The Aeneid, a poem written before the era of Christ and Christianity, has been argued to be a precursor to the values of Christianity, much as the Old Testament is a precursor to the New Testament. While the Aeneid does not explicitly lay out these values, scholars have interpreted the text otherwise. Some scholars have made claims arguing for the connection between The Aeneid and The New Testament, finding their evidence in other works of literature, especially Dante Alighieri’s The Inferno, one of Alighieri’s three poems about the journey into the Christian afterlife.
However, when one looks closely with analytic and skeptical eyes, these connections are not as strong as they might seem. This paper argues that the connections between The Aeneid and Christianity are spurious, and that the evidence put forth in defense of this argument does not establish its existence. The Old Testament is a book of stories and instructions that establishes divine law for the Jewish people.
The New Testament also consists of stories, but instead of focusing on establishing a law, it provides a moral guide to get into the kingdom of Heaven.
The Aeneid was Virgil’s attempt to create an epic poem that drew elements from Homer’s poems, the Iliad and Odyssey, to increase the glory of Rome through an epic tale. Through the journey of Aeneas, the reader sees how Virgil tells the history of the Roman Empire through hero, grand quests, and supernatural journeys. In the epic, Virgil illustrates how a Roman should behave and what duties they ought to fulfill.
Retributive justice becomes a large part of the Aeneid because some individuals are doing what they ought not to and not fulfilling their duties. In fact, the defining factor in my argument is the different concepts of justice in The Aeneid, the New Testament, and the Old Testament. I argue against the claim that the Aeneid was a pre-cursor of the New Testament based on the fact that its constructions of justice are markedly different than those proposed in the New Testament, but point out that they are quite similar to those in the Old Testament.
I will show that the Aeneid and the New Testament are at odds in values and principles, and that previous arguments that support the connection between Christianity and The Aeneid use evidence based on adaptations of stories that provide inconclusive information to support a connection. Justice in the Old Testament One must critically analyze the Old Testament and compare the Old and the New Testament before comparing the New Testament and The Aeneid. The difference I plan to illustrate will be a focal point for comparing the two biblical texts to The Aeneid.
It is with justice that the Old and New Testaments are set apart as being different and separate from one another. Therefore, by using some of the examples that other scholars have used to support the connection I will not only refute their evidence, but rethink their track of logic to debunk the argument. Taking this into consideration, the cornerstone of this argument is the value of justice and how it is perceived in the Old Testament. The value of justice in the Old Testament can be broken down into three terms: sedakah, mishpath, and hesed (Eballo, p. 21).
He judges and punishes those who go against his laws and sedakah, a Hebrew term meaning, “right relationship” (Eballo, p. 15). This “right relationship” is defined in many ways, including the covenant between God and man, and the values and customs of the covenant, and ordered relationships. These ordered relationships refer to “relationship[s] with nature, God’s dealings with humans, […] between David and God, […] the king and the people”, and between people (Eballo, p. 16). Another word worth noting is tzedek, meaning “justice […] in the […] relationship between persons of unequal power” (Shoenfeld, p. 2).
The combination of these two words embodies the value of justice in the Old Testament. Those who act against these values are subject to mishpath, a term which, according to Eballo, refers to justice in the context of failing to maintain the sedakah. That is to say that justice is the punishment that awaits those who violate the right relationship. Only God, “the judge who punishes the wicked one, […] in order to restore right relationships”, can deliver this justice (Eballo, p. 16). Those following and adhering to the sedakah will be greatly rewarded, “enjoy long life […] and increase in] land flowing with milk and honey” (Deut. :2-3). This clearly shows that God rewards those who follow his ways and the covenant and, as part of retribution, demands that those who break His laws “stop doing wrong and learn to do right” (Isa. 1:16-17). Those who do not adhere to divine laws are subject to punishment by the hand of God. Next is the word hesed, which is translated to mean “loving kindness, […] steadfast love, mercy, and compassion” (Eballo, 2008, p. 7). It refers to the love that God has for his people and the covenant. It is also a way to govern the human actions by urging men to show the same love to others as God does unto them.
Evidence of this is scattered throughout the Old Testament; it shows up several times in Deuteronomy, Leviticus, and Isaiah, as well as some of the other books. God’s people are told to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18) and “be open-handed and freely lend [a poor man] anything he needs” (Deut. 15:8). While the Old Testament contains the word hesed that encompasses the value of justice and love, the New Testament contains no such word with the same meaning. Rather, the New Testament has a different outlook on how people should conduct themselves in relation to God and each other.
