What is the most plausible connection which can be constructed between the various scenes from Roman history selected for depiction on the Shield of Aeneas, described in Aeneid 8.626–728? This question has found a variety of answers since Warde Fowler raised it in 1918, but none is entirely satisfactory. The order of presentation of the individual scenes is evidently chronological, from the beginnings of Rome to the poet's own day, but the poet's own explicit programme, that the Shield contains res Italas Romanorumque triumphos (626), is very general, and could apply equally well to the Show of Heroes in Aeneid 6. The reader feels that a more specific criterion of selection is in operation — why these particular pieces of Roman military history?
The most significant modern proposals for such a criterion are reviewed by West in an important article. For instance, Drew's argument that the scenes represent the four imperial virtues of virtus, clementia, iustitia, and pietas ascribed to Augustus on the golden shield presented to him by the Senate in 27 B.C. (Res Gestae 34.2, CIL VI.876), a stone copy of which survives at Arles, laudably makes the connection with a real, contemporary, and ideologically significant shield, but (as West points out) it is too schematic and does not account for all the details (how are the she-wolf and the rape of the Sabines to be accommodated under those labels?). West's own answer, that the scenes chosen are those particularly suited to depiction in plastic art, has many attractions, but it is difficult to see it as the sole criterion for selection: this is too important an ideological moment in the Aeneid for such a purely aesthetic explanation.
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