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Vergil and the Politics of War*

  • R. O. A. M. Lyne (a1)

The Romans had various ways of justifying their imperial aims and methods, some high-minded, some less so. We find in particular that they could give honourable and satisfying explanations of their aims and methods in war. Here for example is Cicero:

quare suscipienda quidem bella sunt ob earn causam, ut sine iniuria in pace uiuatur; parta autem uictoria conseruandi ii, qui non crudeles in bello, non immanes fuerunt, ut maiores nostri Tusculanos, Aequos…in ciuitatem etiam acceperunt, at Carthaginem…funditus sustulerunt…mea quidem sententia paci, quae nihil habitura sit insidiarum, semper est consulendum. et cum iis, quos ui deuiceris, consulendum est, tum ii qui armis positis and imperatorum fidem confugient, quamuis murum aries percusserit, recipiendi (Off. 1. 35).

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1 See the useful paper of Brunt P. A., ‘Laus Imperii’, in: Garnsey P. D. A. and Whittaker C. A. (eds.), Imperialism in the Ancient World (Cambridge, 1978).

2 cf. too Brunt, loc. cit., especially pp. 178 ff. and Norden on Aen. 6. 847–53. Be it noted, however, that we find some curious interpretations of what constituted ‘mercy’, and of what ‘peace and security as the aim of war’ involved or allowed. This is amply documented by Brunt.

3 cf. Sen. Clem. 2. 3. 1 clementia est temperantia animi in potestate ulciscendi uel lenitas superioris aduersus inferiorem in constituendis poenis. One can see why an offer of clementia might be resented. See the excellent comments of Earl D. C., The Moral and Political Tradition of Rome (London, 1967), p. 60. I return to the question of clementia below.

4 Cicero speaks (it seems to me) more as a Roman than as a Panaetian in Off. 1. 35; though the distinction is perhaps artificial: see below.

5 See Arnold E. V., Roman Stoicism (London, 1911), esp. pp. 380 ff.

6 See e.g. Heinze R., Virgils epische Technik 3 (Leipzig, 1914), index sub ‘Stoa’, and see below.

7 Sen. Dial. 1. 5. 8, Verg. Aen. 2. 701, 3. 114, etc.; Heinze, op. cit. pp. 301 f. For the attitude non sibi sed patriae natus ( Cic. Mur. 83, etc.) see most usefully Griffin J., GR 26 (1979), 73–4.

8 See D. C. Earl (note 3), pp. 65–79. Cf. and contrast section iii of Brunt's paper (note 1), ‘The glory of imperial expansion’.

9 There is an interesting comparison to be made between these lines and Cic. Off. 1. 50.

10 cf. e.g. Cic. Tusc. 4. 11 ff.: ‘This then is Zeno's definition of “passion” (pertubatio)…that it is an agitation of the soul turning its back on right reason, contrary to nature…(16)… numerous subdivisions of the same class are brought under the head of each emotion: ut “aegritudini” inuidentia…aemulatio, obtrectatio, misericordia, angor, luctus, maeror (etc.)… “libidini” ira, excandescentia, odium, inimicitia, discordia, indigentiva, desiderium, et cetera eius modi…(21) quae autem libidini subiecta sunt ea sic definiunt ut “ira” sit libido poeniendi eius, qui uideatur laesisse iniuria (cf. 44 ira…ulciscendi libido)…’ etc.

11 The relation between simile and narrative is the reverse of what we expect. We are invited to see the storm as a great symbolic overture: pietas, a virtue which involves supreme subordination of self to god, duty and the like and is thus Stoic as well as Roman in colour, is the quality which may prevail in all the passionate struggles which follow, struggles on the road to Rome. Cf. Otis (note 20), pp. 229–30; not that I would subscribe to all Otis says.

12 For Horace note e.g. Odes 3. 3. 1 ff. iustum et tenacem….

13 cf. Bowra C. M., ‘Aeneas and the Stoic Ideal’, GR 3 (19331944), 8 ff.; but with important parts of Bowra's paper I am in disagreement.

14 Cic. Tusc. 4. 16 (quoted in note 10), 56 cur misereare potius quam feras opem…?…non enim suscipere ipsi aegritudines propter alios debemus, sed alias, si possumus, leuare aegritudine; Sen. in the De clementia distinguishes clementia and misericordia (see Motto's index sub ‘pity’); note esp. Clem. 2. 6. 4 misericordia uicina est miseriae….