One of the more obvious and conclusive pieces of evidence about the role of justice and law in the Old Testament is the book of Leviticus. Leviticus is a manual or rulebook defining acts that are good and bad in the eyes of God, as well as the punishments involved, the procedures of different types of offerings, and cleansing of the body. There is little doubt that Leviticus is a rulebook if one simply looks at the name of the chapters such as: “Unlawful Sexual Relations”, “Various Laws”, “Rules for Priests? ”, and “Punishment for Sin. From these chapters one could assume, like in modern day society, that those whole follow the rules will be rewarded while lawbreakers will be punished. This shows that the definition of justice in Leviticus, as well as the rest of the Old Testament, is retribution designed to punish those who defy the word of God. The prime example of this would be Adam and Eve whose only restriction in the Garden of Eden was to not eat from a specific tree. Once God found out that they had defied His word they were punished severely with mortality, labor pains, and the need to work to survive among other punishments.
The Old Testament is very clear about what justice is and how to carry it out. It is adhering to the right relationship with God and following His rules. In other words, a person is doing God justice by being a loyal and obedient servant. The God of the New Testament doesn’t have a system of justice like in the Old Testament. The New Testament justice is focused around something that goes beyond the legality and authority of the Old Testament God and so God’s ability to forgive sinners who repent for their actions is the loving and forgiving justice that is present in the New Testament. Juxtaposition of The Aeneid and the Old Testament
Now that the Old Testament has received some proper analysis, it will be used to compare and analyze The Aeneid and its sense of justice. Virgil wrote this poem in the pre-Christian era, so it would not be surprising if the Aeneid and the Old Testament had some similarities. The values presented in The Aeneid can be assumed to be similar to the Old Testament values, namely of justice in the form of retribution. Both texts present a strong belief in retributive justice, namely punishing those who do wrong against others and against the will of the gods or, in the Old Testament’s case, God.
Zetzel describes the justice in The Aeneid as “poetic justice” simply because those who do good are praised, while those who do evil are punished. The latter portion of the understanding of poetic justice can also be interpreted as retributive justice, justice through punishment that is either morally or rightfully deserved. The Ten Commandments are the backbone of God’s law in the Old Testament and the foundation of God’s love and relationship in the New Testament. The same commandments were interpreted respectively in these texts from a legal aspect to an interpersonal one.
The interpretations of justice differ from one another, but it is with the Old Testament that the Aeneid finds commonality. The Aeneid displays the retributive justice that is commonly found in the teachings of the Old Testament where sinful acts are punished severely. The severe punishments that are evident in the Old Testament and Aeneid both result from a failure to follow divine laws. In several instances the reader is shown retribution as well as the need to obey the law of the gods throughout the Aeneid.
On such example is in Book 6, where it is said that the narrative takes on a new life, it is still evident that the underworld is based on punishment and justice (Zetzel, p. 265) due to the fact that those in that realm are punished for injustices they committed while they were alive. In Book 3 Aeneas and his crew were given instructions to set up altars on a beach, perform vows, cloak themselves in purple and veil their heads as to not attract any enemy presence. The purpose of these instructions was for Aeneas to establish them and set an example for the later generations to follow.
Aeneas and his comrades were to “fast to this sacred rite […]. [His] son’s sons must keep it pure forever” (Aeneid, 3. 482). These instructions were given to Aeneas through a prophet of Apollo and can essentially be said to have come from the god himself. In this light one can interpret the instructions as a law established by the gods. Instructing people to keep a custom for several generations is nothing new and has been observed in several instances in the past. Not only is this done in The Aeneid, but also it appears in the Old Testament in the form of the Sabbath.
The Sabbath is one of the most observed customs from the Hebrew Bible, which lays out for the Jews things they cannot do on their day of rest. Jesus, on the other hand, goes against the customs of the Sabbath. As mentioned previously, when he healed an ill man and was criticized for it because strict adherents to God’s laws claimed it violated sacred tradition Another excellent point for comparison between the two texts is the story of Job. This story is about a man who is completely faithful to God, but whose faith is repeatedly tested through a series of horrible events.
