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The Last Line of the "Aeneid" Author(s): Carl P. E. Springer Reviewed work(s): Source: The Classical Journal, Vol. 82, No. 4 (Apr. - May, 1987), pp. 310-313 Published by: The Classical Association of the Middle West and South Stable URL: www.jstor.org . Accessed: 30/12/2012 15:29 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . www.jstor.org . JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact email@example.com. . The Classical Association of the Middle West and South is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to The Classical Journal. www.jstor.org This content downloaded on Sun, 30 Dec 2012 15:29:05 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and ConditionsTHE LAST LINE OF THE AENEID It has often been observed that the Aeneid ends on an abrupt note.' Students of Vergil's epic have not, however, investigated thoroughly the uniqueness of this kind of epic closure. Would a Roman reader acquainted with the Aeneid's epic forbears have found the abrupt ending of the poem as "shocking" as some modem readers have suggested? In a recent article which attempts to study the ending of the Aeneid against the background of ancient plot structure in general, S. Farron argues that the abruptness of the end of the Aeneid "is utterly unique in ancient Greek and Latin literature," and concludes that it "must have struck Vergil's contemporaries as extremely jarring and disturb- ing."2 There is, however, some precedent in the epic tradition for abrupt endings which Farron overlooks and her observations need reconsideration and qualification. This article examines the ending of the Aeneid, paying special attention to what is traditional and what is new about the last line of the poem. Vergil did not, of course, tie together all of the loose ends of his epic in its closing lines. The Aeneid has no epilogue in which the author attempts to sum up the major themes of the epic. Unlike the Greek tragedians, Vergil does not append to his work a pious platitude about the folly of men or the gods' inscrutable ways.3 Nor does the ending of the epic point forward to future developments or new considerations. Vergil does not follow the practice of Greek and Roman historians who often conclude their works by indicating that future historians will continue the story which they have begun4 or by directing the reader's attention to future events.5 Although Vergil includes prophecies about Aeneas and his descendants and their future in Italy earlier in his epic, the reader is not reminded of them in the final book. 1See, for example, the discussion of the "uneasy end" of the Aeneid in K.W. Grandsen, Virgil's Iliad: An Essay on Epic Narrative (Cambridge 1984) 216. 2S. Farron, "The Abruptness of the End of the Aeneid," Acta Classica 25 (1982) 140. 3The Greek tragedies (for example, Oedipus the King, Antigone, and The Bacchae) often conclude with "tags," pieces of traditional wisdom or cliches, frequently uttered by the chorus, who strive to sum up the significance of what they have just witnessed, usually not to the satisfaction of most modem readers. See, for example, R. W. B. Burton, The Chorus in Sophocles' Tragedies (Oxford 1980) 184, for a critique of the conclusion of Oedipus the King as "dull in content, mediocre in expression, and unsatisfactory as an ending to one of the world's greatest tragedies." Although there is much about the Aeneid that can be described as "tragic," the abrupt termination of what Arthur Stanley Pease calls "the Turnus tragedy" in Book 12 contains no "tragic" epilogue. Pease himself makes this observation in Publi Vergili Maronis Aeneidos Liber Quartus (Cambridge, Mass., 1935) 11. 4Xenophon, for example, suggests in the Hellenica that the history which he began and carried up until 362 B.C. will probably be continued by another historian: E~ol, ~4V 8"1) P?XPL TO'iYO1U ypp.cTOW. Ta iO 8' ETOt orMo pO.( TT hh, p.t EXTOEL. 5Caesar's De Bello Civili, for example, ends with a reference to the portending Alexandrian War: Haec initia belli Alexandrini fuerunt. 310 This content downloaded on Sun, 30 Dec 2012 15:29:05 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and ConditionsTHE LAST LINE OF THE AENEID 311 The Aeneid begins with a prologue in which Vergil introduces the main themes of the work, asks for divine assistance, and eases the reader into the action of Book 1, but there is no corresponding attempt in Book 12 to ease the reader out of the poem. The Aeneid ends on a climactic note. Aeneas and Turnus have been heading for confrontation since the beginning of the book, and it is only in the last four lines that we discover the outcome. The first line of the Aeneid features Aeneas (virumque) but Vergil does not mention him in the last line of the poem. Instead, the last line of Book 12 (vitaque cum gemitu fugit indignata sub umbras) has Turnus' life