CHAPTER IX
THE INTERPRETATION OF LIFE. -- 2. AENEAS

Ducimus autem hos quoque felices, qui ferre incommoda vitae nee iactare iugum vita didicere magistra. -- JUVENAL, xiii. 20.

CHARLES JAMES Fox, writing to his friend Trotter, speaks of the Aeneid thus: 'Though the detached parts of the Aeneid appear to me to be equal to anything, the story and characters appear more faulty every time I read it. My chief objection (I mean that to the character of Aeneas) is of course not so much felt in the three first books; but afterwards he is always either insipid or odious; sometimes excites interest against him, and never for him.' The student of Virgil may turn to Dr Henry's tremendous vindication of the phrase Sum pius Aeneas (i. 381), to which Fox takes especial exception, and if Dr Henry does not satisfy him, he can read Marlowe's Dido Queen of Carthage; and from the Elizabethan Aeneas let him go back to Virgil's hero, and consider whether after all he is not at once more natural, more manly, and more attractive1.

But Fox's criticism is one to which it is probable that a large number of Virgil's readers will subscribe, and we are forced to ask ourselves whether it is just; whether it is possible that Virgil's highest conception of manhood is really so worthless? Or even if we suppose Fox to use the words 'insipid' and 'odious' with something of the exaggeration of Jane Austen's beaux, must we confess that Aeneas is still fundamentally a failure? By lightly accepting such a judgement we should probably lose something which the poet felt intensely to be vital to himself and to everybody. Virgil has a right to require us to make some attempt to discover this.

____________________
1
Henry, Aeneidea, i. 647ff.

-192-

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