Aeneas's descent into the underworld is, of course, in imitation of Odysseus's similar descent into Hades, and the vision itself ultimately derives from the shield of Achilles in The Iliad. The shield of Achilles presents an archetypal and essentially static picture of human life, while Odysseus enters the lands of death in order to leam what he must do to retum to a past existence, for in the Homeric scheme of things he must retum to Ithaca and resume his defining roles as father, husband, and king if he is to be himself. Although Vergil elsewhere writes as if nature and man inevitably decline from a golden age, in the epic of Rome he presents history progressing in the sense that it builds towards the founding of Rome and the subsequent imperium.


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Print version published 1980; web version 1998