Aeneid Questions and Answers
by Virgil

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 What is the relationship between irony and propaganda in Virgil’s Aeneid?

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The Aeneid is an epic myth about the founding of Rome. The author Virgil, who was a Roman himself, begins the story where Homer's Iliad ends: the sack of Troy. The Trojan Aeneas, the hero of The Aeneid, flees Troy, voyages to Carthage and the underworld with his crew, and ends up in Italy, where his fate is to build a city and start an empire. Throughout the story, Virgil stresses the heroism and virtues of Aeneas and the divinely-guided origin story of the Roman people and culture.

In this way, The Aeneid relies on dramatic irony to make the narrative more compelling while also creating what is essentially a work of propaganda for the Roman empire.

There are several different kinds of irony in literature. One of them is dramatic irony, which happens when the audience knows more about what is happening than the character they are following. Back in Ancient Rome, the myth of Aeneas creating the city that was the center of the Roman Empire was well known. Therefore, any audience in Ancient Rome would know that the story of Aeneas would, inevitably, lead to the start of Roman civilization. The result for anyone reading The Aeneid when it was first written was dramatic irony: they knew how the story would end, even as Aeneas struggled to overcome obstacles that seemed sure to end his journey.

This leads to how The Aeneid is, essentially, a work of propaganda for the Roman Empire. The whole point of the epic is to show how Rome was created, how the ancient gods smiled on the project and protected Aeneas from dangers, how the founder of Rome fought and struggled and overcame, and how proud Romans should be of their heritage. 

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