Matthew is a product of the times

Matthew KennedyMr. StewartWorld Mythology Honors10 December 2017Stoicism in the Pax Romana and Elizabethan Era”Great achievement is usually born of great sacrifice, and is never the result of selfishness” (Napoleon Hill). Following the suicide of Antony and Cleopatra within the crumbling walls of Alexandria, Octavian suddenly found himself the sole ruler of the Roman Empire. The Romans, weary of a century of civil strife, were eager to return to their traditional ways of life. However, there was a mass confusion on what were the next steps to take. Octavian, now in possession of vast amounts of lands and people, wanted to create a common identity for the new Roman Empire. Virgil, a former lawyer and modest poet, made it his job to create an epic poem symbolizing this idea.  The Aeneid in many ways is a product of the times and conflict in which it was written. Shakespeare was also exposed to similar cultural shifts while he was living in London. Either through specific intention, or because of the circumstance of the time period, both Romeo and Juliet and the Aeneid convey strong criticisms of epicureanism.  This is done by Fate stymying the selfish acts of the characters.Aeneas’s eventual decision to leave Dido is a stoic decision that Virgil specifically intended for the Romans. The city of Carthage is a unique place for the sole reason that it is ruled by a woman, Queen Dido. From a historical viewpoint, this is something that is almost unheard of during this time period. Women had very little, if any, civil rights in many Greek societies. The sheer power that Dido embodies is an important idea, for its peculiarity within the timeline of history. Unfortunately for Aeneas, Juno seeks to use this against him. Carthage is being threatened by invaders when Aeneas and his ships full of soldiers arrive, so the thought of combining the two powers, Aeneas and Dido, only seems logical. Dido sees this before Aeneas, almost immediately after meeting him. “But anxious cares already seiz’d the queen:She fed within her veins a flame unseen;The hero’s valor, acts, and birth inspireHer soul with love, and fan the secret fire.His words, his looks, imprinted in her heart,Improve the passion, and increase the smart.” (Virgil, IV)By comparing her sudden emotions to a “flame”, Virgil subtly foreshadows Dido’s tragic fate. Initially, Dido sought to remain pious to her perished husband, egged on by her sister Anna, Dido later affirms her love for Aeneas. What readers must not forget is that this story was fabricated almost entirely alone by the poet Virgil. The coincidence of a city under siege that Aeneas stumbles upon is not, in fact, by Chance at all. Rather, Virgil created this scene to set the stage for the tragic romance of Dido and Aeneas. Every effort and meter only adds to the apparent comfort that Aeneas is feeling at Carthage, including one of the world’s most universal pleasures: sex. Virgil utilizes Juno as the instigator of a storm that sends Aeneas and Dido into a cave to consummate their relationship. Modern society and the Roman people share a lot of similarities, including a tradition of monogamy. It seems apparent to any reader, following that intense display of emotional connection, that a logical next step would be for the two to begin preparations for marriage. Whole days with him she passes in delights,And wastes in luxury long winter nights,Forgetful of her fame and royal trust,Dissolv’d in ease, abandon’d to her lust. (Virgil, IV)As winter arrived, they have become so engrossed with one another that they are neglecting their other responsibilities. Carthage essentially has no queen during this period. By this time, Aeneas too has fallen victim to the comforts of life in Carthage. Jupiter eventually decides to send Hermes down to talk some sense into Aeneas. Degenerate man, Thou woman’s property, what mak’st thou here, These foreign walls and Tyrian tow’rs to rear, Forgetful of thy own…The promis’d crown let young Ascanius wear, To whom th’ Ausonian scepter, and the state Of Rome’s imperial name is ow’d by fate. (Virgil, IV)Hermes chooses to personally insult Aeneas in an effort to get him to see the error in his ways. Hermes also forces Aeneas to think about his future by referencing the founding of Rome and the kingly heritage that Octavian Caesar would eventually claim he is related to. This is a very creative successful move by Virgil as it justifies his right to mount the Roman throne. However, this revelation performed by Hermes is almost comical in retrospect. Aeneas during his time at Carthage would obviously have no tangible knowledge of Rome or the traditional symbols associated with it. It is clear now that this is an obvious attempt to supplement Octavian’s ascension to the throne with divine propaganda. By choosing this route of divine intervention, Virgil solidifies the importance of this event to the Roman citizens. Following a scene of great personal conflict, Aeneas eventually decides to leave Carthage to continue his fated quest. After discovering Aeneas’ plan, Dido enters a state of frenzy. She angrily confronts him and begs that he give her a son to remember him by. Aeneas responds calmly to these attacks, “Fair queen, oppose not what the gods command; Forc’d by my fate, I leave your happy land” (Virgil, IV). Even in the face of this stiff opposition, Aeneas remains fixed on his task. By doing this, he becomes a martyr for the Roman people. If he were to remain in Carthage, he would be promised all the comforts of royalty. He is sacrificing these physical pleasures, destroying himself, for the sake of Rome. This coincides with Joseph Campbell’s archetype of a