The reason for this is because God made a wager with Satan that no matter what kind of misfortune Satan could send him, Job will remain faithful and pious, never doubting God and His ways. Throughout the story, his children fall ill and are then killed and his home is destroyed by a hurricane. Job stayed faithful to God in the face of all of these horrible traumas, and as a result, after all of the tests, he began prospering once again. In this story, all of these dreadful events happen because of Satan (and God’s affection for gambling with his faithful), but nobody besides the reader and the divine knows this.
Job believed that all these misfortunes were naturally occurring, but despite all that he keeps his faith and doesn’t curse the name of God, even when his wife told him to curse the name of God and die (Job 2:9-10). Though these trials were a test, humankind can never know the magnitude of God’s reasoning, which is why Job’s friends and family are so quick to say that God was needlessly punishing him. On the other hand, justice is not served through punishment; instead punishment is given to enforce justice according to sedakah, mishpath, and hesed.
Through his suffering, Job’s right relationship with God is solidified. The Old Testament sets itself apart from The Aeneid in the sense of justice because Job was punished for not as a result of sinning or committing an act that violates the word of God, but because he was tested on how strong his faith in his Lord was. Though the two texts experience a slight disconnect, the two are conjoined once again by a human behavior, that is, the Roman gods and God express a behavior that is familiar in humans. God expresses a quality similar to the queen of the Roman god, Juno.
Juno makes a personal vendetta to kill Aeneas, and by inciting the Greeks to launch an attack on the Trojans or bribing a mortal who can control the winds and the waves, Juno continuously shows this flawed human emotion known as pettiness. When most people think of God, they believe Him to be omnipotent, omniscient, and loving, but He is also a jealous and petty god. It seems odd that a being such as God would possess such an emotion or behavior that is normally equated to humans because there is no god that governs jealousy or pettiness.
God shows His pettiness when challenged by Satan about his servant Job. Satan merely makes the point that Job has no reason to fear God because God pampered him the whole time and if he were to take everything from him then Job would surely curse His name, to which God says something to the effect of “Oh, we’ll see about that”. It is that petty human reaction that is exhibited by an omniscient and omnipotent entity, much like Juno, that sets the Old Testament and the Aeneid apart from the New Testament.
God and His son Jesus are complete opposites of this. Rather than being petty, Jesus, displays fairness, kindness, and warm-heartedness instead of being spiteful and enraged. Another instance where the Old Testament and the Aeneid are similar is in the story of Noah and the ark. This story, like the story of Job, is another well-known tale from the Hebrew Bible. Also it shares similarities with the events that happen in the narrative and also has the essence of retributive justice.
Noah was a righteous man, probably the only righteous man on Earth; God contacted him and only him, instructing Noah to build an ark and load it with two of every animal (male and female). Needless to say, God told him He was going to flood and destroy the Earth and the people in it because they had corrupted the world with violence and sin (Gen. 6:12-13). Then God made it rain for forty days and nights and the world remained flooded for one hundred fifty days. The raining and flooding can be compared to the storms that landed Aeneas and his boats on the shores of Carthage.
Juno had spoken to King Aeolus and persuaded him to use his powers to create treacherous winds, storms, and waves to kill Aeneas and the Trojans. Neptune, god of the seas, caught wind of this heinous act and called out to the elements, “What insolence! […] You winds, you dare make heaven and earth a chaos, raising such a riot of waves without my blessing. […] Power over the sea and ruthless trident is mine […] by lot, by destiny (Aeneid 1. 155-162). Neptune threatens King Aeolus that if he were to do something like that again he would receive some kind of punishment.
The scolding is a form of punishment, as lenient as it, much like how first time offenders for a misdemeanor are punished less the first time around, but punished more harshly for a second time offence. One could compare this to the story of Noah’s ark when the repeated sins of man had corrupted the world and as punishment God wiped the world clean with a flood, sparing Noah and some animals. While Aeolus was not sentenced to drown like all of humanity the reason for his punishment was quite similar. God had flooded the world because man had become corrupt and disregards God’s laws.
Aeolus disregards Neptune in a similar fashion in that he disregards the fact that Neptune has the sole power to control the seas. Of course Virgil, when writing The Aeneid, had no intention of writing for Jesus Christ or his disciples, thus connections made to the Christian texts were a result of a poor exegesis that only attempts to connect the two texts through the similar events or later fictional works that attempt to bring Virgil into line with Christianity. Justice in the New Testament Justice is an inconsistent concept in the Bible between the Old and New Testament.
