In the Aeneid Aeneas travels from his lost home in the destroyed Troy to the land of Italy where the gods have promised him a new home for his people and a future empire. During his travels he encounters much danger. He must learn to think and act less for himself than for his people and their destiny.
The Aeneid quickly achieved a pre-eminent position in Latin literature and eventually in world literature and culture. Thanks to the Aeneid's enormous popularity and its immediate adoption as a school text, it became the standard for the epic in Western Europe. The work of Virgil's predecessors was almost completely lost. For these reasons it is difficult to properly appreciate Virgil's originality. The early Roman epics of Naevius and Ennius were essentially history, at times current events, written in the epic form. Virgil's Aeneid is equally concerned with Roman history, but handles it in a radically different way.
To handle both the flaws and the real, if frustrated, virtues and promise of the Roman way, Virgil used a legend for the main line of narrative in the Aeneid. History was relegated to digressions. In the Aeneid, legend was treated like real life, history was insinuated into prophecy, visions into the descriptions of objects (ecphrasis). This means that the main narrative can be understood both as explicating the ancient source of the Roman way of life and as a...
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