Hero as a Scapegoat. Although Christianity was not around yet, Jesus is a well-known example of a scapegoat. Jesus’ death on the cross is treated as the ultimate sacrifice and a symbol of intense love by Christians. Both Aeneas and Jesus make sacrifices for the betterment of others. Roman religion encouraged stoicism and its followers believed in destiny. This idea of fate was frequently interwoven with the meddling of the gods. Analyzing this belief through an anthropological lens, Aeneas’ sacrifice has extreme importance. Everything in a Roman’s life was for a reason, from birth until death. For example, a slave is taught that he is a slave because that is how the gods intended. In an ideal Roman society, everyone would have this virtue of stoicism that Aeneas embodies. To create a country in which every one strived to be as best they could within their particular class. This idea has been a subject of many literary criticisms. C.M. Bowra writes,But it is also beyond question that the Aeneid was so vital a part of the Roman education that its character was accepted beyond cavail or criticism by the orthodox, and represented for four centuries an ideal which had long ceased to be a reality, if indeed it had ever been one. (9)Bowra, a former Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University, affirms the acceptance of Aeneas as a symbol of Rome. Virgil hoped that by writing this epic, he would make these stoic virtues popular among the Roman people. Hundreds of years later, it appears that he was very successful. Virgil also references Rome’s storied past to cater to his audience. Upon seeing Aeneas leave, Dido slays herself with Aeneas’ sword. This final image is crucially important. Everything that Virgil has done in Book III has led up to this scene of Dido commiting suicide on the flaming funeral pyre. Examining her suicide through a historical lens, important messages are conveyed. For over a hundred years, the Roman Republic had been at war with the Carthaginian empire (at the time, Carthage was a Mediterranean rival for the Romans). The hostilities were so fierce between the two that a Roman senator, Cato the Elder, ended every speech with “Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam” (And also I think Carthage must be destroyed). Following the conclusion of third Punic War in 146 BC, Romans burned the city of Carthage for 17 days, and sold over 50,000 former citizens into slavery. Virgil sought to play upon these grand historical victories, as Dido kills herself in this exuberant fashion. By including these details, Virgil only further enhances Aeneas’ glory in the eyes of the Romans.In the following book, Virgil uses Aeneas’ actions while in Eryx to further glorify him. While on their journey from Carthage, Aeneas and his crew find a storm impeding their path. He decides to take a slight detour and visit the city of Eryx where a former Trojan named Acestes rules. After their meeting, the two decide to host a series of games in memorial of Anchises. The games include a naval contest, foot race, and a boxing match. On the surface, there does not seem to be much substance in this book; however, a deeper look reveals more about Roman culture. Following the conclusion of an event, lavish gifts were given to all participants, even those who lost.Mnestheus the second victor was declar’d;And, summon’d there, the second prize he shard…Rich was the gift, and glorious to behold,But yet so pond’rous with its plates of gold,That scarce two servants could the weight sustain (Virgil, V)After the boat race, Aeneas gave Mnestheus a fabulous gold chain mail, even though he did not win the race. The Aeneas witnessed here is vastly different than the one from the last book, but they express similar ideals. While in Carthage, Aeneas appears very human. Even though he is a demigod, he is still prone to earthly desires, such as love. In Eryx, Aeneas appears almost supernatural. He is a benevolent force bestowing numerous gifts to all. Through this, Aeneas is continuing his strong adherence to stoicism. Even though a person did not win, they played their part, and that is worthy of reward. This a very stoic idea, as it encourages the sacrifice of self in harmonious accord with nature. The political motivations that Virgil had in the writing the Aeneid are similar to William Shakespeare’s when he penned Romeo and Juliet and other works. Shakespeare is considered by many to be one of the greatest English poets of all time. He spent the majority of his career in London, eventually owning his own theatre. However, the late 16th century was not an optimal time for the people of England. They were frequently plagued by poor harvest, as well as continued conflicts with Spain and Ireland. A heavy tax burden was placed on the shoulders of the citizens. This period is frequently referred to as “Elizabeth’s Second Reign”, as it features troubles that were not present in her relatively successful rule. During this same political strife is when Shakespeare began his career as a dramatist. Written between 1691 and 1695, Romeo and Juliet tells the tragic tale of two lovers. From the very beginning, Shakespeare makes it clear that their love was doomed to fail. The very first lines read, Two households, both alike in dignity, In fair Verona, where we lay our scene, From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.From forth the fatal loins of these two foesA pair of star-crossed lovers take their life,Whose misadventured piteous overthrowsDoth with their death bury their parents’ strife. (1. Prologue. 