"Chillingly Christian"??? Either you withdraw that remark forthwith, or I resign from this list. And as for the character of Aeneas, read C.S.Lewis' brief remarks in A PREFACE TO PARADISE LOST. And then tell me, if you have the courage, that those are inspired by religious fanaticism (fanaticism being the kind of attitude that can brand an opposing viewpoint as "chilling") or by the insight of a great creative writer who was also one of the greatest critics of the century.

Subject: VIRGIL: Re: Ohio Girls, or: Back to Odysseus?
Date: Sun,  3 Oct 2004 21:32:39 -0400

Quoting David Wilson-Okamura <[EMAIL PROTECTED]>:

> At 09:02 AM 10/1/2004 -0400, it was written:
>> "Founder of the faith"? Which faith? Certainly not Aeneas's faith.
>> Isn't this just the tired old T. S. Eliot/Warde Fowler school of the
>> Judeo-Christian Aeneas?
> "Founder of the faith" = Father of the West. But why so scornful? If you've
> read the book, fire away. Otherwise it's darkening counsel.

Apologies for the scorn--perhaps I'm unconsciously absorbing some of
the vitriol from recent skirmishes on the Shakespeare mailing list!  Let me
attempt to redeem (and clarify) myself.

It's not that I think Haecker not worth reading, but the particular "piece" (to
use David's term) of Haecker that is obsolete is his (and Eliot's)
attempt to say that Vergil is not entirely pagan, or that he is a pagan who is
not the same kind of pagan as Horace and Ovid (I think Haecker calls Vergil an
"adventist pagan," or something like that). Yes, as Brian points out,
Augustine was powerfully influenced by Vergil (though he attempts to distance
himself from that influence in the Confessions, no?), and he is part of a long
tradition of
medieval and Renaissance writers who used the Aeneid to harmonize the
ideological and cultural discontinuities between pagan and Christian Rome (as
Dante does at the beginning of Inferno 2). It's one thing for Dante to view
Vergil as a kind of proto-Christian poet, but it's quite another, I think, for
a modern scholar to do so. The fact that Eclogue 4 sounds
chillingly Christian has resulted in a lot of great poetry, but I don't think
any responsible modern scholar would would claim that Vergil was actually
predicting the birth of Christ. If one is trying to understand Dante, it is
useful to know how Aeneas *might* be viewed through the lens of medieval
Christianity, but if one is trying to understand Vergil, I don't think the lens
of Christianity is a very useful tool. And not all early Christian writers
were persuaded that Aeneas was an appropriate model for Christian ethics.
Lactantius, for one, was deeply disturbed by Aeneas's slaughter of suppliants
after the death of Pallas (a clear violation of Anchises's instructions in
Aeneid 6: "haec tibi erunt artes, pacisque imponere morem, / parcere subjectis
et debellare superbos").

It seems to me that studies such as those by Thome, Barchiesi, and David Quint
do a much better job than Haecker, Eliot, and Fowler of understanding Aeneas as
a character because they do not idealistically identify him as the hero of a
nation or faith, or as a prototype of the Christian hero, but because they view
him as a character who represents the kind of ambivalence evident in the most
memorable heroes, such as Achilles, who spends most of the Iliad in his tent
wondering if heroism is all that it's cracked up to be. And part of the
ambivalence about Aeneas is that he must, tragically, become Achilles in order
to found the Roman empire. He has made many sacrifices throughout the poem,
but in the end he must also give up the ethos of compassion and mercy that has
distinguished Trojan civilization in the past--and it is that ethos that makes
Aeneas attractive to Christian thinkers. Jesus made many sacrifices, including
the ultimate one, but he did not give up his ability to love and pity. And in
the end, I think the only way one can make Vergil the beginning of European
Christian literature is to ignore the second half of the Aeneid--as many
medieval poets did.

Now, I realize there are different ways of thinking about this topic, and I
think this would be a great place to explore them. But I think it might be
even more interesting if we collectively addressed Bob White's original
question: How might one compare Aeneas to Odysseus? Aeneas's wanderings in
the first half of the Aeneid are clearly modeled on the Odyssey, but other than
that it's difficult for me to see many similarities between these two
characters. They are both dedicated to the idea of home and family, but Aeneas
will never be able to return home, and he will never be able to enjoy the
pleasures of the new home he creates in Italy. Odysseus is clearly more
cunning and deceptive than Aeneas, and more willing to stand up to the gods.
But perhaps I'm missing something? Is it possible that they are opposites in
some way? Is Lavinia an anti-Penelope?

Shawn Smith

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