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The Aeneid Power Quotes

How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Book.Line). We used Robert Fitzgerald's translation.

Quote #1

"[…] young Romulus
Will take the leadership, build walls of Mars,
And call by his own name his people Romans.
For these I set no limits, world or time,
But make the gift of empire without end." (1.371-375)

In these words, Jupiter seems to give his seal of approval to the Roman Empire, allowing it to expand infinitely in both space and time. The modern reader might be tempted to snicker at these lines; after all, we know that the Roman Empire never expanded much beyond the Mediterranean (making it limited in space, as this map shows), and it certainly isn't still around today (making it limited in time). The thing is, Virgil can't have meant these lines literally. Just look at how Jupiter clarifies the issue a few lines later when he says that Julius Caesar will "circumscribe [i.e., put a border around] / Empire with Ocean, fame with heaven's stars." (1.385-386)

Quote #2

"[…] this is the man, this one,
Of whom so often you have heard the promise,
Caesar Augustus, son of the deified,
Who shall bring once again an Age of Gold
To Latium, to the land where Saturn reigned
In early times. He will extend his power
Beyond the Garamants and Indians,
Over far territories north and south
Of the zodiacal stars, the solar way,
Where Atlas, heaven-bearing, on his shoulder
Turns the night-sphere, studded with burning stars.
At that man's coming even now the realms
Of Caspia and Maeotia tremble, warned
By oracles, and the seven mouths of the Nile
Go dark with fear." (6.1062-1076)

For the Romans, the Age of Gold (an idea they borrowed from the Greek poet Hesiod) meant the first period of the world's history, when people lived in harmony with each other and with nature, which spontaneously gave them food without them having to work for it. Virgil had already talked about a new Age of Gold in the fourth poem from his book of "Eclogues," which you can read here. In that poem, Virgil connects the new golden age with the birth of a child; modern scholars think this was the child of a prominent Roman – though the rise of Christianity gave birth (so to speak) to a long tradition of interpreting the Fourth Eclogue as prefiguring the coming of Jesus. Be that as it may, these lines from the Aeneid, definitely give to Caesar what is Caesar's: namely, the credit for bringing peace to the lands he conquered. This peace is clearly the result of Caesar Augustus's political power – hence the contrast in Virgil's lines between the happiness of Latium, which is already under his control, and the distant regions that haven't been conquered yet, which "tremble."

Quote #3

"Roman, remember by your strength to rule
Earth's peoples—for your arts are to be these:
To pacify, to impose the rule of law,
To spare the conquered, battle down the proud." (6.1151-1154)

These words, spoken by Anchises to his son Aeneas in the underworld, similarly put a positive spin on Roman conquest. It isn't hard to see echoes of Anchises's words in countless later justifications of empire, which the conquerors usually portray as being in the best interests of the conquered peoples. (It is true that being part of the Roman Empire could bring various benefits – as is discussed in this scene from Monty Python's 1979 film, The Life of Brian.) And yet, it is interesting to note that Aeneas can't quite live up to his father's advice; after forcing Turnus to beg for mercy ("battling down the proud"), he kills him in a fit of anger, which doesn't sound much like "sparing the conquered" to us. How might the final scene of the Aeneid serve as a commentary on the overall theme of Roman imperial power?

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