15 cf. e.g. αἰ⋯ν ⋯ριοτεύειν καì ὑπείροχον ἒμμεναι ἂλλων (Il. 6. 208, 11. 783) and Hector's words to Andromache at 6. 441–6 (but note Griffin J., Homer on Life and Death (Oxford, 1980), pp. 95100, on Homer and glory); note the role of θυμός in heroic fighting (e.g. in the formula ὣς εἰπὼν ὢτρυνε μένος καì θυμο⋯ ⋯κάστου, Il. 5. 470, etc.), and of χάρμη (‘joy of battle’, e.g. μνήσαντο δè χάρμης, 4. 222, etc.). Achilles' response to the death of Patroclus in, for example, 18. 91–3 (and following), 19. 199–214, and of course in his actions in Books 21 and 22 (and following), shows how the greatest of heroes viewed his obligations to a dead and dishonoured friend.

16 Cicero, it might be noted, did not view the Italian wars in this way (Off. 1. 35, quoted above).

17 As well as the passages cited, cf. the beginning of Book 8, which describes Aeneas' concern at the prospect of war and concludes (line 29) tristi turbatus pectora bello: this is a far cry from the Iliad.

18 This aspect of Pallas' pathos, that he died ‘before his time’, is underlined by the myth engraved on his baldrick: so Conte G. B. demonstrates, I generi e i suoi confini (Torino, 1980), pp. 96 ff.; his argument is summarized by myself in JRS 71 (1981), 222. On Aeneas' motives in Book 10 see too Beare (note 30), pp. 18 ff., Quinn (note 20), p. 226.

19 On spolia see the useful article in RE, Reihe Zweite, Halbband Sechster (1929), 1843 ff. I cite a few useful references. For Romans despoiling defeated enemies after individual combat see e.g. Livy 5. 36. 7, Gell. 2. 11.3. For the display of spolia in houses see Livy 23. 23. 6 (where those qui spolia ex hoste fixa domi haberent are among specially selected categories designated to fill vacant places in the Senate; the principle of selection was ita…ut ordo ordini, non homo homini praelatus uideretur), 38. 43. 10, Cic. Phil. 2. 68. For Roman soldiers trying to prevent the despoliation (dishonour) of their dead consul: Livy 22. 6. 4. Homer of course often describes such attempts to prevent despoliation. The dying Sarpedon's words are worth noting, eloquently appealing to Glaucus not to let the Greeks despoil him (Il. 16.492–501): he clearly thinks Glaucus has a duty to him in this respect (σοì γάρ ⋯γὼ καì ἒπειτα κατηφείη καì ὂνειδος | ἒσσομαι…εἲ κέ μ' 'Aχαιοì | τεύχεα συλησωσι…). On the spolia opima (and Augustus) see Cambridge Ancient History x. 125. Note too Verg. Aen. 1. 289hunc (Caesar) tu olim caelo spoliis Orientis onustum | accipies secura. (spolium in the Aeneid repays study: there are 22 examples; Heinze (note 6) offers some brief and largely sensible remarks.)

20 See e.g. Knauer G., Die Aeneis und Homer (Göttingen, 1964), pp. 301 ff.; Otis B., Virgil (Oxford, 1963), p. 356; Quinn K., Virgil's Aeneid (London, 1968), pp. 223, 326. Misunderstanding the role of spoils leads to these misinterpretations.

21 See Brunt (note 1), p. 184.

22 cf. Quinn k., op. cit. p. 326 (more non-committal than I am); and there are some very perceptive points – and interesting information – in Barchiesi A., Materiali e discussioni per l'analisi dei testi classici 4 (1980), 4555; Barchiesi discusses Aen. 10. 501–5, but not specifically to make the point I am stressing. Other scholars (e.g. Otis, Williams, Klingner) are curiously silent on this question. Heinze (note 6), p. 209 gets it wrong.

23 The scholia provide their own implausible explanations. Eustathius, ad loc. (backed by Bassett S. E., ‘Hector's Fault in Honor’, TAPA 54 (1923), 117–27) ingeniously tries to settle the inconsistency with Il. 16.791 ff. (where Apollo is responsible for Patroclus' loss of his armour) at the same time as interpret Zeus' comment: τò δè, οὐ κατά κόσμον – εİλευ, ⋯ντì τοῡ οὐκ ⋯σκύλευσας ὡς Ēχρην ⋯λλ⋯ τοû ϕοίβου τòν Πάτροκλον ⋯φοπλίσανμος, σù δ⋯ρον ε¡λου αὐτà ἢ καì ὡς εὖρημα… (and the point is amplified). But clearly one cannot disjoin οὐ from κατà κòσμον in the way Eustathius implies; the two books simply are inconsistent. I take it that Zeus' point lies in the excellence of Achilles, and in the fact that it was Achilles' armour that Hector gained (note αὺ δ' ᾱμβροτα τεύχεα δύνεις | ⋯νδρòς ⋯ριστ⋯ος). It would be one thing to strip the defeated Patroclus of Patroclus' arms; it was another to strip him of the divine arms of Achilles. This Zeus finds ‘inappropriate’, ‘not quite in order’, vel. sim., οὐ κατà κόσμον.

