A comparison of The Aeneid and Metamorphoses



Both Vergil and Ovid imbedded underlying meanings in their epics The Aeneid and Metamorphoses. In this paper I will focus on the underlying meaning in the Underworld scene in Vergil’s The Aeneid (lines 356 through 1199). I will also focus on three scenes in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Both epics contain a larger message about the importance of the Roman past for its present and future under Augustus.
The story of Aeneas in the Underworld can be interpreted as a brilliant rendition of the story of Rome’s past, present, and future. When Aeneas descends into the Underworld, he is escorted by the Sibyl (lines 347 - 349). This gives the readers a clue that what is to happen in the upcoming text is a foretelling of Roman future because the Sibyl was a prophetess (Course Packet, p16).
As Aeneas enters the Underworld, he sees numerous horrible sights: Grief, Disease, Old Age, Fear, Hunger, and several others. (Lines 356 - 379) These unsettling and dark words bring difficult images to the reader’s mind. These lines foretell that there will be difficulties while Rome is in its infancy through phrases like "lonely night" and "phantom kingdom". Rome did indeed have difficulties in its infancy; in the 7th and 6th centuries BCE it was ruled by Etruscan kings and was only "... a little hill town." (Short Histories, p20)
Lines 390 through 549 in The Aeneid deal with the crossing of the River Styx. This represents a great transition period in Rome. It symbolizes the founding of the Republic. The multitude of rushing and swarming people (Line 402) represents those that suffered the "internal turmoil" in the early stages of the Republic. (Short Histories, p21) When Aeneas mentions, "... and by what rule must some keep off the bank ..." (Lines 419 - 421) he may symbolically be referring to the "Struggle of the Orders" that the early Republic experienced. (Short Histories, p22)
As Aeneas wanders through the Underworld, he notices Dido wandering about. (Lines 593 - 626) He tries to talk to her, but his words serve no purpose; she flees from him. He then sees the souls of those who died in battle. (Lines 628 - 650) These lines correspond to the Punic Wars that occurred from 264 to 146 BCE (Short Histories, pg. 24 - 26) because Aeneas offended, and arguably caused the death of, Dido when he left Carthage where he lived with Dido. (The Aeneid Book IV, line 300)
In lines 738 - 832 Aeneas beholds the fortress Tartarus and its inhabitants who are being beaten and whipped. This gruesome scene can be related to Julius Caesar’s death. The tormented souls could represent the enemies of Caesar. "Caesar had spared the lives of many of his most famous enemies..." (Short Histories, p33) These enemies rose up and slew him for his kindness. The "Tyrant - Slayers" (Short Histories, p34) were soon embattled in war for their unpopular attack.
After Aeneas witnesses the horrors of Tartarus, he comes upon the Groves of Blessedness. This utopian abode is where those that served beneficial lives by helping their country, being pious, or advancing the qualities of life reside. (Lines 844 - 889) These lines actually have two hidden meanings. Following th history of Rome, this is the period where Augustus ruled. Vergil is trying to impress Augustus by relating his wisdom while ruling to a heavenly place. The second hidden meaning is that Vergil wanted to portray that those who were "good Roman citizens" had a much greater future to look forward to that those who were "bad citizens".
After witnessing all he did in the Underworld, Aeneas finally meets his father Anchises. From lines 999 through 1190, Anchises tells Aeneas what is to come in the near future. Anchises lists the descendants of Aeneas, leaving special mention on Caesar by placing him directly after Romulus. Augustus is glorified as the son of a god, and many great deeds are spoken on his behalf. The epic ends on a sad note: that of Marcellus’ death. (Lines 1148 - 1182) This sad ending foretells that Rome will never achieve its full potential, yet it will achieve much.
Ovid takes a different approach to his story-telling. Instead of constructing elaborate events which have double meanings,