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The Aeneid

The Aeneid

by Virgil
 Table of Contents

The Aeneid Memory and The Past Quotes

How we cite our quotes:

Quote #1

Be with me, Muse of all Desire, Erato, While I call up the kings, the early times, How matters stood in the old land of Latium That day when the foreign soldiers beached Upon Ausonia's shore, and the events That led to the first fight. Immortal one, Bring all in memory to the singer's mind (7.47-53)

In these lines, Virgil himself prays to one of the Muses (goddesses of poetic inspiration) to help him remember what happened long before his time. Do you think it still makes sense today for an historian to think about recapturing the past as an imaginative act?

Quote #2

Muses, now Throw wide the gates of Helicon, your mountain, Now lift up your song, to tell what kings Were stirred to war, what troops in each command Filled all the lowlands, fighting men in whom Even in those days bounteous Italy Had come to flower, in whom her spirit blazed. For you remember, you can bring to life That time, immortal ones, while to ourselves Faint wraiths of history barely transpire. (7.880-889)

This passage has the same general structure as the one quoted above: Virgil prays to the Muses to help him remember what has happened before. When Virgil talks about how we know only "faint wraiths" (i.e., ghosts) "of history," do you think he is just using a metaphor, or is he thinking of the doctrine of reincarnation as described in the sixth quotation for this theme?

Quote #3

There the Lord of Fire, Knowing the prophets, knowing the age to come, Had wrought the future story of Italy, The triumphs of the Romans: there one found The generations of Ascanius' heirs, The wars they fought, each one. Vulcan had made The mother wolf, lying in Mars' green grotto; Made the twin boys at play about her teats, Nursing the mother without fear, while she Bent round her smooth neck fondling them in turn And shaped their bodies with her tongue. (8.848-858)

Here, Virgil does another one of his sneaky time-paradox things. That's because he describes what Vulcan puts on Aeneas's shield as knowledge of the future – from the perspective of the ancient time-period in which the Aeneid takes place. But from the perspective of the time in which he was writing, these events were in the very distant past.

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