It is inconsistent because it is clearly defined in the Old Testament as to what constitutes as justice, but as the New Testament emerges the value of justice is altered by redefining what kind of actions entails justice. Justice makes a shift from emphasizing law in the Old Testament to an emphasis of love in the New Testament reverse order here Many scholars have noticed this phenomenon and have argued for the existence of retributive justice (justice by punishment) in the Old Testament; they conclude that retribution is replaced with a sense of love and forgiveness in the New Testament (Allbee, p. 48). In both texts God is the ultimate power and is the provider of judgment, but Jesus Christ, the prominent figure of Christianity is the dispenser of justice in the New Testament where justice is expressed in a new form of love and forgiveness. New Testament justice not only different than the Old Testament’s justice, but is actually opposes it in several instances during Jesus’ travels. In Matthew 12, Jesus and the Pharisees had an exchange of words about working on the Sabbath.
Jesus was criticized for healing a man on the Sabbath, to which he responded that men should be able to do good deeds even on Sabbath, which clearly illustrates the legal aspect of justice being replaced by notions of interpersonal obligation (Matt. 12:11-12). If Jesus, who was himself a Jew, was allowed to break the sacred custom of the Sabbath, which was punishable by death, then it must follow that justice from the Old Testament has failed and does not have a strong presence in the New Testament.
However if one were to interpret the personal values of love and faith, whether from person to person or person to God, as a form of justice then the New Testament would clearly have its own system of justice apart from the Old Testament system. That is to say that the New Testament is not completely devoid of a system of justice, rather that is possesses a different one than the Old Testament that stems from a different value system. The Gospel of Matthew has much to offer in understanding justice in the New Testament.
A portion of the gospel uses a passage from Isaiah that defines a servant of God as someone who will bring justice to the world. Matthew, of course, reinterprets this to mean Jesus and only Jesus, while the original passage is ambiguous and, quite frankly, could mean God’s people in general. So once again, passages found in the New Testament show the shift in justice from x to y where x is the legal aspect of justice and y is justice in the form of love, faith, and morals; a shift that is strongly relevant to the issue of comparing The Aeneid to the New Testament.
Based on that passage, it seems that justice can only be done by one who can affect the world, that is, a person who is able to change the world by their actions. Moreover, if the system of justice is truly replaced with love and faith then the connection to The Aeneid can’t possibly exist because love and faith is not the method to achieve justice. In the world of Aeneas and the Roman gods, love and faith is not the system of justice that guides people to the kingdom of heaven, only fear and reverence can do this.
The Roman people honored and feared the gods for their power to not only do good, but to also punish and do harm if they were displeased; a concept that appears in both the Old and New Testament. An opposing view to this states that punishment does, in fact, exist in the New Testament and contends that the one being punished is Jesus. The view of punishment is, however, flawed because it runs contradictory to what the New Testament promotes: love, forgiveness, and, in Jesus’ case, suffering for someone else’s sins. Justice is also served when and individual who has committed a sin or evil deed is punished.
This is the case according to Robert Schier who uses his claim to defend capital punishment as a method compensate for one’s sins. The general conception of Jesus’s death and crucifixion is that he died as a martyr in order to wipe the people’s slates clean of sin. The author instead interprets Jesus’s death as making him into a scapegoat for mankind. The claim is made that God punished Jesus because the sins of man were put onto his shoulders. In a sense, Jesus went from dying for the people to dying because of the people. In other words, Jesus was sent to die for the people and became a tool for God to save his beloved people.
I disagree with Schier’s interpretation of the crucifixion of Christ because Christ died as a savior, not as a man deserving of punishment. The sins he carried were not his to begin with, and to take the burden unto one’s self to alleviate the burden of others is not an act a person should be punished to death for; someone like Jesus is an emancipator who died in order to save others. If Jesus was sentenced to death for our sins, why on Judgment Day, the day when Christians believe the world will end and Jesus’ second coming will happen, are the dead “judged according to what he had one” (Revelation 20:13)? Did Jesus not already die to absolve us of our sins? There’s a contradiction here that suggests that there was no justice or punishment in Jesus’s death because man will still be judged for his own sins and actions. The point that is being stressed is that Jesus had already died to absolve mankind of their sins, but according to the text in the book of Revelation, despite the fact that Jesus died for our sins, we’re are still being judged based on our actions on Judgment Day. If individuals still wind up in Hell does that not mean Jesus was sacrificed for nothing?
