Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2008.06.29

Markus Schauer, Aeneas dux in Vergils Aeneis. Eine literarische Fiktion in augusteischer Zeit. Zetemata vol. 128.   Munich:  C.H. Beck, 2007.  Pp. 304.  ISBN 978-3-406-56483-3.  €64.00.  

Reviewed by Karl Galinsky, University of Texas at Austin (
Word count: 2215 words

Schauer's book, his Habilitationsschrift at the Freie Universität Berlin,1 is the latest of a series of intelligent recent studies by younger scholars who are successfully leaving behind the monomania and forced dichotomies that were a staple of the interpretation of the Aeneid for far too long.2 Within his focus on Aeneas' leadership, S. provides an updated, productive, and rich discussion of a number of central topics, such as Vergil's characterization of Aeneas in relation to Augustus, the issue of Aeneas' character development, the role of fatum, and the virtutes of the Trojan leader. The result is a differentiated assessment that does justice to the many layers of narrative, referentiality, and meaning of Vergil's epic and perceptively situates it in the Augustan discourse. I would, in fact, expand on that notion by defining much of Augustan poetry and art as a national conversation, from many quarters and viewpoints, on issues raised both by Augustus himself and, even more widely, the changes that were taking place at the time and already had been in the making; needless to say, this goes beyond interpretive schemata like pro- and anti-, triumphalism vs. subversiveness, etc. Throughout his discussion, S. is in complete and up-to-date command of the voluminous scholarship (some omissions seem intentional) while never losing his sense of orientation. His clarity of thinking is reflected by an accessible, lively, and jargon-free writing style which excels in precise formulations and eschews longwindedness.

As S. points out well into this book (p. 42 -- proem in the middle ?), it is grouped into four parts: (1) background, with emphasis on historical factors and Vergil's choices of thematics and genre in that context; (2) an analysis of the setting of the Aeneid aiming at a deeper understanding of the actual world in which the Trojan leader operates; (3) maius opus (my term), i.e. the scope and workings of Aeneas' leadership. (2) and (3), therefore, are mostly "werkimmanent". The final part (4) presents concluding reflections on the role of the Aeneid within the Augustan discourse and on Vergil's possible intentions. I will proceed in that order.

(1) starts off with the brisk discussion of the contemporary historical background. It is not a recapitulation of what is sufficiently known but focuses on some central points. S. rightly looks at the 20s as a time of transition and experimentation, a status nascendi rather than novus status, and a time of hope rather than confidence; the last distinction alone is an evident improvement over banalities like "optimism" and "pessimism" where such differentiations are routinely elided, if not ignored. It is that contemporary mood and situation that the Aeneid reflects; we should not expect a panegyric. S. then proceeds with a brief overview of Vergilian interpretation and scholarship (often two separate entities, in my opinion3) to highlight repeatedly the epic's "Vielschichtigkeit" and "Vieldeutigkeit", concepts that in English are generally flattened out by a paradoxically monolithic recourse to "ambiguity", which packs a very different set of connotations; even Servius was aware of Vergil's polysemus sermo (ad Aen. 1.1). Another good example of S.'s balanced perspective is that with all due consideration of the Aeneid "im Lichte ihrer Zeit" (to use Norden's famous formulation) we also need to be aware of its "Kunstcharakter" with its own formal and symbolic language. S. then well summarizes the need to discuss Aeneas not just as a "hero" but as a leadership figure and suggests some reasons why this has not been done so far.

The next section of the chapter is taken up by a most welcome discussion of methodology, centering especially on the definition of "discourse" and citing relevant works on discourse theory,4 something that cannot be but helpful at time when that term is used very broadly. Because it is an excellent springboard for further discussion, S.'s own, typically intelligent, working definition deserves to be quoted in full (pp. 35-6):

"Unter Diskurs verstehe ich die Summe der unzähligen heterogenen Faktoren, die teils fassbar, teils verborgen, auf einen zeitlich und lokal begrenzten, aber nicht in sich abgeschlossenen Bereich auf mannigfaltige und oft nicht durchschaubare Weise wirken und eine bestimmte politische, geistesgeschichtliche und kulturelle Atmosphäre erzeugen, die in typischen Kulturmanifestationen aller Art (Kunst, Literatur, Stil, Institutionen, Wertvorstellungen etc.) ihren konkreten Ausdruck findet."
This is comprehensive, yet succinct, and can serve as a model for other methodological programs--reception is an obvious example--that tend to take infinitely longer to come to the point. At the end of this chapter, S. concisely notes three "political" decisions taken by Vergil that also had a positive effect on the poetic quality of the Aeneid: to write a national Roman rather than narrowly contemporary historical epic; to reduce direct panegyric to excursus; and to minimize the presentation of governing structures. The result is a gap (and not just in Iser's sense) when it comes to political and institutional aspects.

