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C O U R S E 
Greek and Roman Mythology
Dr. Peter Struck, University of Pennsylvania
C O U R S E   L E C T U R E 
The Aeneid as Roman National Identity Narrative
Notes taken on December 25, 2013 by Edward Tanguay
Virgil (70BC-19BC)
major works: Eclogues, Georgics, Aeneid
Aeneid is the national epic of ancient Rome
influenced Divine Comedy
lives tumultuous times
70BC: Roman Empire is emerging
has many different groups which it has brought under its sway
Romans were rightfully amazed at their own powers
now controlling power in the Mediterranean
what does it mean to be this dominant force?
1. you have a militaristic side to your background
2. fratricidal group: many civil wars and vying for power
3. dissolution of the past way of being: Roman Republic is gone, a frightening new world
Augustus (63BC-14AD)
proclaimed himself first emperor
claimed to be carrying forward old traditions but was in fact remaking things
Rome needed a new sense of itself
Augustus nurtures and supports great poets, Virgil among them
felt that the Roman Empire needed a sense of what it is to be Roman
proactively built this through the epic form of mythic poetry
Augustus and Virgil work parallel building political and mythic traditions
there are many histories to Rome
Aeneas [ah-NEE-us]
son of prince Anchises and goddess Aphrodite (Venus)
mentioned in Iliad
legendary founder of what would become Ancient Rome
his birth
Zeus is tired of Aphrodite's affairs so makes her fall in love with a mortal, Anchises [an-KIGH-seez], she's embarrassed
although Aeneus has immortal blood, his existence is a type of revenge against Aphrodite, and so he is not that welcomed
third century BC, Aeneus is being talked about as the founder of Rome
Romulus and Remus
8th century BC, they were understood to be founders of Rome
has a rich collection of stories around these two characters
the problem with this is Rome is founded when Romulus kills Remus, which makes Rome founded on an act of fratricide
so this story is not the one he uses, but the figure of Aeneus returns for him
other legends
first settlement of Lavinium, area to the south of Rome
Alba Longa, ancient city of Latium in central Italy, 19 kilometers southeast of Rome
this is where Romulus and Remus came from
was destroyed by Rome in 7th century BC
they apparently sent a colony out to found Rome
Latium is also a term that is closely tied to Rome's history
what Virgil does is align all of these possibilities into one narrative, with Aeneas as the most important one
regardless of its history, Rome was, around 0 BC, the undisputed power in the ancient Mediterranean
Virgil's task is to "construct a good past for what this empire is all about"
he does this by using Aeneus as the center and looks for a Trojan background for what it means to be Roman
what do the Romans get to having Trojan-ness in the background?
a sense of antiquity, this great past gets to be the lineage of the city of Rome
historically is it accurate to say that such a linkage exists, probably not
what we have is a chosen affiliation that Virgil develops and works into a sense of what Romanness is going to be all about
a position that is not swallowed up by the Greeks
the Romans don't want to claim that they came from the Greeks
instead, they choose their background to lead back to Greece's sworn enemies, the Trojans
in the Aeneid we learn about Hector and Mias and all the others
on the other hand, they're losers, aren't they? The Trojans don't win the Trojan War
Virgil of course talks about this "early loss" but in the time of his writing, Rome's position in the world was undisputed, no pesky Greeks around to bother them anymore, the Romans having crushed them in the century before Virgil
there is a them of cultural anxiety with respect to Greek greatness
"Greece, after it was captured, captured the ferocious victor." which means that after the Romans conquer the Greeks militarily, the Romans then fall for much of Greek culture
somewhat like the admiration in America for the history and background in older, European cultures, from England in particular while at the same time feeling a bit of cultural anxiety
Roman aristocrats tried to find Trojan ancestral links
just as Americans at times try to find linkages to European aristocrats of the past
this is the cultural stew that Virgil enters when he tells the definitive story that "yes, indeed, you Romans did come from those Trojans"
Aeneus will go from one among many Trojans to a major Trojan, and not only that, but he becomes the founder of the whole national identity of Rome