as its subject. There is no anticlimax in the Aeneid, no description of Aeneas' marriage to Lavinia, no hint of his success or failure as ruler in Italy, no indication of Ascanius' maturation and development as Aeneas' successor. Vergil concludes his epic by drawing our attention not to the triumphant Aeneas, but to his adversary's pathetic and premature death. Abrupt as the ending of the Aeneid is, however, it is important not to exaggerate its uniqueness. In point of fact, the Aeneid was not the only epic in antiquity which had no formal epilogue.6 The Iliad, upon which Vergil modelled the last six books of the Aeneid, also ends rather abruptly. Although Homer begins the Iliad by announcing his subject and naming his protagonist (the wrath of Achilles), in the last lines of the epic the poet concentrates not on Achilles but on Hector. Hector's name comes up three times in the last 22 lines of the Iliad; Achilles is never mentioned. In the first line of the Iliad, only Achilles' name (in the genitive) appears; in the last line of the poem, only Hector's (also in the genitive) is mentioned:"~1s o'X y' "&L(PCEIT T•ov&ov; p"ExXopos tw'rrW~l8&LOLO;. Homer also leaves the reader with a number of questions still unanswered at the end of the poem. Achilles has at last, it seems, gotten over his anger, but the reader wonders what will happen to him now. Will he continue to fight even though Hector'is dead? Homer could have made the ending less abrupt by indicating to the reader in a few additional lines that Achilles had learned an important lesson about anger in the course of the events described in the epic. If the poet had really wanted to provide the work with a sense of finality he might even have foretold to his readers the death of Achilles at the hand of Paris. As it is, however, the ending of the Iliad strikes a rather uncertain note. The ye in the final line suggests that something antithetical should follow.7 The reader feels that there is more that could be told about Achilles and the rest of the Trojan War. 6See E. R. Curtius' observations on the absence of epilogues in "the antique model epics" in European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages (Princeton 1973) 501. Statius' Thebais is an important exception to this rule. Of the pre-Vergilian epics which survive with endings intact neither the Iliad nor the Odyssey has an epilogue. The last lines of the Odyssey, as we have them, leave off in the midst of a reconciliation scene between Odysseus and the relatives of the suitors. Apollonius does attach an epilogue to the Argonautica, but it is only a simple reference to the homecoming of the Argonauts. Full-blown epic epilogues seem to become popular only in the first century of the modem era and thereafter. A number of the Christian Latin epics of late antiquity, including Juvencus' Evangeliorum libri quattuor and Proba's Cento, have extensive epilogues. 70n ye following the article in Homeric verse, see Pierre Chantraine, Grammaire homerique II (Paris 1963) 159. This content downloaded on Sun, 30 Dec 2012 15:29:05 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions312 CARL P. E. SPRINGER The conclusion of the Aeneid, and in particular the last line, owes its inspiration to the ending of the Iliad. The last line of Homer's epic concentrates on the antagonist, not the protagonist, and represents him in a somewhat favorable light. Hector, beloved by his family and city, is buried at the end of the Iliad with all reverence and mourning. In the last line of the poem he is described not as "manslaughtering" (&vSpocp6vos;), as the Greeks were wont to call him, but as "tamer of horses" (twrrr68optos). Homer chooses an epithet suggestive of Hector's role not as a warrior but as the defender of the city, the bastion of human culture which controls and dominates nature.8 Hector was the mainstay of Troy and with his death and funeral the reader feels that destruction is inevitable for the city. Now that Hector is gone the Greeks will prevail. The reader suspects that those who weep at Hector's funeral are mourning for themselves and the city as much as they are for Hector. Similarly, in the last line of the Aeneid, Vergil focuses our attention on the vanquished antagonist. Instead of pointing to the victorious Aeneas or attempting to justify his actions, the poet simply and poignantly describes the death of Turnus. The soul of a man who is not ready to die flies groaning in protest to the underworld. Elsewhere in the last six books of the Aeneid Turnus reminds us of Hector, but nowhere so much as here. Like Hector, he is the defender of a homeland invaded by aliens. The death of Turnus means the death of the hopes of the native Italians. Now with their champion gone, they will surely be crushed beneath the Trojan war machine. The last dying groan in the poem recalls most vividly to the reader's mind the sufferings