« PreviousContinue »
With the text there has not been much to do. Such differences as there are in the different copies, and they are not very many, are mostly unimportant, and there is not generally much difficulty in deciding which is the best reading.
Of the books which have been of use in the preparation of this little edition, it is scarcely necessary to say that the late Professor Conington's writings have been the most helpful. He did so much in many ways for the due understanding and appreciation of Vergil, that it is obvious that every student must be under great obligation to him.
Besides these, the books of which I have made most use are the following, to which my acknowledgments are due:
Mr Morris' translation of the Aeneid has been occasionally quoted in the notes, such quotations being marked (M): also Lee and Lonsdale's, quoted with the sign (LL).
Lastly, I am glad to take this opportunity of expressing my obligations to Professor Sellar's most interesting work on Vergil (Oxford, 1877), which not only is full of information about the antecedents, aim, and character of the Aeneid, but also contains much suggestive thought, and delicate insight into the rare excellences of the poet.
*** It has been thought better, in deference to the unanimous opinion of scholars, to employ the spelling Vergilius, Vergil, consistently all through.
FOR the sake of clearness, it has been thought better to divide what little there is to say by way of introduction into the following heads:
The form of the poem.
The subject and purpose of the poem.
Outline of the story.
Note on the similes.
Note on the fifth book.
Note on Vergil's peculiarities of style.
Note on the imitations of Homer and others in Vergil.
At the end of the book will be found Appendices, with the parallel passages from Homer, and a scheme of the Latin subjunctives; also the necessary Index to the notes, to enable the book to be used for purposes of ready reference.
The form of the Poem.
The Aeneid is what is called an epic poem, that is, it is a long narrative poem about heroic people and adventures. But there are two kinds of epic poems, quite distinct from each other: the primitive epics, which are produced by imaginative races at an early period of their development, and describe nature and heroic adventure with a vivid simplicity, like Homer and the Nibelungenlied; and the literary epics, like Paradise Lost and Dante's Inferno, more or less similar in form, but belonging to a much later epoch of culture, less spontaneous
and more artificial, presenting some great idea in a narrative shape, and not merely telling stories for love of the story.
The Aeneid is clearly in the second of these classes: it is a literary epic. The age of Augustus was a time of great literary activity, promoted by the emperor himself: but it is even more remarkable for the high standard of finished and artistic workmanship than for its productiveness. This high standard was owing to various causes, among which the chief was the general study of Greek. There had been Epic poets before, such as Naevius and Ennius: but Vergil, in point of execution, may be said to be centuries in advance of his predecessors.
The subject and purpose of the Poem.
The main idea of the Aeneid is the national greatness of Rome. Several causes combined to make Vergil undertake this work. Augustus himself, who was a munificent patron of literary men, desired him to write a great poem, which should glorify the Empire and stimulate the patriotism of Romans in the new Era. Again, the new era itself excited a genuine enthusiasm, quite apart from Court influences. After the corruptions and incapacity of the later Republic, and a century of smouldering civil wars, when Augustus had given peace and stable government to the Roman world, everybody felt that 'a good time was come.' And the poet himself was on every ground desirous of achieving the work. He had won himself by the Georgics a first-rate literary position, and he had given his whole life to developing his unrivalled poetic faculty. Thus every influence united to stimulate him to produce a Great National Poem. The people believed in their National Destiny, and imagined a future even greater than their past. The emperor promoted it, both from personal and patriotic grounds: and the poet himself, with his reverence for the Roman religion and antiquities, his matured powers and his strong national enthusiasm, was the man for the task.
The greatness of the destinies of Rome was then the main subject of the Aeneid. Vergil connected it with the story of
Aeneas, partly because the house of the Caesars, the gens Iulia, traced back its origin to Iulus, son of Aeneas; but principally no doubt because it gave him so convenient an opportunity of bringing before his countrymen, in a national dress, the glorious poems of Homer. The battle pieces, the sea adventures, the councils of the gods, the single combats, the royal feasts and funerals, the splendid scenes and similes-all these things, which charmed the educated Romans so much in the Greek epics, Vergil transplanted and naturalised in his own stately and melodious verse. Moreover, by going back to Aeneas and the tale of Troy, he raised the destinies of Rome to the old heroic level in the imaginations of men. But however much of Homer he may give to his readers, he never forgets his main purpose, to impress men with the dignity and greatness of Rome, her significant history, her national unbroken life and growth, and the divine protection which guided her fate.
One aspect of the poem was intimately connected both with the Augustan revival and the poet's own nature: and that was its profoundly religious character. To nothing did Augustus pay more attention than to a revival of the national religion. He rebuilt the temples, restored the worship, paid offerings to the shrines, increased the priestly colleges, and took the office permanently of Pontifex maximus. And the poet himself viewed Rome as a state powerful by the protection of gods, great in its ancient and elaborate ceremonial, and predestined by the divine will to its career of Empire. Hence it is that he is careful to weave into his narrative all manner of religious references, allusions, and associations. Sacred places and customs are mentioned all through; and the background of the poem is the working of the gods themselves, with Fate ordaining all.
Nor should we forget the antiquarian interest. The unity of the race and the greatness of its destiny gave a high significance to all old memories. Accordingly Vergil has collected into his poem a mass of local traditions, old Latin customs, explanations of names, and antiquarian lore of all kinds. He feels that nothing can so stimulate the common patriotism, and
feeling of unity with a great past, as thus to enrich his National Epic with every ancient association that admits of poetic
Outline of the Story.
According to Homer, Aeneas was son of Anchises and Aphrodite (identified with the Roman Venus, goddess of love), and the nephew of Priam king of Troy. At first he takes no part in the Trojan war; but being attacked by Achilles, afterwards performs many heroic deeds for the Trojans. He escapes by help of the gods when Troy is captured, and Homer clearly conceives him as reigning at Troy after the departure of the Greeks.
The later stories recount his wanderings about Europe after the fall of Troy: and these Vergil adopts, making many alterations and additions of his own. One great episode, his landing at Carthage, and the love and desertion of Dido, we have no means of tracing to any traditional source, and it may be Vergil's own invention.
The Aeneid opens with the exiles leaving Sicily for Italy, their goal almost in sight. A storm comes on and they are cast ashore in Africa at Carthage. Here Dido entertains them, and Aeneas in Books II. and III. tells her of the sack of Troy and how they have wandered since. In Book IV. we have the love, desertion, despair and suicide of the Carthaginian queen, as the Trojan exiles sail away from her harbour.
At this point the fifth book begins. As they sail, a storm threatens, and they resolve to stop at Sicily, where the Trojan Acestes welcomes them. Aeneas institutes a feast and games in honour of his father Anchises. Then follow vivid and detailed descriptions of a boat-race, a foot-race, a boxing-match, and an archery competition. After this Aeneas exhibits a new shew, a cavalry game, or set of evolutions, performed by the boys on horseback, and led by Ascanius. Meanwhile the malignant Juno incites the matrons to burn the ships, a conflagration