What does Book II in the Aeneid say about Roman culture particularly the philosophies of Stoicism or Epicureanism?    

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noahvox2 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

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One of the most interesting features of Virgil's Aeneid is the poet's ability to incorporate philosophical thought into his epic. Two of the most prominent philosophical schools at the time Virgil composed his epic were the Epicureans and the Stoics. Like many educated Romans, Virgil was familiar with the tenets of these philosophies, which had originated among the Greeks.

One of the common features of both schools of thought was their concern with dangerous emotions such as anger. At one point in Aeneid 2, Aeneas must battle with this emotion. In one controversial passage, which some scholars regard as a later addition to the text, Aeneas sees Helen, who is regarded as the cause of the war. Aeneas' first impulse is one of rage:

Fire blazed in my spirit: anger rose to avenge my fallen land,

and to exact the punishment for her wickedness.

(Aeneid 2; A.S. Kline translation)

Thus, Aeneas is so angry he considers killing Helen. A "good" Stoic or Epicurean would control such an emotion. Fortunately for Aeneas, he does not act on his angry impulse thanks to the intervention of his divine mother:

“My son, what pain stirs such uncontrollable anger?

Why this rage? Where has your care for what is ours vanished?

Venus' words accomplish two things here. On the one hand, she helps Aeneas bring his anger under control. On the other hand, Venus calls attention to another prominent philosophical concern, one for which the Epicureans were especially famous, namely "care" or "concern" or "worry." The Latin word for this is cura; the Greeks called it ataraxia.

One of the tenets of Epicureanism was to banish worry from one's life. So, while Aeneas may bring his anger under control, Venus reminds him that he has many other concerns, especially his father, his wife, and his son. Thus, Aeneas does not appear to be a "good" Epicurean, because he still has many concerns in his life. On the other hand, the Stoics would approve of the suppression of his anger.