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The “Aeneid” by Virgil: Haunting Memories Essay

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Updated: Dec 4th, 2021

The Aeneid by Virgil depicts the events that follow the Trojan War and the trip taken by Aeneas from Troy to Italy. Aeneas faces numerous challenges on his way to Rome, to which all ways lead, and this paper will focus on one of the challenges – the occurrence that happens to Aeneas in the woods of Carthage. These events are central in Book I of the Aeneid, and this paper will offer a comprehensive critical analysis of lines 625 – 732 of this poem.

So, the scene depicted by the lines under consideration starts when Aeneas arrives at Carthage after the sea storm that destroyed his ship. Traveling with his friend Achates, Aeneas suddenly appears in a wood where Queen Dido “was building a stupendous shrine for Juno / enriched with gifts and with the goddess’ statue / where flights of steps led up to brazen thresholds” (1: 632 – 635).

This shrine is the first image starting the topic of time as the eternal phenomenon in Aeneid. The temple erected for Juno is a comparison to the overall destruction that could be observed in Troy after the war. Moreover, in this episode of the poem, the author shows the envy of Aeneas caused by the fact that he wanted to build a new life as well, in Rome: “He speaks. With many tears and sighs he feeds / his soul on what is nothing but a picture” (1: 658 – 659). The past of Aeneas comes before his eyes in the forest as contrasted to the present of the Tyrians building the shrine for their Goddess and living their lives, and to the future of Aeneas’ shipmates who discuss their plans to finally get to Italy. This is a terrifying contrast because Aeneas is viewed here as a person without the present and future; his only riches are his memories. The latter even cannot be called riches; they are rather his horrors as they bring so much pain to him.

Calling the memories of the Trojan War “nothing but a picture” Virgil, however, emphasizes that they are all Aeneas has. For him, they are not just pictures but his whole life which can be seen from the excitement Aeneas experiences watching them: “And the, indeed, Aeneas groans / within the great pit of his chest, deeply; / for he can see the spoils, the chariot, / the very body of his friend, and Priam / pleading for Hector with defenseless hands” (1: 685 – 689). Thus, Aeneas’ past haunts him everywhere he goes – he has managed to escape the actual physical threats to his life in Troy, and now he wants to escape the threats of his memories, the threats of the past.

Further on, the situation in the wood develops to the introduction of the Aeneas’ shipmates who, as Aeneas thought, were dead:”…when suddenly Aeneas sees, as they / press forward through that mighty multitude, / Sergestus, Antheus, and the brave Cloanthus, / and other Trojans whom the black whirlwind / gas scattered on the waters, driven far / to other coasts. Aeneas is astounded;” (1: 718 – 723) The images of the supposedly dead people who suddenly turn out to be alive and planning their future are used by the author to show the readers what the absolute tragedy of Aeneas’ life is – the people he thought were dead are full of hope for future, while he, the alive man, is haunted by his past and has no perspectives for the future.

Moreover, feeling the fear of the memories from the past, Aeneas at the same time wishes to greet his shipmates and friends. Taking into account the long description of Aeneas feelings when he saw the scenes of the Trojan War displayed before his eyes, the appearance of his friends in the scene is used by the author to stress the internal psychological conflict that Aeneas has between the pragmatic person striving for a better life and a patriot feeling guilty for failing to save his friends during the sea storm and for leaving his country “with his men betrayed / while still in their first asleep / and then laid waste with many dead” (1: 665 – 667)

Also, a strange mixture of fear, gladness, and shame comes into Aeneas’ soul as he sees his shipmates whom he considered to be dead. On the one hand, Aeneas is glad for those who managed to save their lives in the sea storm, but shame for failing to do this himself attacks him. Also, Aeneas experiences fear of how his shipmates might react to seeing him if he decides to walk and greet them. The emotional world of the character is one of the focuses of Ancient Roman literature on the whole, and Virgil, as a genius of the Roman poem, reflects this in his work. On the whole, the lines considered providing the reader with a great amount of information as they not only develop the plot of the story but also add to the emotional portrait of the protagonist and help the readers shape their view of Aeneas.

Works Cited

Mandelbaum, Allen (translator). The Aeneid of Virgil: A verse translation by Allen Mandelbaum. Bantam Classic, 1981.

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