Death and the Optimistic Prophecy in Vergil's AENEID

Death and the Optimistic Prophecy in Vergil's AENEID

Copyright Date: 1990
Pages: 224
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    Death and the Optimistic Prophecy in Vergil's AENEID
    Book Description:

    Here James O'Hara shows how the deceptive nature of prophecy in the Aeneid complicates assessment of the poem's attitude toward its hero's achievement and toward the future of Rome under Augustus Caesar. This close study of the language and rhetorical context of the prophecies reveals that they regularly suppress discouraging material: the gods send promising messages to Aeneas and others to spur them on in their struggles, but these struggles often lead to untimely deaths or other disasters only darkly hinted at by the prophecies. O'Hara finds in these prophecies a persistent subtext that both stresses the human cost of Aeneas' mission and casts doubt on Jupiter's promise to Venus of an "endless empire" for the Romans. O'Hara considers the major prophecies that look confidently toward Augustus' Rome from the standpoint of Vergil's readers, who, like the characters within the poem, must struggle with the possibility that the optimism of the prophecies of Rome is undercut by darker material partially suppressed. The study shows that Vergil links the deception of his characters to the deceptiveness of Roman oratory, politics, and religion, and to the artifice of poetry itself. In response to recent debates about whether the Aeneid is optimistic or pessimistic, O'Hara argues that Vergil expresses both the Romans' hope for the peace of a Golden Age under Augustus and their fear that this hope might be illusory.

    Originally published in 1990.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6087-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-2)
    (pp. 3-6)

    In the first book of theAeneid, Jupiter makes an extended prophecy to Venus about the future of Aeneas and the Romans. “For them,” he says, “I have set no boundaries of space or time: I have granted rule without end.” Like theIliad’s prediction of undying fame for Achilles, which seems fulfilled by the existence of that poem, Jupiter’s prediction strikes the reader today as obviously true. The Romans dominated the Mediterranean for several centuries, and even after their nominal fall their institutions and cultural heritage—including theAeneid—have had enormous influence throughout the world, seemingly unfettered by...

  6. CHAPTER ONE Orontes, Palinurus, Anchises, and Pallas: Prophecy and Deaths “Before the Eyes of Aeneas”
    (pp. 7-60)

    The first persons to die in theAeneidare the Lycian Orontes and the men of his ship, which sinks in the storm that Aeolus sends in obedience to Juno in Book 1. Vergil’s description of the wreck emphasizes the scene’s pathos: a wave strikes the ship, the helmsman tumbles out, and the vessel is sucked down into the sea (1.113–19). Our attention is drawn toward the pain of Aeneas, for it is through his eyes that we see Orontes die (ipsius ante oculos114, “before the eyes of Aeneas himself”). Through repetition of vocabulary, rhythm, and word order,...

  7. CHAPTER TWO The Gods and “the Confidence of Bold Turnus”
    (pp. 61-87)

    At 12.650–64, a horseman rides to tell Turnus that while he has been wasting his efforts on the edge of the battlefield, Aeneas has all but captured the city, Latinus is on the verge of surrendering, and Latinus’ wife Amata has taken her own life. Turnus is stunned:

    obstipuit varia confusus imagine rerum

    Turnus et obtutu tacito stetit; aestuat ingens

    uno in corde pudor mixtoque insania luctu

    et furiis agitatus amor et conscia virtus.


    (Astounded and confused by the shifting picture of things, Turnus stood in silent contemplation; in the one heart seethed great shame, madness mixed...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Prophecy and the res laetae That Await Aeneas
    (pp. 88-127)

    Near the end of Book 2, Aeneas describes the disappearance of Creusa as the most painful aspect of the fall of Troy.quid in eversa vidi crudelius urbe?(2.746, “what did I see more cruel in the sack of the city?”). As Aeneas frantically searches for his wife, herimagoorsimulacrumappears to him and speaks words of consolation, telling him that her death is part of the gods’ plan, and that “happy times” (res laetae) await him in a Western land:

    tum sic adfari et curas his demere dictis.

    ‘longa tibi exsilia et vastum maris aequor arandum,


  9. CHAPTER FOUR The Prophecies of Rome
    (pp. 128-175)

    Vergil makes his epic of the Homeric past look forward to his own time through a number of prophecies that predict the glorious Roman future, when Augustus Caesar will restore the Golden Age of peace and justice. The most prominent of these are the prophecy of Jupiter to Venus at 1.257–96, the parade of future Roman heroes whom Anchises identifies for Aeneas in the underworld at 6.756–886, and the scenes from Roman legend and history engraved by Vulcan on the shield of Aeneas, which Vergil describes at 8.626–728.¹ Vergil’s use of thesevaticinia ex eventureflects both...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE Vergil as Poet-Prophet of the Aeneid
    (pp. 176-184)

    Forty-four lines after Aeneas leaves the underworld through the ivory gates associated with false dreams, Vergil does something he had never done before, and would not do again. He calls himself avates, a “poet-prophet”:

    Nunc age, qui reges, Erato, quae tempora rerum,

    quis Latio antiquo fuerit status, advena classem

    cum primum Ausoniis exercitus appulit oris,

    expediam, et primae revocabo exordia pugnae.

    tu vatem, tu, diva, mone. dicam horrida bella….


    (Now come, Erato, the kings, the historical situation, and the condition of old Latium, when the foreign army first drove its fleet to the shores of Ausonia, I...

    (pp. 185-198)
    (pp. 199-204)
    (pp. 205-207)