If the system of justice has been swapped as aforementioned from the time of the Old Testament and the New Testament, then the question that arises is what exactly has been changed or swapped that sets the two testaments apart from one another. The idea of justice is altered and the alteration is what causes the Old Testament to have more of a connection to the Aeneid than the New Testament. The Old Testament and the Aeneid contain a legal connotation of justice that asserts itself in the form of retribution.
The New Testament loses its alleged connection to the Aeneid because of the shift in the values of justice, that is to say that the New Testament cannot be linked to Virgil’s work because it does not value justice in a legal context, but rather in a personal one that emphasizes love. The correlation between love and justice becomes the definitive element that sets the two testaments apart from one another. Old Testament Vs. New Testament Like the Old Testament, Christianity has a word that is supposed to mean justice: dike, the term in the New Testament that results from one having faith.
According to Schoenfield who wrote on the theme of justice in Christianity, dike is the “Greek equivalent of tzedek, which has already been explained to mean justice in the sense of right relationship between people of unequal power” (Schoenfeld, p. 237). Immediately, one can tell the differences in justice between the Old and New Testament in the vocabulary used to convey the value of justice and how to adhere to that system. Some have made the observation that the Old Testament is more concerned with God’s law and the New Testament is more concerned with each individual’s personal relationship with God.
In the New Testament, some scholars have contended that justice is taken out of its legal connotation and transformed to emphasize “righteousness through faith on gracious love [within] the individual believer” (Shoenfield, p. 239). Not only does the principle of justice make this shift from legally love based, but the idea of love makes the transition as well from love of god to love of others. Richard A. Allbee, a writer on the subject of love in the Old Testament ”, analyzes chapter 19 verses 11 through 18 of Leviticus, and affirms this notion.
He writes that the “same love of neighbor commandment that Jesus explicitly reveals is […] already implicitly implicated as such in […] Lev. 19. 11-18” (Allbee, p. 147). I believe this claim to be false because it very clearly says to love your neighbor in Lev. 19:18. The question that I raise is whether there is a difference between love in the Old and New Testaments? Allbee answers this question through the idea of priority. He asks readers to differentiate these definitions of love according to what or whom people are supposed to love in each text.
In the New Testament it is plain to see that the interpersonal relationship of love is the main priority, while the Old Testament puts that same love “in a legal context, […] [giving] the system of law the priority” (Allbee, p. 148). In addition, the importance of the Sabbath was mentioned before in the Old Testament, but there is no such emphasis in the New Testament. Laws were set in play for Jews to rest on this day, goes against the customs of the Sabbath. Jesus came across an ill man and healed him.
He was criticized for this because strict adherents to God’s laws claimed it violated sacred tradition of the Sabbath. Jesus’ defense to those accusations he gives them a hypothetical question of whether is it lawful to do good or evil, to save a life or to kill (Mark 3:4). In discussing the value of love and right relationship, the value of justice is clarified and reveals that both are closely related; almost synonymous. Justice is derived from one’s ability to uphold the correct relationship either with God in the Old Testament or, in the case of the New Testament, with your neighbors and others.
The aspect that sets the two testaments apart is the legal aspect of justice and love of the Old Testament. This legal aspect that demands retribution when laws are broken is the point with which to compare the value of justice with The Aeneid. Justice in The Aeneid Throughout The Aeneid the gods take action; manipulating reality as they see fit, fighting amongst one another, but, more importantly, punishing people on Earth who have crossed them or acted against their wishes or laws.
The portion of the poem that scholars use most often to discuss the theme of justice is Book 6, “The Kingdom of the Dead. ” The reason for this is because Book 6 narrates Aeneas’s journey to Italy to establish a new city of Troy; instead he travels deep within the bowels of the underworld to find his father and along the way encounters familiar faces. Zetzel analyzes Book 6 and discovers there is a theme of moral evaluation. He contends that Virgil uses the underworld to draw a “framework […] to confront the problems of justice and morality in Augustan Rome” (Zetzel, 1989, p. 64), thus grounding Book 6 in history instead of pagan religion. We are told in Book 6 that Tartarus, the underworld, […] is not limited to mythic sinners, but [extends to] those who violate the universal canons of justice and morality” (Zetzel, 1989, p. 272). These mythic sinners refer to the mythological characters that appear in the underworld like Aeneas’s last lover, Dido, who came from the kingdom of Carthage and, under the sway of Venus and Cupid, broke her vow to her dead husband.
