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The Foundation Story: An Introduction ~~jsedlak~~Edit

Fully understanding the Aeneid is a daunting task for the novice Latinist. There is a vast amount to cover. Many parts of the epic are neither completely agreed upon by scholars nor even explained to their potential. Laura Gribbell presents Gary Miles's approach to hearing the heartbeat of the Aeneid. The main approach she illustrates is grounded in the connection to other Latin works, a common approach in the majority of critical reports driven by allusions. By comparing and contrasting the Aeneid to Livy's works we distinguish the role of fate, as the inevitable unchanging nature of life, in the epic. Unlike fate succumbing to personal will in Livy's perspective, fate, for Vergil, is the uninhibited driving force of human behavior. The contrasting strategy between Livy and Vergil Gribbell emphasizes is Miles's main approach in defining a foundation story. This report also implicitly assumes the importance of "intertexuality" as referred to in Matt's report. Referring back and forth between different texts is key to our ability to construct coherent conceptions about the Aeneid because the Latin works circa Vergil's time share such moving features. We can learn a tremendous amount about the Aeneid from reading the work of other poets.

Despite the unrivaled power of reoccurring fate explained in the report, the approach explained by Gribbell is narrowly focused. Miles's focus on fate being necessary for a foundation story withdraws from other important themes present in other reports like the epic savagery, destruction vs. prosperity, reconsidering the ideal Rome, being lost but not forgotten (the women of the Aeneid as well as other subtle yet significant parts of the epic). The epic, indeed a foundation story, however may not be entirely devoted to the story of Rome. There are other aspects of Vergil's work as suggested in other reports that deserve attention: the the epic's relation to the Roman social and political arenas, how this poem suggests attitudes toward Vergil himself, and the presence of various voices, ethnicities, and divinities throughout the story all assisting the foundation of Rome.

Since this approach assumes the role of fate as the fulcrum of the epic it also implies certain interpretation techniques for the readers. Gribbell explains how the scrutiny of textual citations is important because the choice, placement and repetition of words pertaining to fate contribute something to the deeper meaning we, as latinists, try to excavate. And this active textual analysis is a prominent approach described by most reports on other motifs, themes or moods of the Aeneid. As you will see in Gribbell's report, the contrast to other Latin works, allusions, textual analysis of specific themes, and the social dynamic among characters all contribute to Gary Miles's unique perspective on the Aeneid: a foundation story driven by the inexplicable forces of fate.

Foundation Story: What is meant to be? (by Laura Gribbell)Edit

The Aeneid as a foundation story comes from Virgil’s point of view and through this article Gary Miles’ perspective. Throughout his article, Gary Miles begins by defining a foundation story as opposed to a creation story. Where foundation stories, “typically focus on the primacy of human initiative and agency” and “call attention to some aspect of that community’s distinctiveness” (Miles, 231). Miles points out that foundation stories of civilizations can be defined by either culture or race and ethnicity and the stories can change over time in order to accommodate different variations of the story. Miles also claims that the fate of a civilization, specifically in Virgil’s the Aeneid, is inevitable through many things such as divine power. In order to support Miles’ argument, he mentions that there are several foundation stories and compares Virgil’s type of foundation story to that of his contemporary, Livy. Throughout the Aeneid, Virgil contributes much of what happens to fate and divine ancestry by using textual examples, whereas Livy contributes Aeneas’ and the other characters fate to “their strength and character from the austere conditions of their way of life rather than from the lofty eminence of the gods” (Miles, 250). However, he believes that both authors “isolate the essential elements of Roman identity by tracing them to their own origins” (Miles, 250).

Everything Happens for a ReasonEdit

Throughout Miles’ article, he is about to support his argument that everything is predetermined by fate and by a little influence of the divine will of the gods through textual evidence in the Aeneid. While supporting his argument through the text of the Aeneid, Miles is able to convey that nothing is above fate, not even the gods are. Even though the Trojans and Italians hate each other, there is no way to get around the destined fate that the two races will become one. To emphasize the destined fate of Aeneas and the Trojan race, Miles points out that Virgil constantly contrasts Aeneas’ fate and fides to that of other characters; more generally contrasting the Trojans to that of the Greeks. However, Miles does point out that Vigil that Aeneas comes from the world of the heroic Greeks that plays a part in fulfilling his destiny. In the article, Miles says that no matter how much the two races did not like each other, the eventual union of the Trojans and Latins was inevitable to become the Romans in the end.

