How and to what purpose does Virgil use ekphrasis in the Aeneid
How and to what purpose does Virgil use ekphrasis in the Aeneid?
Virgil’s use of ekphrasis in the Aeneid has attracted much attention by classical scholars; as such the coverage on this topic is extensive. This essay therefore does not aim to purport all of Virgil’s techniques and aims in regard to describing art in the Aeneid – a subject on which entire books have been written – rather the brevity of this essay necessitates an overview of the predominant theories, whilst attempting to shed light on some of the less well noted observances. Where it is more informative the original Latin text will be employed. West’s translation will be used everywhere else.1
The first point to make is on the nature of an ekphrasis. The term ekphrasis
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The inequality of the match is voiced in terms repeated in Book 10 to describe the match of Turnus and Pallas ‘viribus imparibus’,31 and Aeneas and Lausus.32 Lausus is similarly called ‘infelix’,33 and Lowenstam has suggested that his blood-stained hair recalls that of Troilus’ dirtied from the dust.34 At the poems close it is Turnus, who as Juno and the Rutulians realise, is unequal to meet Aeneas.35 Just as in the earlier duels of unequal contest, here Turnus’ youth is emphasised: ‘his cheeks were like a boy’s and there was a pallor all over his youthful body’.36 The tragic nature of war is loudly expounded by Virgil through these episodes of young men being killed. It is telling that Turnus’ death was arrived at through the recognition of Pallas’ baldric, which topically displays in another ekphrasis, the premature deaths of Aegyptus’ sons on their wedding night.37 At once these episodes show both the cost of founding Rome and the price of peace. They are a potent analogy for Rome’s recent civil strife, as will be discussed in greater detail below.
The next scene shows the supplication of Pallas Athene by the Trojan women which is based on the events in Iliad 6.38 It prefigures the supplication of Minerva by Amata and the Italian women where once again the goddess will ignore their prayers.39 The supplicant theme of the next scene links these as a pair.40 Seeing Hectors body causes