Part II is an intelligent overview of some of the basic conditions within which Aeneas operates and exerts his leadership. It is wide-ranging, yet focused. Some important characteristics emerge. Among them: Aeneas is not an institutional leader nor the leader of a clan (the traditions that spoke of the rule of the Aeneadae, whether in the Troad or elsewhere, could have been usefully contrasted), but a private citizen who rescues his people (the connection with the privatus who comes to the rescue of the res publica will be made later); Aeneas is a mediating, integrative figure ("Vermittlerfigur") or, in modern parlance, a uniter (and not, alas, a divider) who brings together the gods of Troy with his own, Trojans and Greeks in Italy, and ultimately Trojans and Latins. Instead of regna petere--a comment would have been appropriate on the contemporary associations of that phrase--Aeneas' role is strongly defined in terms of his cultic function (S. returns to this in more detail in the next chapter). In that connection, S. offers an incisive analysis of Vergil's presentation of the Penates, noting its gaps; again, they do not serve to legitimize any claim of Aeneas to power, but they stand for the future power and rule of Rome. Similarly perceptive is S.'s sketch of Aeneas' operating not as an institutional head of state but networking, wherever he goes, within the connections Troy, and Trojan aristocrats, had established.5 Or, to give another example of S.'s many stimulating observations, he continues, in his discussion of Carthage, the recent emphasis on its (and Dido's) Roman aspects: "The description of the city of Carthage is reminiscent of Augustan Rome" (p. 101). For good reason, I might add: implementing his adoptive father's decision to resettle Carthage as Colonia Iulia Carthago, Octavian sent 3,000 colonists to Carthage in 29 BC, and the city was laid out according to the usual Roman plan. In the Roman national epic, then, Aeneas is shown as the builder of neither Lavinium nor Rome, but of Carthage--a good example of Augustan appropriation.

The final section of this chapter is a sensible analysis of the loaded topic of fatum, the power of the gods, and their effect on human actions. Here again a slightly wider perspective would have helped: while S. can certainly conclude that the Trojan leader's latitude of action is narrowly defined, the larger teleological, if not theological, issue is that Aeneas becomes the instrument of fatum, if not Διὸς βουλή, precisely because of his own accepting disposition and innate sense of responsibility.

Part III, the longest and the core of the book, deals with the making of Aeneas as a leader, and leader of the Trojans, and includes a discussion of his tasks and leadership style. There is no reference to modern works on leadership, not even Weber's (S. refers to charisma several times), but the chapter is a richly informative explication de texte anyway. S. starts off by relating the topic to the question of Aeneas' character development, offering many astute observations along the way. Again, his analysis is grounded in the Aeneid without citations of similar discussions, e.g., on Greek tragedy, but his conclusion converges with that of most Vergilian scholars, though with some additional, valuable perspectives: while Aeneas develops into a leader, Vergil does not present him in terms of a developing character. One factor is the disjunction between narrative framework and chronology: seven of the eight years of the action are compressed into one book, which is narrated by Aeneas himself, whereas the events of the final year take up some three quarters of the epic. Further, S. rightly refers to the typological multi-layeredness of Aeneas as an artistic creation: the multiple intertextual references to characters and situations in previous epics get in the way of constructing a consistent line of development.6 What develops is the increasing clarity of the fata and Aeneas' awareness of them, leading to his increasing self-confidence. There are also some good remarks on the role of Anchises and about Aeneas as self-evident leader in contrast, e.g., to Jason's assumption of that role in the Argonautica.