Deiphobus, who was the son of the Trojan king Priam, was killed in the Trojan War. Because his body was mutilated and left unburied, he too was found in the underworld. What Zetzel means to assert is that not only would the underworld contain those who have committed sins similar to those in myths, but it also has room for those who commit what Greek society view as unjust and immoral acts. Those in the underworld, according to Zetzel (and Virgil), deserve to be there to pay for the actions they committed when they were alive.
Through Virgil, the reader is given an absolute sense of justice. Dispensers of justice and guardians seek to correct mistakes in judgment made when a person was alive (e. g. judged innocent of a murder). The divine order of gods is what makes justice prevail in the world of The Aeneid the gods are always seeking a kind of balance in which their laws are preserve. A clear example of this is how Aeneas was shown resistance and was constantly restricted passage further into the underworld and though he was met with resistance, he prevailed.
This is a feat to take note of due to the fact that it was constantly stressed that the gods forbade any living soul to be present in Tartarus because it was an area for dead souls to be punished, clearly suggesting that Aeneas, alive and free from punishment, should not be there. While Aeneas goes against the word of the gods, there is a lack of punishment for his trespass. This contradiction exists because he was fated by the gods to take the journey to Tartarus and also to live on to “wage a […] war in Italy […] and build high city walls for his people there and found the rule of law” (Aeneid, 1. 14-317) thus doing justice to Zeus’s predictions. This contradiction in fate and law suggests that the gods possess the power to bend their own rules and work against the laws that they have already set in stone. It is no surprise that the gods should be able to contradict themselves, since in many Homeric poems gods are known to do things in spite of other gods: fight each other, go against their will, plead to Zeus to change fate itself. If the gods are viewed as a single unit then the contradiction can be explained as a laws being indecisive about what should be done.
In other words, if the gods a single functioning unit or entity, then the bickering between the gods and defiance among them is just the law adapting or changing itself. The first account of retributive justice in The Aeneid takes place just before the fall of Troy surrounding the story of the Trojan Horse in Book 2. As the story goes, a large wooden horse appeared at the gates of Troy and was brought into the city because the Trojans believed that it was a gift from the Greeks that reflected their abandonment of the war.
A skeptical man by the name of Laocoon warned of the treachery of the Greeks and hurled a spear into it to make sure that there was no one inside, before it could be offered as an offering to Minerva. Soon after, two giant serpents sprang up and killed Laocoon and swiftly retreated to the heights of Troy and took shelter behind the shield of Minerva. Immediately people began to think that this was Laocoon’s punishment for hurling the spear.
It was said that he “ deserved to pay for his outrage, […] he desecrated the sacred timbers of the horse, he hurled his wicked lance into the beast’s back” (Aeneid, 2. 291-293). Notice the language: “deserved to pay”, “sacred”, and “wicked”. It’s impossible to not realize that the consequences of Laocoon were interpreted as being delivered by the goddess as retribution. An offering intended for Minerva was desecrated and the act violated the goddess. Of course, it is needless to say that those who act against the gods will be punished.
While the poem does not specifically say that Minerva summoned the giant serpents to kill Laocoon, it is understood that the gods control aspects of reality that make events they create seem natural In other words, the things that occur in nature such as thunder and lightning are natural occurrences, but the Greeks and Romans, who had no clear understanding of these natural forces, did the best they could to make sense of the world and natural disaster and other natural occurrences by claiming that a god was behind this occurrence.
Gods like Zeus the god of lightning, Hephaestus the god of fire, Poseidon the god sea and storm, are understood to govern their respective forces of nature. So thunder and lightning might be manifestations of Zeus’s wrath, which could make people believe that they have done something to anger him. Using this understanding of the world and the natural occurrences and manifestations of the gods, the surfacing of the serpents and their attack on Laocoon may seem a horrific, random, naturally occurring incident, but it would actually be understood as Minerva summoning the serpents as Laocoon’s punishment for lashing out at the Trojan Horse.
