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Virgil's Pirates of the Caribbean

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The 2003 adventure fantasy film, Pirates of The Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, directed by Gore Verbinski, has aspects that can be viewed in a Virgilian way or that have potential to be Virgilian. Gore Verbinski uses a few techniques and methods to add dramatic effect to the film. If Virgil were to have directed Pirates of The Caribbean, many elements of the movie would be treated differently in order to bring more attention to them. Virgil’s style of writing always displays a strong sense of imagery; thus, in taking a Virgilian approach to the film, certain scenes in the movie such as, the storm derailing the path of the ship or sword fights between the characters would be exaggerated to give the viewer a more detailed sense of what is going on. Hence, the Virgilian approach to certain scenes (that do not already possess Virgilian scenes) of the film would bring more attention to certain themes and motifs of the movie. This paper will view comparisons between the Aeneid and Pirates of The Caribbean, as well as take Virgilian approaches to certain scenes of the movie.

Pirates of The Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is a movie about the journey of two men for the black pearl, the fastest ship in the Caribbean. There are a number of minor storylines of the film, but there are two main storylines that interconnect as one. Jack Sparrow is in search of the Black Pearl because he wants his ship and crew back; it was originally his ship until the current captain of the ship, Captain Barbosa, committed mutiny against him. On the other hand, Will Turner wants to get to the Black Pearl because the woman that he loves, Elizabeth Swan, is being held hostage by Barbosa.

It is clearly evident, from the Aeneid, that Virgil uses the repetition of words or phrases to provide the reader with certain themes of his poem. In his article, William Anderson focuses on the repetition of the word “maestus,” which means sad in Latin, in Book XI to infer that Book XI is the saddest book of the Aeneid. Anderson states that the word appears, “fourteen times in the first eight books…but most frequently, eleven times, in this most present book…It is tempting to infer that Vergil did have the theme of sadness at heart in writing Book 11” (Anderson 195). One example of the usage of the word maestus is the following: “maestamque Euandri primus ad urbem mittatur Pallas”. This passage translates to: “and first let Pallas’s body be sent to Evander’s grieving city”. This is one of many examples where the word maestus is used in Book 11 of the Aeneid. Thus, like Anderson argues, Virgil uses the repetition of words to give meaning to his poem.

Similarly, in the Pirates of The Caribbean, the film writer uses repetition as well, but he uses it to give meaning to his characters. In the movie, there is a constant mention of “the code” or “keep to the code” amongst the pirates. The code is a set of rules and guidelines that all pirates should abide by. Near the beginning of the movie, when Elizabeth is captured by the pirates, she says, “Parley. I invoke the right of parley. According to the Code of the brethren, set down by the pirates Morgan and Bartholomew, you have to take me to your Captain” then one of the pirates responds: “She wants to be taken to the Captain. And she’ll go without a fuss. We must honor the Code”. In this instance, Elizabeth, who is not a pirate, brings up this “Code of the brethren” so that she can meet the captain and bargain with him, and the pirates have to oblige her desire because they must keep to the code. In the twentieth scene, when the pirates are conversing, they begin to discuss the life of a pirate, who was shot from a cannon off of the ship; they mention the code once more: “Ol Bootstrap Bill. We knew him. Never sat well with Bootstrap what we did to Jack Sparrow, the mutiny and all. He said it wasn’t right with the Code. That’s why he sent off a piece of the treasure to you as it were. He said we deserved to be cursed and remain cursed”. In this example, the viewer sees that when the code is broken, the righteous pirates feel a sense of guilt as if they’ve done something wrong. Hence the film writer, much like Virgil, uses the repetition of “the code” to show that although pirates are perceived as criminals and thieves, they do still abide by a set of rules.

