Public and Private in Vergil's Aeneid

Public and Private in Vergil's Aeneid

Public and Private in Vergil's Aeneid

Public and Private in Vergil's Aeneid


Distinctions between public and private have been and remain fundamental, not incidental or tangential, ordering principles in all known societies, save, perhaps, the most simple.


The competing claims of public and private life baffle our loyalties and tax our capacity to give proper attention to each of our loves and attachments. When faced with a choice between action in the public realm and care for the concerns of the private, we are often torn, like Aeneas, between whether to stay or go.

Paradoxically, such irresolution is a virtue. Both public life and private life are required for living well, and to choose one and neglect the other deprives us of integrative structures of meaning on the one hand and the life-giving dramas of particularity on the other.

The public/private dilemma stems from two preconditions. The first is that one take seriously the claims of the political world, by which I mean this world, with all its contradictions, chaos, and possibilities. The other is that one regard with equal reverence the private realm, with its rooted continuities of family, tradition, and the communities of memory and hope that constitute everyday life.

These are the two most conspicuous characteristics of Vergil Aeneid. The Aeneid bears significantly on current debates about the quality of public and private life and the proper relationship between the two, because it was Vergil's epic that first posed in a sustained and elaborate way the public/private dilemma for Western culture.

A critical reading of the Aeneid from this perspective serves also to place the poem in the cultural history of public and private life. In this introduction and in a different way in the conclusion, I suggest the . . .

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