I asked for new voices and got some outstanding writers! Today we hear from the erudite James R. Harrington.
James R. Harrington earned his M.A. in Ancient History at California State University Fulleron and is a member of the Torrey Honors Institute. James has been a classical educator in a variety of settings over the past thirteen years. He lives in Houston with his wife, Sharon, and their daughter.
Harrington wrote about the shield of Herakles,
He continued to the shield of Aeneas and now is following up on that first post:
In the previous post on the Shield of Aeneas, we saw how Virgil moves from the generic scenes of Achilles’ and Herakles’ shields to specific moments in the Roman past in order to express his hope that Caesar Augustus will lead the world into an era of universal peace. Today’s post focuses on the circumstances surrounding the gift of Aeneas’ shield and what they reveal about Virgil’s attitude toward his Greek sources.
At first glance, the Aeneid appears strongly anti-Greek. The defeated Trojans, not the Greeks, are the heroes of the epic. Odysseus in particular comes off as a weasel, and we are told that Aeneas’ opponent, Turnus, is a new Achilles. Given how closely the structure of the Aeneid follows that of the Odyssey and then the Iliad, it can give the impression that Virgil is trying to undo Homer by some process of literary alchemy. We should take careful note, then, that at the moment when Aeneas receives his shield and prepares to bear Rome’s future on his shoulders, he is forging an alliance with a band of Greeks (Aeneid Book VIII). These Greeks, like the Trojans, are exiles who have found a new home in Italy. Their captain is named Evander, which roughly corresponds to the Greek for “good man.” His son, who will go with Aeneas to seal the alliance, is named Pallas after Pallas Athena, the goddess of Wisdom and patroness of Achilles, Odysseus, and Herakles. Thus, Evander, Pallas, and their men represent all that Virgil sees as good and wise in Ancient Greece. Like Herakles the culture-bringer in pseudo-Hesiod’s Shield of Herakles, Aeneas finds them in the process of bringing pure worship and festivities to a sacred grove. In fact, the god Evander’s people worship is none other than Herakles the culture-bringer! For Virgil, there are Greeks and then there are Greeks.