Virgil’s Aeneid is a story mainly going over the adventures of Aeneas and the founding of Rome. Our hero Aeneas was briefly mentioned in the Iliad by Homer. He will be our main hero of the epic story. Both human weakness and great deeds can be boiled down to fearful and courageous acts. Throughout the epic,there is a sense of morality from most of the human characters come from the underworld.The underworld is first mentioned where Aeneas travels down the underworld to meet up with his father. There is no other afterlife, like heaven in the Christian beliefs, there is only the underworld where all human souls go to after leaving their flesh bodies. The fear of the one afterlife is the main motivation for the characters in the book to do courageous or glorious acts, to be remembered after death; thus that idea alone gives everyone in the story a sense of morality.
The reason for Aeneas to having to come to the underworld was to receive the prophecy of the foundation of Rome from his father. While down there the Aeneid shows how the underworld’s system of the fallen souls and how they are punished.By the help of a goddess and a boatman, Deiphobe and Charon respectively, Aeneas travels through the underworld without any great harm. One of Aeneas’ ship crew members, Palinurus, was one of the first souls Aeneas came in contact with. Palinurus is in the underworld by falling off one of Aeneas’ ships, causing his death. Palinurus tried asking for him to join them but Deiphobe had something else in mind. “Where was it, Palinurus, that you learned such dread desire? For how can you, unburied, look at the waves of Styx, upon the Furies’ stern river, and approach its shore, unasked?” (6. 492-494) The quote basically says that if the fallen souls wishes to have passage of the river that Aeneas is on at that moment then that soul’s body must be buried. This standard of the underworld teaches the Romans at the time to respectfully bury anyone who has died or they will have to stay in the underworld longer.
“Here voices and loud lamentations echo: the souls of infants weeping at the very first threshold-torn away by the black day, deprived of their sweet life, ripped from the breast, plunged into bitter death.” (6.562-566) When talking about infants and dying at that age most likely refers to the Roman women who were scared or simply did not want to go into motherhood yet and so all their aborted or abandoned children are there to suffer. This means with these such acts that the victim is punished which promotes people to use their judgement wisely.
Further down the river Aeneas finds the people that have punished or killed themselves. Suicide, in today’s views, is regularly said to be the most selfish act a person could do. Meaning that it will affect the victim’s loved ones and to the God who gave that person's life. “And next to them are those condemned to die upon false charges. These places have not been assigned, indeed, without a lot, without a judge; for here Minos is magistrate. He shakes the urn and calls on the assembly of the silent, to learn the lives of men and their misdeeds. The land that lies beyond belongs to those who, although innocent, took death by their own hands; hating the light, they threw away their lives. But now they long for the upper air, and even to bear want and trials there. But fate refuses them: the melancholy marshland, its ugly waters, hem them in, the prisoners of Styx and its nine circles.” (6.565-580) The punishment for suicide, in this sense, would be constant drowning for that “upper air”. Similar to how people drown in their own thoughts and contemplations of commiting suicide, whether if it is the right thing to do, or if it will benefit those said loved ones, and so on. Even after doing that act the pain and agony will not go away just make it last longer. “ …,are those whom bitter love consumed with brutal waste; a myrtle grove encloses them; their pains remain with them in death.” (6. 583-586) There are many different reasons for people to commit suicide but in this example it shows that a broken heart is the main reason. This punishment promotes loyalty between marriages and or for the broken hearted to deal with the pain and move on to another lover.
After having an unpleasant reunion with Dido deep within the underworld, Aeneas is coming to the near the outskirts of the area. There he sees fellow and fallen people of his country, most notably all the warriors that have fallen in battle. “Now they have reached the borderlands of this first region, the secluded home of those renowned in war.” (6.628-630) Since all the fallen warriors have their own place they have a somewhat higher ranking than the average soul. This treatment gives a reason for the warriors of that time to be noble in battle.
Later down the road it splits off into two directions, to the left is where Tartarus is; “For here the road divides in two directions:...; the wicked are punished on the left-that path leads down to godless Tartarus” (6.715-720) Tartarus is where all the bad or evil souls go after dying on the surface. Those souls have committed various types of crime and so there are various ways of punishing them from forever pushing a rock up a hill to having a “huge vulture feeds upon his deathless liver and guts” (6. 792-793) Now to the right is a path to Elysium. This is where Aeneas finds his father that gives him the prophecy of finding Rome. Elysium is where all the truly good and pious people are gathered up, this is also where the greats, such as heroes, are able to be reincarnated with a free conscience back into the world of the living. “;then we are sent through wide Elysium-a few of us will gain the Fields of Gladness-with lapse of days, annuls the ancient stain and leaves the power of ether pure in us, the fire of spirit simple and unsoiled. But all the rest, when they have passed time’s circle for a millennium, are summoned by the god to Lethe in a great assembly that, free of memory, they may return beneath the curve of the upper world, that they may once again begin to wish for bodies” (6. 982-993) Not directly a heaven so to speak but it is a reward for doing good, pious or courageous acts.
All these punishments and dreadful situations after death gives the people in and out of the story of the Aeneid a somewhat moral code to not suffer those punishments. These tales are similar to today’s day and age where parents use the story of Santa to persuade their kids to become more well behaved. However with a more serious tone of course. Thus, the creation of the underworld in Virgil’s Aeneid paints a general moral code for the people of that time from taking up the responsiblity of rasing children to finding another way out of a heart break other than suicide. Hence, the underworld gives people a sense of morality to do great deeds.
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