Vergil’s Aeneid Exemplified in The Walking DeadEdit

Indeed one may find it utterly surprising to see a comparison between an ancient epic and recently debuted television show about zombies. It becomes apparent that if the reader of Vergil’s Aeneid devotes her attention and patience in understanding the poetic techniques, they can construct meaning in some other work. My goal is to explicate the poetic techniques Virgil implements in his own work to support a keen understanding of the recent AMC Originals show The Walking Dead, produced by Frank Darabont and Gale Anne Hurd. This paper will focus on the following Virgilian techniques: his distinctive approach to expressing the instinctus artificis (inspiration of artists), the artful selection of details, his literary poet jockey effect, and the creation and emphasis on his distinctive Virgilian pathos. Resulting from this analysis, we can see two dominant themes arise in The Walking Dead: the human condition flux, and the schemed tempo effect. Together these techniques and themes present both works to their audiences in an appreciating fashion.

Before the connections between the series and the Aeneid are made, it is important to briefly overview The Walking Dead. The time is now; the place is Atlanta, Georgia. County Sheriff Rick Grimes, coma-induced, wakes up to a world destroyed by a zombie epidemic. The television show tells the story of the months following the apocalypse by encompassing Rick’s own journey to find his family and lead other stranded humans he joins with to salvation. After escaping the overwhelming flood of zombies in Atlanta, Rick along with his new crew, return to their base camp in the hills outside of the city. There, Rick reunites with his wife Lori and son Carl. The group finally decides to break camp and head for the Center for Disease Control (CDC) on the outskirts of Atlanta, hoping for salvation and a cure. The lack of supplies and answers force them to leave the CDC, some staying behind while the building self-constructs.

The Human-Condition FluxEdit

Virgil illustrates a rollercoaster of human pathos evident in The Walking Dead. First and foremost the protagonists realization of the self against their future alters continuously in one case, resolute in the other. In the Aeneid, Aeneas’ first speech to his comrades is a rallying cry as he tells them to revocate animos maestumque timorem mittite; forsan et haec olim meminisse juvabit…sedes ubi fata quietas ostendunt (1.205)… He reassures their confidence in light of the promised fate to guide them to peacefully settle in Latium. But self-proclaimed pius Aeneas (1.378), while expressing these words to his crew is curis ingentibus aeger spem vultu simulat, premit altum corde dolorem (1.208). Virgil magnifies Aeneas’ sense of duty and piety to his comrades against the internal struggles he is dealing with, developing a greater sense of empathy and emotion toward the protagonist to add to the pathos of the epic. Like Aeneas, in episode “TS-19,” while at the CDC, the group is left pitying their lives in the face of the devastation that has occurred. Here they learn about the encompassing destruction; they see no hope. Rick rallies them by persuading them there is salvation “somewhere with someone out there” in a moving speech. Little do the other characters know, the night before, after plenty of drinks at the CDC Rick confessed his pessimistic outlook and the pains he has held within for so long to the doctor that houses them. He feels he has a duty to be persistent in finding help and he knows it.

The case-study in The Walking Dead is Virgilian to a certain extent. The pathos Virgil creates for Aeneas is admirable and pious but it does not have the same power as the television show. Aeneas knows his fate and Virgil wants the reader to know it, which reduces the effect to which the reader engages with the protagonist. Rick is stuck in a void of terrifying uncertainty so when he is able to stay poise, he does so in the face of the external pressures as well as the complex internal struggle and this is why the audience falls in love him. Rick’s fate is self-created with inner workings of confidence while Aeneas’ fate is in the hands of the gods and he has less an arduous task to stay devoted.

We also can take away an important part of ‘the human condition’ in The Walking Dead: duty. The repetition of pius Aeneas in Book I is emphatic. There is a sense of duty ingrained in the reader’s mind and this is accentuated to the same degree but through un-Virgilian technique: extreme juxtaposition. In “Tell it to the Frogs,” while in the city the group left a man behind on a roof because he was putting the crew in jeopardy. The man left behind was a selfish, full-blooded bigot who brought more problems than solutions to the group- this is exactly why the producers did a great job in choosing the stranded character. Rick explains to the group he is going back to save Earl because leaving a man on a roof is no way for a human being to die. Here, Rick’s duty to his wife and group is pitted against his duty to humanity; and even with all of the moral chaos the world, and group, is in Rick still strives to uphold moral righteousness.

Virgil’s unique approach to love offers insight to love in The Walking Dead. Let us consider the Aeneas-Dido love tango. The female character falls victim of this ruthless force. Dido, depending on interpretation, can be seen as an alarming obstacle to the foundation of Rome and her loss is a story within a story; the readers do not forget about Dido after Book VI. Confronting Dido with the necessity for him to abandon her, Aeneas claims Italiam non sponte sequor (4.361). Dido, saevit inops animi totamque incensa per urbem bacchatur (4.300) is driven into frenzy upon hearing the news from Aeneas. Ergo ubi concepit furias evicta dolore decrevitque mori, tempus secum ipsa modumque exigit (4.74) Virgil uses his poetic jockey license to show the breakdown of Dido as some inner-time capsule that builds up Dido’s suicide, which truly makes the reader sympathize for her. His extreme approach to love portrays women as weak and unstable. Is this his way of solidifying males in social hierarchy or is this merely a means for dramatic effect of the epic? Perhaps looking at a case of love, through similar lenses, in The Walking Dead will help us grasp how Virgil’s approach to love and the human condition.