No Escaping FateEdit

It was the destiny of the Trojans to become the Romans and rule the world, even Jupiter himself, the father of the gods, “promises universal Roman imperium” (Miles, 235) or power. Miles defends this idea by using the scene in the first half of the Aeneid when Anchises is talking to Aeneas, informing Aeneas of the ultimate fate to rule the Romans. While the second half of Virgil’s the Aeneid, describes the place that Aeneas brings his people to what will eventually be the city of Rome, after the war between Turnus and himself. Miles further supports his argument that the fate of the Trojans is inevitable even from the divine will of the gods. In book twelve, Jupiter is finally able to convince Juno to end her grudge against Aeneas and the Trojans with the result that the Trojans and Latins will merge into one race: “non dabitur regnis, esto, prohibere Latinis, /atque immota manet fatis Lavinia coniunx” (7. 313-14): ‘I cannot keep him from the Latin Kingdoms: /so be it, let Lavinia be his wife/ as fates have fixed’ (Miles, 237). The word fate is used in this sentence from the article when Juno decides to just let things happen instead of interfering. Miles specifically states that in the Aeneid, “the union of the Trojan and Latin that will lead to the larger union of Trojan and Italian is not a matter of choice but of fate” (Miles, 236). This statement is supported by lines 7.50-51 in the Aeneid, “filius huic fato divum prolesque virilis/nulla fuit,” which specifically contains the word fato. The price to pay for these fates was the civil wars for the ironic eventual Roman destiny. Miles contributes the Aeneid as a foundation story to the fate of what is meant to happen.

Importantly Miles compares the Aeneid as a foundation story by Virgil to that of Livy, another writer during Virgil’s time. Miles also mentions a few other authors such as Pliny the Elder and Cato the Elder. He discusses the subtle Greek influences on all the aspects of the Roman life through some historical evidence specifically that the Aeneid is simply one of the many foundation stories of Rome. The most attention is drawn to Livy in the article. Miles claims “Livy is much more insistent than Virgil on the uniquely Roman origins of Roman character and greatness” (Miles, 246). So through Livy’s perspective everything in the Roman culture must have originated from some sort of story such as the wisdom and self-made virtues that all of Rome’s founders had. Miles creates his argument that Virgil focuses more on the tragic unavoidable things of Rome’s destiny, whereas Livy emphasizes the important contributions that certain Italians make to the final success of Rome so that the people are not forced to assimilate but rather ingrate peacefully with awareness that these two races must come together for an ultimate goal.

Roll with the Flow?Edit

The point Gary Miles is trying to make is very clear: Virgil focuses more on the inevitable things throughout the Aeneid. This point is emphasized by the comparison between Virgil and Livy, who focused more on the events that needed to happen in order to create success for the Roman race. While both authors bring out the most essential elements for the Roman race in order to identify the origins. As in the article, Virgil points out that fate has the final control over the Roman race and though some gods try to intervene, it is impossible to prevent what is meant to be. For instance, the first few lines of the entire Aeneid presents the entire idea of the article, “arma virumque cano, Trojae qui primus ab oris/ Italiam fato profugus Lavinaque venit/ litora,” ‘I sing of men and weapons, who first exiled by fate from the coasts of Troy came to Italy and the Lavinian shores.’ This phrase is significant because it supports the article by saying that the Trojan men were forced by fato or fate. Nothing can stand in the way of Aeneas’ fated destiny except for the last questionable event when Aeneas is fighting Turnus and shows the littlest bit of compassion for the ill-fated Turnus, seen in book seven. Nothing can hinder the final destiny of Aeneas and the Trojans. Despite all of Juno’s attempts with divine will, she is unable to alter the course of the Trojans as Miles pointed out in the first half of the Aeneid. Juno tries to interfere with the fate of Aeneas multiple times, from sending down other gods to create chaos or Turnus starting a war while Aeneas is away, but in the end proves to be unsuccessful: “it will not be permitted for me/ to keep the man from rule in Italy. By changless fate Latvinia awaits…” (7.430).

The fates are unable to be changed by anyone and it is even recognized by the gods. The reader of the Aeneid is constantly reminded that the Trojans will eventually found Rome and nothing can stop them. The actual word fato is used very frequently in the entire poem to serve as a constant reminder of the inevitable. In the article, Miles contrasts this unavoidable fates in the Aeneid with that of Livy’s writings who thought that the steps to get to a certain point were more important than the predetermined fates. Miles is able to bring to light the inevitable fate of the Roman race through the contrast of other authors as well as the emphasis of the word fato in the Aeneid.

Works CitedEdit

  • Miles, Gary. “The Aeneid as a Foundation Story.” Chapter 13 of Perkell. University of Oklahoma Press: Norman. 1999.

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