24 cf. e.g. Hom. Il. 19. 365 f. τώ δέ οἱ ὂσσε | λαμπέσθην ὡς εἲ τε πυρòς σέλας. I choose the word ‘monstrous’ advisedly: Turnus reminds us of Cacus.

25 See note 10 above.

26 With Aen. 12. 435 f. cf. Soph. Ajax 550–1 (imitated by Accius (fr. 156) in the form uirtuti sis par, dispar fortunis patris). I shall cite more evidence for my assertion at another time.

27 cf. Williams' commentary on 12. 497.

28 Poe J. P., ‘Success and failure in the mission of AeneasTAPA 96 (1965), 334, gets this wrong.

29 Quinn (note 20), p. 273 misunderstands this.

30 This scene has of course been much discussed. Some scholars are anxious to justify Aeneas' conduct in victory (e.g. Bowra (note 13), Otis (note 20), pp. 379–82, Heinze (note 6), pp. 210–11, Binder G., Aeneas und Augustus (Meisenheim, 1971), p. 146); others are more critical (e.g. Quinn (note 20), pp. 272 ff., Putnam M. C. J., The Poetry of the Aeneid (Cambridge, Mass., 1965), pp. 193 ff. (‘It is Aeneas who loses at the end of Book XII…’)). More cautious is Pöschl V., Die Dichtkunst Virgils 3 (Berlin/New York, 1977), pp. 81–4; cf. too Beare R., ‘Invidious success: some thoughts on the end of the AeneidProc. Virg. Soc. 4 (1964), 1830; these two, together with Quinn's discussion, are among the most helpful. None gets to the heart of the matter.

31 Good discussion in Quinn and Beare, opp. cit.

32 See Reinach S., Cultes, Mythes et Religions (Paris, 1908), iii. 223 ff.; contrast what happens at Aen. 8. 562, 11. 5–11, 83–4, 193–6, and see note 19 above.

33 cf. the very sensible comments of Beare (note 30), p. 26. Beare p. 23 also reminds us of Priam's mercy towards Sinon and Anchises' towards Achaemenides, suggesting that mercy is, or should be, a particularly Trojan characteristic. But (it must be said) anyone who recalled Sinon might have felt justified in regarding mercy in a cynical light… At this point, I must concede that not all Romans would regard the argument in favour of a practical function to clementia as cut and dried. Cic. ad M. Brutum 6 (Shackleton Bailey). 2 = 1. 2 a 2 (my attention was drawn to this letter by D. P. Fowler) is fascinating: scribis enim acrius prohibenda bella ciuilia esse quam in superatos iracundiam exercendam. uehementer a te, Brute, dissentio; nee clementiae tuae concede, sed salutaris seueritas uincit inanem speciem clementiae. quod si clementes esse uolumus, numquam deerunt bella ciuilia. Against this we should recall other Roman and Stoic views: not only the same Cicero's and others cited above, but also Sen. De ira 2. 32. 1 ff. non enim ut in beneficiis honestum est merila meriis repensare, ita iniuria iniuriis…, and Clem. 1.21. 1—2 si quos pares aliquando habuit, infra se uidet, satis uindicatus est…perdidit enim uitam qui debet, et quisquis ex alto ad inimici pedes abiectus alienam de capite regnoque sententiam exspectauit, in seruatoris sui gloriam uiuit plusque nomini eius confert incolumis, quam si ex oculis ablatus est.

34 But this of course is the common view: see e.g. Bowra (note 13), Heinze (note 6), pp. 275 ff., Otis (note 20) index sub ‘Aeneas — development of’.

35 Note the careful wording of Res Gestae 2–3.

36 See Brunt (note 1), pp. 176 ff. (esp. perhaps p. 176).

* Much has of course been written on most of the topics dealt with in this paper, and many articles and books are referred to in the notes. A high proportion of the articles are disappointing; one that is not and which I would single out for special mention is R. D. Williams, ‘The purpose of the Aeneia’, Antichthon 1 (1967), 29–41. Messrs P. G. McC. Brown and D. P. Fowler have read and criticized the present paper. My thanks to them. It is not to be assumed they agree with it all.

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