paid His humble duty to the Lar of Troy and Vesta’s shrine” (Virgil, 2008, p. 968). Leaders’ opinion therefore remains unquestioned with the fear that questioning a god-installed leader is like opposing the gods. As a result, punishment might befall people who question it. For example, Aeneous says, “Poor fellow, how could rashness take you this way? Don’t you feel, a force now more than mortal is against you and heaven’s will has changed…We’ll bow to that” (Virgil, 2008, p. 602). The Aeneid makes it difficult for the reader to distinguish leadership from religion.

People’s sentiments are also influenced by the connection that the author draws between religion and politics. The gods influence and/or determine the fate of politics. A belief that people who are in leadership are appointed and protected by a god make the subjects fear opposing them since religion teaches that gods are all powerful and beyond human beings. A good example in The Aeneid is that Aeneas instructs Dares not to continue fighting Entellus with an argument that a certain god is assisting Entellus. This situation makes it futile for people to fight or oppose leaders who are believed to be chosen and protected by gods. The whole scenario depicts the idea of political propaganda. Fear and emotions are tools that are applied in this poem to enhance propaganda for the benefit of the King.

Political propaganda deploys the aspect of repetition of any information that appeals to the mind of the reader or listener. Franke (2014) affirms that propaganda is meant to either instill fear, anxiety, or eventually offer hope and solution. Virgil (2008) uses constant repetition of the fate of the Trojan. For example, he repeatedly emphasizes that Trojans will establish a new city. This repetition already indicates that regardless of the challenges that the Trojans will face in different episodes, their success is divine.

Scully and Fletcher (1987) confirm how the fate of Romans is also repeatedly emphasized through the imagery of future Roman heroes who are not yet born. They are lined up in the underworld as an indication that the reader should believe that the fit of leadership and control of the Roman kingdom will reign over the years under divine underworld kings. A sense of eternity and life-long leadership of the Romans is thereby drawn. According to Xinyue (2013), the concept that is being painted by repetition of imagery is that no ruler from other nations will ever rule the Romans. Enough leaders have been born while the unborn others are waiting to take over. Such propaganda brainwashes readers into believing that leadership in the kingdom is for a selected group and that the fate of the minorities and followers is sealed by fate as seen in Juno’s words, “Give up what I began? Am I defeated…Am I impotent to keep the king of Teucrians from Italy…The Fates forbid me, am I to suppose” (Virgil, 2008, p. 56).

The poem also depicts an exciting history of the Romans on the shield of Aeneas. The implication is the good history of conquering others that the Romans have had is their shield and that it is going to repeat itself. Hence, Romans are never defeated. This observation appeals to the would-be aggressors that their efforts will be futile. Any politically correct mindset within the kingdom that wants to take over leadership in Roman will therefore be discouraged. However, people know nothing about the events themselves as seen in the words, “He felt joy in their pictures, taking up…And fame of his descendants (Virgil, 2008, p. 989). Repetition of this image is meant to draw a mental picture of the power of the Roman kingdom and the fate of any divergent mind. In The Aeneid, Juno the goddess vividly reminds readers that the destiny of the Trojan is in finding a city in Italy. This repetition makes the reader believe that a certain supernatural power will eventually deliver success to the Trojan, despite the obstacles that the people are facing. In this poem, propaganda is presented in a way that alienates the free will of the people completely (Franke, 2014).

The people of Rome have no mind of their own in the poem. Some goddess and leaders control every facet of their lives. People are therefore made to believe that the kingdom is very successful under the few selected leaders. As Jupiter confirms,” Before he falls – if so you understand me – Take Turnus off in flight, wrest him away From fate that stands before him. There is room for that much lenience…Changed by this, you cherish a vain hope” (Virgil, 2008, p. 872). The fact is that propaganda is meant to persuade readers to think and act in the way the king wants. Regardless of traditional beliefs concerning fate and goddesses, people have their own free will. Hence, they can make decisions. Weiner (2013) asserts that the views of democracy and opposition to leadership are therefore overturned through fear and uncertainty. For example, no one wants to oppose what the gods have said, what the dead have dictated, and/or what leaders are instructed to do. All people are therefore made to think and talk about leadership of their land in one dimension that is controlled by fate.

The Aeneid uses imagery as a political propaganda in an effort to build the theme of power and warfare. According to Xinyue (2013), the power of propaganda rests on how users attend to appealing and captivating imagery in their work. Since imagery can be pictorial or descriptive, Virgil uses both pictures of warfare on the cover of the book and vivid descriptions of war and power. Imagery makes it easier to appeal to the mind, soul, and heart of the reader. It is also easier to remember mental pictures than plain literature. In The Aeneid, imagery is used to appeal directly to readers to create a mental picture of the happenings in the poem. For example, Jupiter and Anchises are seen making predictions that the Roman power will eventually spread to all parts of the earth. For example, Jupiter says, “young Romulus will take the leadership, build walls of Mars, And call by his own name his people Romans… empire without end” (Virgil, 2008, p. 371).