of others like Dido, Lausus, and Camilla, caused directly or indirectly by Aeneas.9 Like the Iliad, then, the Aeneid ends on a note of loss and a suggestion of further war and suffering. To be sure, the ending of the Aeneid is more violent than that of the Iliad. Vergil's poetic program included aemulatio as well as imitatio, and despite its clear indebtedness to the ending of the Iliad the last line of the Aeneid is not merely imitative. The conflict between Turnus and Aeneas occurs much later in the Aeneid than Achilles' duel with Hector in the Iliad.'o Vergil postpones this inevitable contest as long as possible and builds up the suspense throughout Book 12. Turnus receives his fatal wound only 26 lines before the end of the poem. The Aeneid ends with a description, not of the funeral of Turnus, but of his death agony. By Book 24 of the Iliad Achilles has achieved some degree of peace with himself and with the father of his arch-opponent."I SSee Seth Schein, The Mortal Hero (Berkeley 1984) 8, for a discussion of Hector's epithets in the Iliad. 9Vergil also uses vitaque cum gemitu fugit indignata sub umbras to describe the death of Camilla in 11. 831. 1OOn similarities and differences between the deaths of Hector and Turnus, see Brooks Otis, Virgil: A Study in Civilized Poetry (Oxford 1964) 48-51, and David West, "The Deaths of Hector and Turnus," G&R n.s. 21 (1974) 21-31. "In order to support her argument that the Iliad does not end abruptly, Farron suggests that the combat between Achilles and Hector in Iliad 22 is the main climax in the poem. According to this view the last two books of the Iliad serve as a kind of conclusion, a lengthy anticlimax. Although the duel between the Greek and Trojan warriors is certainly a high point in the epic, it should be remembered that the subject of the poem is "the wrath of Achilles" and it is really only in the final This content downloaded on Sun, 30 Dec 2012 15:29:05 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and ConditionsTHE LAST LINE OF THE AENEID 313 When the Aeneid closes, the hero's sword is dripping with the blood of Turnus. The reader's last vision of Aeneas finds him still in the throes of blood-lust: furiis accensus et ira/terribilis.'12 Its violence aside, however, the abruptness of the last line of the Aeneid should not be seen as entirely without precedent. In choosing an ending for his epic, Vergil borrows a great deal from Homer. The Iliad's lack of an epilogue, Homer's emphasis on the antagonist rather than the protagonist, the note of sympathy (in twrtroS~iqoLo) all are duplicated in the last line of the Aeneid. Like the Iliad, the Aeneid concludes with a "feeling of sorrow and bewilder- ment" as the author centers the emphasis, not on the triumphs of the hero, but on the tragedy of his opponent's death.13 One suspects that at least some of the Aeneid's readers found the last line of the epic more familiar than shocking. Much that seems abrupt about the conclusion of the Aeneid would not have been surprising to anyone in Vergil's audience who possessed a nodding acquaintance with the Iliad.14 CARL P. E. SPRINGER Illinois State University book that the problem of Achilles' anger fully resolves itself. The killing of Hector in Book 22 gives Achilles no inner satisfaction. He is still inconsolable over the death of Patroclus. Despite his daily mutilation of Hector's body, he feels no better. Nor does the celebration of the funeral games in Book 23 ease Achilles' hurt. It is only in Book 24, after the visit of Priam and the sharing of tears and food with the father of his adversary, that Achilles finally finds some rest from his anger and its after-effects. Like the Aeneid, then, the Iliad can also be seen as reserving its main climax until relatively close to the end of the poem. 120n the violence of the Aeneid's ending as opposed to the relative tranquillity of the Iliad's conclusion, see A. Primmer, "Die Schluss-Szene der Aeneis," WHB 11 (1968) 24. On Vergil's distinctive aims for the final scene of the Aeneid, see, among others, R. Beare, "Invidious Success. Some Thoughts on the End of the Aeneid, " PVS (1964-65) 18-30; Wendell Clausen, "An Interpretation of the Aeneid," in Virgil: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Steele Commager (Englewood Cliffs 1966) 85 ff.; and M. C. J. Putnam, The Poetry of the Aeneid (Cambridge, Mass., 1965) 192 ff. 13R. D. Williams, The Aeneid of Vergil, Books 7-12 (London 1973) 509. The last line of the Aeneid, of course, echoes the Homeric rx6 8' &x F 6eoEv WMrIEVr 'A,86oE'8 PE (13p EL, v r6oqTov yo6owat, a formula applied to the deaths of Patroclus (Iliad 16. 856-57) and Hector (Iliad 22. 362-63). 14I should like to thank an anonymous referee and the editor of CJ for the helpful criticism they have offered for this paper's improvement. This content downloaded on Sun, 30 Dec 2012 15:29:05 PM
Contributed by Erin Koren