Review: Dryden's Aeneid: The English Virgil

Dryden's Aeneid: The English Virgil
Dryden's Aeneid: The English Virgil by Taylor Corse

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Virgil’s Aeneid viewed cynically is propaganda. He was legitimizing the government of Caesar Augustus, following the defeat of Marc Antony at Actium.

Virgil appeals to the gods whenever Aeneas or his men do something questionable, like kill a man on his homeland over an animal hunt, or attack and take over land that isn't theirs. Oh, the gods helped them? Then it must be okay. The irony is, this is a counterfeit of the time when this happened legitimately, when God gave Israel the promised land. I wonder where they got that idea from?

The big idea is also a counterfeit of the Gospel story - the founding of Rome after the fall of Troy is a death and resurrection story. The glory of Troy is reborn in Aeneas, the founding father of Rome, like the west is reborn in Pilgrims and founding fathers like George Washington, founding fathers of America; or like Israel is reborn in Jesus Christ as the Church.

Even with all the gory battle depicted, the Aeneid also presents too rosy a view of humanity. Aeneas and the Latins would have made peace, but the gods’ capricious infighting spoiled it.

Still, Virgil writes glorious literature. I recommend especially the Dryden translation (versified and rhymed throughout!).

At the end Aeneas is angry, just like Achilles was angry in the Iliad. We can assess this two different ways. Perhaps there has been no progress from Homer to Virgil. Both were angered by deaths or insults on the battlefield, and Rome has learned nothing from history. Or perhaps Aeneas’ rage is more judicial, paying back death to Turnus for his unnecessary killing of others. Do we see here the beginning of a better society of Roman justice and law, or the continuation of barbarism dressed up with piety, death-or-glory charges, and suffering founders?

Most interesting to me is the way God writes Aeneas into the Bible.
“And there he found a certain man named Aeneas, which had kept his bed eight years, and was sick of the palsy. And Peter said unto him, Aeneas, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole: arise, and make thy bed. And he arose immediately” (Acts 9:33–34).

I don’t think this could be a coincidence. The Aeneid was published 30-50 years before this incident with Peter. Glorious Rome was now “sick of the palsy,” paralyzed and desperately in need of a Savior. Even heroes, founding fathers, and great empires need the King of kings.

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