Virgil also uses repetition throughout the Aeneid to also define Aeneas’ character. Similar to Homer’s writing style, he attaches an adjective to his protagonist most times that he is mentioned. For example in the Odyssey, Homer just about always referred to Odysseus as wily or witty Odysseus, in order to highlight his wisdom and just how clever he really is. Just like in The Iliad, Homer almost always attaches the phrase “god like” or “fierce warrior” when he mentions Achilles. He does this in order to pinpoint just how magnificent and strong Achilles is. In the beginning of the poem, before even saying his name (Aeneas), Virgil first describes him as a pious man; “quidve dolens regina deum tot volvere casus insignem pietate virum”. This sentence translates to: “how was she grieved, the Queen of Heaven, to drive a man, noted for virtue, to endure such dangers.” Virgil describes Aeneas as a man noted for his virtue, before he even says his name, which goes to show that he wants to instill in the readers head just how pious Aeneas is. The next time he mentions Aeneas, once again he does not mention his name but he does mention his piety: “pietate gravem ac meritis si forte virum quem conspexere, silent.” This passage translates to: “if they then see a man of great virtue, and weighty service, they are silent.” Once again he refers to Aeneas piety before even mentioning his name. If Virgil had played a role in the making of the Pirates of The Caribbean, he would have made sure to place emphasis on the type of qualities that Captain Jack Sparrow possesses, just like he does with Aeneas in the Aeneid. In the film, Jack Sparrow is not an evil, but a very cunning, sly, and manipulative character. For example, in the 9th scene of the film, Jack Sparrow steals a ship from Commodore Norrington, right in front of him. He steals one ship, and forces the commodore to chase him in another ship. Jack then disengages the ship so that it cannot move, so when the commodore and his crew come aboard the ship to arrest Jack, he swings onto the ship that the commodore just chased him with and rides the ocean, leaving the commodore behind on a broken ship. Such actions would merit Jack the title as cunning or witty. Hence if Virgil were to have written the film, most times when Jack would be mentioned his name would be accompanied with an adjective such as witty or cunning.

At the end of the movie, Jack Sparrow and Captain Barbosa engage in an epic sword fight in a cave on the Isla de Muerta. While the two are battling Will and Elizabeth are fighting the other pirates from Barbosa’s crew. All the fighting takes place in the cave flooded with water and golden treasure. Off the shore of the island, there is even more violence, with the Royal Navy battling the pirates on ships. The fight is interesting because the navy is fighting a crew that is cursed with everlasting life, so no matter how good they are in battle, they cannot emerge victorious, because they are literally fighting skeletons. Barbosa himself is also immortal so Hack cannot emerge victorious neither; however, after being shoved into the moon light Jack sees that he is a skeleton and that he is indeed cursed as well. At this point Barbosa says his epic line: “So what now, Jack Sparrow? Will it be it two immortals locked in an epic battle until Judgment Day and trumpets sound? Hmm?” These lines appear very Virgilian in the style that they are spoken, but if Virgil had a role in the directing of the scene it would have gone more like the battle between Turnus and Aeneas.

In his description of the final battle of the poem between Aeneas and Turnus, Virgil stages the scene as a true epic battle. Virgil writes, “iam vero et Rutuli certatim et Troes et omnes conuertere oculos Itali, quique alta tenebant moenia quique imos pulsabant ariete muros, armaque deposuere umeris” which means, “Now all truly turned their eyes, stripping the armor from their shoulders, Rutulians, Trojans and Italians, those who held the high ramparts and those whose ram battered at the walls beneath.” Virgil turns the battle between Aeneas and Turnus into a viewing for all, and magnifies its importance by having all warriors from both sides stop fighting and watch the main battle. Virgil would have taken the same approach with the battle between Sparrow and Barbosa. Instead of fighting Will, Elizabeth, the soldiers of the royal navy, and the pirates would have been in the cave watching the fight to witness who would arise as triumphant. Virgil would have also played with the camera by zooming in on the fighters at certain times and having them have many stand offs. He also perhaps would’ve had the roof of the cave fallen in just for dramatic effect, because in the battle between Turnus and Aeneas, he writes: “Dat gemitum tellus” which translates as the earth groaned. Virgil, unlike Verbinski would have made the battle between the two fighters the focal point of the scene and added dramatic effect to it like he does in the Aeneid.

Therefore Pirates of The Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl contains themes and scenes similar to Virgil’s themes and scenes in the Aeneid. It also has scenes that have potential to be viewed as Virgilian.

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