1-8)One evening, there is a party at the Capulet estate and Romeo decides to attend. It is at this event where Romeo falls in love with Juliet. Much later, in the midst of an elaborate scheme to marry and leave Verona, the plan falls apart, resulting in the deaths of the two lovers. Although scholars debate whether their ultimate demise was at the hands of fate, or by pure happenstance, the characters themselves believe in otherworldly forces. During a fight between members of the Capulets and Montagues, an enraged Romeo accidentally kills Tybalt, a Capulet, and cries,  “O, I am fortune’s fool” (3.4.100)! Rather than take responsibility for his heinous deed, Romeo simply chooses to blame fate. Here, and throughout the play, Shakespeare uses the idea of fate to push his own agendas. In a similar way, many English citizens blamed Elizabeth I for the decrease of standard of living they had experienced. By blaming fate, Romeo appears to be not levelheaded, and overall an unlikable character. By choosing to display Romeo in this light, it would be a call to the English to take control of their own lives and stop blaming the Queen. Another instance of this occurs once Friar Lawrence discovers that Romeo had taken his life, “A greater power than we can contradict/ Hath thwarted our intents” (5.3.153-155). Instead of blaming himself, he again blames fate for his own shortcomings. He could have taken many more precautions to prevent something like this from happening. However, either through ignorance or laziness, he did not. There are a variety of reasons for Shakespeare to display these characters in this negative way. Although the Queen was not known to be a big patron of the arts, she is on record of attending several of Shakespeare’s plays, and he and his troupe,  Lord Chamberlain’s men, even performed at the palace. Furthermore, Shakespeare had financial reasons to be wary of the current state of affairs. Shakespeare obviously would want a peaceful society. If people rebelled, or did not have enough income, no one would go see his productions. He included these criticisms of fate in an attempt for the English to remember the good old days when the country was very prosperous under the early years of Elizabeth’s rule. From two lovers making a final act of love to Aeneas sailing from Carthage, sacrifice is apparent in both Romeo and Juliet and the Aeneid. Virgil and Shakespeare each use sacrifice in a way to prove the effectiveness of stoicism. It is generally accepted amongst the literary community that both Romeo and Juliet committed suicide as a selfish act, as they could not imagine life without one another.Juliet awakens, still looking towards the “comfortable friar” (1. 148) for counsel and help. But this last worldly advisor, after offering to “dispose” of Juliet in a nunnery, inexplicably abandons her (“I dare no longer stay” – 1. 159), and Juliet’s dismissal of him echoes her earlier farewell to the Nurse: “Go get thee hence, for I will not away” (1. 160). Now they are alone, together, forever. Death is a relief (Carroll, 12).Both truly believed that their counterpart had passed, and that the only way to meet them again would be in the afterlife. However, from their selfish motivations came a beneficial result. The feud between their houses proved to be resolved only by their deaths. Although their personal motivations for taking their lives were selfish in nature, their acts proved to be the stoic force that improved the society of Verona. The two Lords of either house were greatly moved by this even and even promised to erect statues of  “pure gold” (5.3.310) to remember the two. In a similar way, Aeneas’ personal sacrifice in leaving Carthage allowed him to fulfill his eventual destiny of founding Rome. In contrast with Romeo and Juliet, however, the selfish decision would not have positively impacted Rome as Virgil deemed fit.Virgil needed Aeneas to overcome his earthly pleasures, in order for Ascanius to reach his future domain. The “prophecies” are even depicted upon the shield Aeneas received from Venus. By becoming the selfless, driven, undeterred force that Virgil wants Aeneas to be, he is able to become the new face of all previous Roman victories. In due time, he will help create a new identity for the Roman Empire.  In another one of Shakespeare’s plays, As You Like It, this idea is eloquently portrayed.All the world’s a stage,And all the men and women merely players.They have their exits and their entrances,And one man in his time plays many parts (2.7.142-145). This is truly a stoic ideal that Shakespeare is romanticizing, as it fits perfectly within the description of ancient Roman society. Both Virgil’s Aeneid and Romeo and Juliet were written in a time of political strife. After many years of civil war, the Roman Republic was about to experiment with a dictatorship and become an Empire. Over a thousand years later, the aging Queen Elizabeth I struggles to keep her country prosperous while engaged with draining foreign affairs and agriculture hardships. Through the literary endeavors of both authors, they stress that cooperation authority will benefit society. Is it fate that Romeo and Juliet and the Aeneid both took place primarily in Italy? Be either fate or chance, every person on this planet has their own opinions on its relevance and effects upon our lives. Shakespeare and Virgil recognized this, and crafted tales that encompassed this mysterious force. For political or economic reasons, they manipulated fate so that it would work contrary to the epicurean endeavors of their characters. Following publication, both authors hoped that this would encourage stoic behavior in their respective societies.

x

Hi!
I'm Ethel!

Would you like to get a custom essay? How about receiving a customized one?

Check it out