Through this propaganda, the reader is taken to a mental world of figuring out a world without end that the Romans will have to control. Readers will therefore be made to believe that all other kingdoms and nations are inferior and that they should submit to the Romans. This propaganda on the expansive kingdom that the leaders are to have dominion over also forces those who are opposed to it both internally and externally to surrender to the suggested might. As seen in Anchise’s words, “Roman, remember by your strength to rule Earth’s peoples…To spare the conquered, battle down the proud” (Virgil, 2008, pp. 1151-1154). No one wants to fight a leader of all nations since such a fight is futile. The Aeneid also depicts an everlasting peace that the Roman kingdom will provide to nations that it will take over. The propaganda in The Aeneid paints a picture of the world as very dangerous place to live in if the protection of the Romans is absent.

According to Weiner (2013), Virgil also uses imagery in propaganda in an effort to derive the theme of war. Although he seems to dislike wars, he respects people who participate in wars and/or those who have conquered through war such as Aeneas. Coroebus says, “We’ll take their shields and put on their insignia…Trickery, bravery: who asks, in war” (Virgil, 2008, p. 516). Virgil draws a picture of a great duty that awaits him and that will open a great history on his eyes. In this imagery, Virgil refers to war that the Romans will have to wage in order to take over the world and bring peace to it. According to Heiny (2013), The Aeneid also depicts a point where the world will be peaceful under the control of the Romans. However, such control can only be achieved through war. Such images are meant to instill fear in readers of this poem within and outside Rome. For example, Turnus says, “now to hack them up with swords…The battle is in your hands, men” (Virgil, 2008, p. 386). The aim of the writer is to disseminate propaganda that Rome is a powerful fighter that will soon take over all other kingdoms. This claim is a political propaganda. Heiny (2013) observes that War brings on death, rape, maiming, displacement, and loss of property.

Simplicity as an element of propaganda is also applied in The Aeneid. Scully and Fletcher (1987) reveal various episodes of death that are depicted in a simple manner that appeals to all readers. Since people are ignorant of complex messages and/or will only pay simple attention to written information, Virgil fully exploits this aspect while talking about death. For instance, he says, “At Dido’s head she came to rest…And out into the winds her life withdrew” (Virgil, 2008, p. 971). Death is feared by all people. In fact, the mention of death causes alarm and attention. Virgil exploits the simplest way of awakening and pulling the attention and concentration of readers by depicting death in a simple way. For example, leaders that are involved in various wars before their deaths have a secluded magnificent place in the underworld as seen in Aeneas words, “there are souls that go from here…Aloft to upper heaven” (Virgil, 2008, p. 965). This move enhances the war propaganda that leaders can kill their opponents whilst being honored by gods. Death is painted in a way that warrants no attention of the reader.

According to Heiny (2013), Virgil also emphasizes reincarnation that people will live again after death. This propaganda on death as not being eternal further simplifies the idea of death. The propaganda is meant to prepare Romans to volunteer in war to channel their energies and life to defending the opponents of their kingdom as seen in Jupiter’s words, “What privilege for these, your ships…Shall hulls that mortal hands have made enjoy a right…That only immortals have” (Virgil, 2008, pp. 132-135). People are also persuaded to be good to their families, neighbors, and other citizens in order to have a good place in the underworld and/or during rebirth. Jupiter says, “Every man’s last day is fixed. Lifetimes are brief, and not to be regained” (Virgil, 2008, p. 650). This propaganda spreads peace within the kingdom whilst equipping people with information that is against their enemies. People are not reborn after death and that no one knows what happens to the soul after death.

Conclusion

The Aeneid is a political epic that was written with a political agenda to justify the founding of the nation of Rome. This claim has been depicted in this essay, which has explored various elements of political propaganda that the author has used in persuading people. Such elements include the use of repetition, simplicity, imagery, and sentiments that appeal to readers’ mind, heart, and actions. The propagandas that are enhanced by leaders have boosted the stability and unity of the Roman kingdom for many years.

Reference List

Cooksey, L. (2008). The Aeneid. Library Journal, 133(5), 72-73.

Franke, W. (2014). War and Tragedy And The Fate Of The Spoken: Virgil Secularization Of Prophecy. College Literature, 4(4), 25-40.

Heiny, S. (2013). Virgil in Seamus Heaney’s Human Chain: “Images and Symbols Adequate To Our Predicament”. Renascence, 65(4), 304-318.

Prince, M. (2014). Helen of Rome? Helen in Vergil’s Aeneid. Helios, 41(2), 187-214.

Pinkster, H. (1999). The present tense in Virgil’s Aeneid. Mnemosyne, 52(6), 705.

Scully, S., & Fletcher, J. (1987). Virgil’s ‘Aeneid’ and the Tradition of Hellenistic Poetry (Book). Library Journal, 112(3), 148.

Virgil, R. (2008). The Aeneid. New York, NY: Word Press.

Weiner, J. (2013). O’Neill’s Aeneid: Virgilian Allusion in Mourning Becomes Electra. International Journal of the Classical Tradition, 20(1/2), 41-60.

Xinyue, B. (2013). The Humanness of Heroes: Studies in the Conclusion of Virgil’s Aeneid. Mnemosyne, 66(2), 335-337.

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