What does "arms and the man" mean? 

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Lynnette Wofford eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The title "arms and the man" is taken from the opening line of Virgil's Aeneid, "arma virumque cano" (Latin for "I sing of arms and the man"). In Virgil's poem, it signifies that the work belongs to an epic tradition, telling a tale of an ancient hero and brave and heroic deeds.

The "man" of the phrase is Aeneas, the Trojan prince, who, fleeing the fall of Troy, became the mythical founder of Rome. When Shaw was writing his play, every member of the audience was likely to have studied Virgil in school and the educated audience members would have read Virgil in Latin, a language at this period still required for admission to Oxford or Cambridge universities.

Shaw is using the phrase somewhat ironically as Captain Bluntschli is a pragmatic mercenary rather than a legendary figure. On a more profound level though, Shaw is suggesting that his play represents a deeper reality of war and its effects on participants and civilians than epic.

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The title is an allusion to the first line of Vergil's Aeneid. In English, the line translates as "I sing of arms and the man." In Vergil, "the man" is, of course, Aeneas, and "arms" refers to the Trojan War & Aeneas' journey from Greece.

Because Shaw's play is a satire, the title should be looked at ironically. Rather than praising "arms" & the men who use them, Shaw is dissecting the reality of war, showing the futile nature of taking up arms. The characters in Shaw's play, especially Major Sergius Saranoff, serve to underscore the traditional heroism in war of the epic. Saranoff becomes a caricature, desperately clinging to his romanticized ideal of a hero. He struggles to be defined as one himself, but Shaw uses the character to instead suggest that no man could compare to a mythological hero in reality.

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lesliesyahputra | Student

Arms and the Man presents a world where the practical man who lives with no illusions and no poetic views about either love or war is shown to be the superior creature. The author also tried to described the important social issue of class during that time.

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