Rick and Lori’s relationship in no way takes the turn Aeneas and Dido’s relationship does. When Rick tells Lori he is risking his life by going back to Atlanta she simply becomes upset and worrisome- the stereotypical argument between husband and wife, however. In “Tell it to the Frogs” when Earl’s brother Darryl asks Rick where Earl is so he can go rescue him, Lori says “He [Rick] will show you.” The annoyed yet understand look on her face illustrates her acceptance and reluctant support. She knows Rick must stick to his moral duty. And we can only see this if we reconsider Dido and Aeneas because it is out of jussa deum (6.461) that Aeneas leaves Dido. Contrary to Lori, Dido is neither understanding nor supportive. The producers of The Walking Dead clearly have a different, more sophisticated agenda in terms of their portrayal of women. But aside from the role of women in the Aeneid, Virgil makes us feel an overwhelming sense of Dido’s suffering. He does this in an attempt to express the vulnerability and destruction of the human condition that is so apparent in Roman project, especially the wars. There is no added effect of having Lori suffering in the television show; it would not serve any purpose if she would have lost her mind. It also would be appropriate. This theme seems only relevant to antiquity if one believes in the mysteries. So applying Virgil’s technique to the love story in The Walking Dead does not add any significant meaning to overall suffering of the human condition but both have human suffering at its core, intended or not.

Controlling the Tempo… Too Much?Edit

The tempo in both cases adds an essential role to the overall presentation and meaning. Virgil’s use of the dactylic hexameter provides a steady, consistent rhythm taking away some key emotional aspects. Virgil makes up for the lack of suspense in Book II when two immensis orbibus angues…sanguineae superant undas…sonitus spumante…ardentisque oculos suffecti sanguine… sibila ora (2.203). The alliteration of the ‘s’ sound instills a sense of panic and anticipation. Virgil incorporates these words in order to heighten the tempo and build up to the climax of the serpents attacking Laocoon and his sons. The constant ‘s’ sound also resonates during pronunciation adding a sense of hissing to the reader’s ears as it gets louder, insinuating imminent danger. Virgil must have paid very close attention to which words he chose in order to illuminate the approaching snakes. For that, we appreciate his detailed technique. However it takes a keen eye to recognize the fluctuations in tempo triggered by poetic devices. There does not seem to be more obvious cases.

Surely the producers of The Walking Dead cannot use poetic devices to control tempo so they use screen shots, sounds and visuals. In “Days Gone Bye” Rick enters the city on horseback slowly trotting in, the hoofs on the pavement echoing, the city is in shambles. Rick runs into a mob of zombies. The camera angle zooms in on their faces and shakes, mimicking zombie movement. The next screen shot shows zombies surrounding him in the streets of Atlanta. We feel there is no hope as the volume of Rick’s panicking increases and the zombies take down his horse. The music kicks in as he shoots zombies crawling after him under a tank- the mood is tense. Under the tank, overwhelmed, he looks up to pray before he uses the last bullet on himself, camera in birds-eye view. The camera drops back into the tank. The hatch was open and Rick crawls into safety. The camera angles, screen shots and audio all contribute to a complex frenzy, which complements the tense mood of the scene. And when we see the camera drop into the tank the viewer is overcome with a sigh of relief- something devoid in the Aeneid. Un-Virgilian in technique, but the tempo is mastered.

The Walking Dead is also un-Virgilian in its use of humor to relieve anguish and fear. In “Guts” Glen, a young, charismatic, pizza delivery boy got his hands on a brand new Ford Mustang as part of the escape plan from the city. While the rest of the group drives back to the camp in relief he is speeding down the empty highway screaming in exhilaration while a rough-n-ready rock and roll song plays. The viewer cannot help but laugh as the producers make us feel the joy of the character, despite its brevity. We perceive this scene as the like because of Virgil’s emphasis on creating pathos. One of the few instances of relief from the somber war epic is when, in the Underworld, Anchises tells Aeneas to mecum laetere reperta (6.718) upon talking about the founding of Italy. This is not an instance of humor-formed relief but it is rejoice however it does not make the reader empathize with the character. We should give Virgil leeway because there are constraints on literary devices as forms of connecting to the ‘audiences.’ Virgil’s creation of pathos contributes to the poem’s tempo as seen in The Walking Dead.


Both works of art share similar themes and truly achieve their goal of supplying audiences with a wonderful epic. While one story is about a hero destined to succeed against all obstacles, mortal and divine, the other story is about a man, ignorant of his destiny, leading a group to salvation troubled by uncertainty. The adversity faced not only comes in the form of zombies or gods, but them themselves in both the poem and television show. The techniques examined in Virgil, hopefully, illustrated key concepts in The Walking Dead allowing us to get a more sophisticated understanding of both in their respective right.