Comparison of Vergil and Augustan Arts

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The epic poem The Aeneid, written by Vergil, is considered one of the greatest epic poems ever written. Vergil wrote the Aeneid during the rule of Augustus. Like Vergil, Augustus was a man of the arts who built large monuments with ornate detail and opulence. This detail and opulence in Augustus’ visual arts is ever present in Vergil’s Aeneid. Both men used visual art in the same ways: to emphasize Roman glory, and most of all to “outdo” their predecessors. Images depicted by Augustus such as the breastplate of Augustus on the Prima Porta and the Temple of Mars Ultor, can be compared to Vergil’s description of the Shield of Aeneas and the Temple of Juno. These visual art pieces all share a common theme; they share the theme of “Glorious Rome” and extravagance in attempt to outdo their predecessors. The Breastplate of Augustus from the Prima Porta is most comparable to Vergil’s description of the Shield of Aeneas. The Breastplate of Augustus is supposed to represent Pax Romana and the return of the standards “aquilae” that was lost by Crassus (Ramage and Ramage). This breastplate draws attention to Augustus’ great diplomacy and the glory he brought back to Rome. However, the emphasis on Crassus failure and Augustus’ success cannot be ignored. Augustus models his art to depict where his predecessors failed and he succeeded. The Shield of Aeneas described by Vergil, portrays the future success and greatness of Rome. It is a representation of Aeneas’ destiny and the destiny of Rome. Beyond this destiny, the shield represents Vergil attempting to outdo his predecessor, Homer. Homer’s “Iliad,” tells the story of how Hephaestus forged a shield for Achilles that portrayed Greek life, which contained many contradictions (Iliad, 18:478-608). Achilles shield contained symbols of war and peace, farming and city life, etc. This shield shows no great destiny or glorious city. It is a true portrait of what Achilles’ (Homer, 18:478-608). Vergil took the idea of a god forging a shield and elaborated on the meaning and significance. Vergil tells of Vulcan making a shield that shows what Aeneas is fighting for: a future city so glorious that its people will be superior to everyone else (Aeneid, 8:617). Augustus and Vergil used their influence over visual art to personify their talents and achievements and undermine the people who came before them. This seems like somewhat of an inferiority complex that they both share. Vergil reads about Achilles’ Shield and decided that he would create a sword superior to that depicted by Homer. The same can be said about Augustus. He has the Prima Porta built to show how he brought the “aquilae” back and to suggest that people should not forget that Crassus lost it. He is indirectly reminding people of the failure of powerful Romans in the past. A comparison can also be made between the Res Gestae, built by Augustus, and the Temple of Juno, illustrated by Vergil. On the Temple of Juno, built by Dido, there is a scene of Hector’s body being dragged by Achilles around the walls of Troy (Aeneid, 1:585-697). Once again, this is an example of Vergil attempting to outdo Homer’s Iliad, but in a more ambiguous way than many might realize. In the Iliad, Achilles kills Hector, prince of Troy, and his body is dragged around the city (Iliad, 22:360-435). Achilles is victorious above the Trojans and their great Prince. Later in the Aeneid, Aeneas is presented as the new Achilles and his enemy, Turnus, is presented as the new Hector. Therefore, by depicting the sack of Troy and the dead body of Hector on the walls of the Temple of Juno, Vergil is outdoing Homer’s scene of Hector being killed. It is as if to say, “Here is Homer’s victor (Achilles) and loser (Hector), and I will show you how there will be a grander hero (Aeneas) and loser (Turnus).” Augustus’ Res Gestae is meant to outdo his predecessors in a more obvious manner. Res Gestae literally means, “deeds that were done.” The Res Gestae was a large monument...
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