Ancient Epic Poetry: Homer, Apollonius, Virgil: With a Chapter on the Gilgamesh Poems

By Charles Rowan Beye | Go to book overview
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7
The Aeneid

But, Rome, 'tis thine alone, with awful sway,
To rule mankind, and make the world obey,
Disposing peace and war by thy own majestic way;
To tame the proud, the fetter'd slave to free;
These are imperial arts, and worthy thee.

Aeneid 6.851–53 (Dryden translation)

The city of Rome was originally no more than a small settlement on the banks of the Tiber River, a few kilometers upstream from where its waters emptied into the Mediterranean. As any schoolchild once knew, the Romans calculated that the founding of their city had taken place in the year now identified as 753 B.C.E. The Latin that the settlers there spoke was only one small dialect branch of the Italic language that evolved from the dialect of Indo-European that migrating people brought into the Italian peninsula sometime in the second millennium B.C.E. These were, as they say, humble beginnings. Yet some 870 years later, by the time of the death of the Emperor Trajan in 117 C.E., the Romans controlled a land mass that stretched from presentday Scotland to the Sudan, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Caspian Sea. Latin was the official language for all the people living under Roman rule. Latin survived into the nineteenth century as the language of scholarship; to this day it remains the official language of the Vatican. It otherwise became the source for numerous dialectal variations which in time evolved into what are known as the Romance languages.

The legend of ancient Rome has been just as powerful. Roman civilization has been the inspiration behind one successive revival of art and learning after another. The story of the rise of Rome to its

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