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Discussion On Whether The Aeneid Is ‘A Man’s World’

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The Aeneid is placed into a genre of epic literature which is disreputably male dominated, most traditional “heroes” are male, while female characters are assigned to the background, serving, for example, as either anti-heroes for the hero to defeat or love interests for him to protect. Vergil’s Aeneid is no exception to this concept writing the epic between 29 and 19 B.C, the portrayal of women in the piece is obviously based on ancient stereotypes and archaic gender roles, however despite this, The Aeneid is unique its self, especially in comparison to the Homeric epics which Vigil bases his writing on. As readers we are introduced to a number of women characters who challenge these traditional gender roles and display female empowerment. Although these examples will be looked at in this essay, my answer to the essay question still lies in the fact that I consider the Aeneid to be a man’s world due to the epic’s conclusion and the pitiable fate of the unconventional female characters.

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The point which could indicate the poem isn’t a ‘man’s world’ lies with the strong female characters which are presented throughout the poem. Vergil intentionally portrays these women in a way that serves simultaneously as a threat to traditional gender roles in Roman society while also providing an example of ideal Roman values. These women are foreign and despite embodying certain Roman virtues, threaten the standard cultural norms of Ancient Rome. I believe Virgil uses his epic poem as a means to describe a national identity that was distinctly Roman; to identify the qualities characteristic of Roman citizens; to serve as a warning as to what happens when certain limits are exceeded; and to reinforce gender roles.

Throughout the Aeneid, women are portrayed generally as problematic, while men are portrayed as level-headed (Zissos). The female characters (specifically Juno, Venus, Minerva) are essentially the cause of every evils, pain, destruction, and losses for the other characters. Then, the male characters (specifically Zeus, Poseidon) come in to impose order on the chaos caused by the female characters.

Vergil intentionally portrays characters in a way that serves simultaneously as a threat to traditional gender roles in Roman society while also providing an example of ideal Roman values. Specifically, the characters that are both foreign and female, despite embodying certain Roman virtues, threaten the standard cultural norms of ancient Rome. Dido, the queen of Carthage, and Camilla, another female warrior, represent women who, while possessing certain Roman qualities, are doomed to fail in a world that is, according to societal standards of the time, rightly dominated by males. Vergil uses his epic poem as a means to describe a national identity that was distinctly Roman; to identify the qualities characteristic of Roman citizens; to serve as a warning as to what happens when certain limits are surpassed; and to reinforce gender roles.

Ultimately, Vergil uses his epic poem as a means to demonstrate that women who step outside the restraints that the male dominated society has placed upon them — by possessing admirable characteristics which are only appropriate for males — are doomed to fail.

01 February 2021

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