Who actually comprises the leadership of the Trojans? S. offers a detailed discussion and prosopography of that cadre, enhanced, as throughout this chapter, by the use of "boxes", which also are useful for his overview of Aeneas' titles. A stimulating section follows on how presidential, as we would say today, Aeneas looks or is cast by Vergil. S.'s starting point is the obvious contrast between Odysseus' appearance as he washed up on Scheria and Aeneas' radiantly stepping out of a cloud in Carthage. More could be said: it is precisely because Vergil has this Homeric scene in mind that he applies the Artemis simile, which Homer used for Nausicaa, to Dido, a realization that could have saved Probus from his famous criticism of that scene and us from the ensuing scholarship. Some comments, too, would have been helpful on the general lack of physical descriptions of epic heroes; in this context, the details Vergil supplies about Aeneas' clothing (or shall we say regalia?) and insignia carry even more weight. From these (not purely) externals we move to Aeneas' leadership tasks: he is an expert helmsman not just in a metaphorical sense, but, after Palinurus' death, in reality; again, while respecting S.'s werkimmanente basis of interpretation in this chapter, I would have liked to see a reference to Cicero's gubernator rei publicae and, as for the combination of reality and metaphor, Augustus' famous remark about transforming Rome from brick to marble. Aeneas also demonstrates his leadership by founding cities and as a military commander. S.'s analysis of this second function again is a paradigm of his sure and concise use of detail and sense of careful differentiation: as a military leader, e.g., Aeneas acts to ease the timor and metus of his troops and prepare them for the ordeal of battle, whereas Aeneas as individual fighter rightfully exhibits strong emotions such as furor. Finally, there is the preeminence of Aeneas in the realm of cult; he is not so much a priest as a founder of cults: sacra deosque dabo (12.192). At the same time, he does not use religion to legitimatize his leadership. Once more, and that is one of the chief values of this book, it can be seen how this characterization of Aeneas could be explored in a larger historical and cultural context; a worthwhile perspective would be the recent emphasis on "place" in Roman religion and its "re-placing" under Augustus.7

S. concludes this chapter by dealing with Aeneas' leadership qualities and argues persuasively that they cannot be schematically defined by the canon of traditional ruler virtues. What Vergil foregrounds instead is cura, compassion (not the same as clementia), and the principle that community counts. There are many detailed, useful observations here that really advance the discussion due to S.'s ability to differentiate carefully. The last of these three virtutes certainly is related to pietas but has its own specific characteristics. So does Aeneas; appropriately, S. calls him a dux sui generis in the chapter's final summary.

In the short Part IV ("Results") S. returns to the question of how Vergii's characterization of the Trojan leader fits into the discourse of the times. As usual, his approach is judicious and stays away from simple matrices and identifications because, written as it was in 20s, the Aeneid, and its non-schematic portrayal of the leader in particular, reflect the incomplete (if it ever was complete) and still developing ideology of the early principate--Vergil's poem, in fact, needs to viewed as a component of this process. There are certainly major resonances: auctoritas over potestas, natus dea and divi filius, a privatus as the savior of his people, a diminished role of the nobility; in the Aeneid, too, we are seeing a society in which the old nobility is supplanted by the new. It is also significant that Aeneas is an interim figure: he does not come to Italy to establish himself as a permanent ruler but only to lay the foundation for his successors. It is Romanam condere gentem that matters and the epic, therefore, above all is a contribution to the formation of the identity of the Roman people.

In sum, then, it can be seen how this independently thoughtful, always intelligent, and sensible treatment of major aspects of the Aeneid is both a good companion to reading Vergil's epic and a stimulating impetus for further discussion.


1.   As noted by S. in the preface, I was one of the two outside referees. As such, I provided a concise assessment but no detailed suggestions or "förderliche Kritik" (p. 11) -- it was too late for that. In my cover letter, I made the suggestion, concerning future publication, that S. use a different term than "Führer" because of the obvious baggage; in the present book, this has become "Anführer" vel sim.
2.   For a more extended perspective, see my review article "Clothes for the Emperor" in Arion 10.3 (Winter 2003) 143-69.
3.   It needs to be noted again, esp. when S. speaks of Adam Parry's "pioneering article" (p. 27), that both the two voices concept and the denunciations of Aeneas' behavior in the epic's final scene have their precedents, even if unacknowledged by their modern followers, in Christian authors. For the two voices, see Augustine, C.D. 3.16; for a tirade against impius Aeneas, Lactantius, Div. Inst. 5.10.
4.   In particular B. Landwehr, Geschichte des Sagbaren. Einführung in die historische Diskursanalyse (Tübingen 2001).
5.   Vergil even goes so far as to make Aeneas' ancestor Dardanus a native of Italy; on such occasions, it is odd that S. hardly cites the landmark study of V. Buchheit, Vergil über die Sendung Roms (Heidelberg 1963).
6.   "Character development" is, of course, a matter of definition and there are nuances; for a recent view, see J. Fish, "Anger, Philodemus' Good King, and the Helen Episode of the Aeneid," in D. Armstrong et al., eds., Vergil, Philodemus, and the Augustans (Austin 2004) 124-9.
7.   See Simon Price in CAH X, 2nd ed. (1996) 812-37, and in M. Beard, J. North, and S. Price, eds., Religions of Rome (Cambridge 1998) 1.167-210.

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