Moreover, this understanding also stretches farther than nature and the elements. For example love may seem to be a natural experience, but, according to the Romans, it is actually controlled by Venus, the goddess of love. Some gods can also govern skills such as craftsmanship, wisdom, and archery; these skills are personified in Hephaestus, Athena, and Apollo, respectively. Justice is very clearly illustrated as getting one’s “just dessert”; those who have committed wrongs against the gods should get their just punishment.
The punishment not only applies to the living world, such as plagues, misfortune, or death, but can also extend to the afterlife. Bodies unburied for whatever reason are forced to stay on the shores of the river of Styx, unable to find solitude across the banks. Others are left to suffer for their moral wrong doings. Not only is there a sense of moral justice, that is, doing things that are considered morally just in Greek society, but there is a heavy sense of duty towards the gods: sacrifices, reverence, and servitude.
Justice is therefore served through obedience to the gods and disobedience leads to retribution. In the Aeneid justice prevails in the living world as well. Justice is seen many times as coming from the gods themselves in a divine and retributive form. There are times when the gods are behind the plot of the story, sometimes pushing characters in the right direction to fulfill their destiny and other times punishing them with some kind of natural or supernatural force.
As far as the unfortunate events that happen to people goes, the communal conception is that is justice being given by the hand of the divine to those who are deserving of punishment. Take, for example, the death of Palinurus, the helmsman of Aeneas’s ship when Aeneas and his men set sail for Italy in Book 5. Venus, Aeneas’s mother, asks for Neptune’s help and begs him to protect her son Aeneas and provide safety from Juno or who ever else would want to harm him on his journey. Neptune agrees, but requires one life for the lives of the rest of the crew as a sacrifice.
On the surface, this doesn’t seem like justice at all because Palinurus has done nothing deserving of death. But once Neptune decided to take his life, it became the will of the gods and, therefore, must be done. At first he resisted the powers of the god of Sleep, but since Neptune mandated that he should die for the safety of the rest of the crew, to go against the wishes of a god guarantees punishment for Palinurus. Another punishment that is overlooked is Palinurus’ suffering after he dies as a result of being left unburied without proper burial rites.
Without these burial rights Palinurus’ soul is bound for more suffering in the underworld of Tartarus. In Book 6 Aeneas runs into the shade, or ghost, of Palinurus who begs to be saved from his torment. Sibyl, Aeneas’s guide through the underworld, tells Palinurus that they cannot save him because his body rots in the sea, but people who eventually come across his body will give him his proper burial and set him free. Proper burials are extremely important in Roman culture and part of that reason is the emphasis on proper burials in Greek culture.
During several instances in the Iliad, which part of the Aeneid was meant to mimic, burials are essential for the souls of the dead to be at rest. Through this we can see a clear example of retribution as well as vindication as part of the value of justice. For resisting the death that he was fated for, not only does Palinurus die, but he suffers in the underworld as well. An opposing view of this would claim that had he not resisted, death and suffering would still await him, in other words, his resistance might have been foretold as well as well as his death.
Readers are shown time and time again that no one can escape their fate and every step that is taken has already been predetermined and will bring about the same intended outcome. No matter what Palinurus did, whether he resisted, gave into the power of the gods, or any other option available to him, his body would have still ended up in the sea and his soul in the underworld. The rebuttal to this view would say that Palinurus’ ultimate demise was set in stone, but his path to get there was completely up to free will.
This means that he chose, out of his own free will, to resist the god and that his choice was not affected by the gods in any way, which therefore justifies why his soul is suffering in the river of the underworld. Justice was not a value that was taken from The Aeneid and infused into the New Testament. Since it’s been established that these two texts possess two very different perspectives on justice and how to achieve it. However, if the perspectives of justice from the two texts don’t line up, then the question still remains of what is the basis for assuming that there is connection of New Testament and The Aeneid.
The answer is in the adaptation of the stories. Unlike an exegesis, which interprets the meaning and values underlying a text, adaptations use previous works as a template to mimic actions and events for a more modern version of the original. It is because adaptations only mimic events instead of interpret values or morals that the New Testament should be seen as only an adaption and not an exegesis of the Aeneid as others claim it to be. Adaptations and Exegesis
The same kind of logic is used to explain the transition between the Old Testament and the New Testament, which is illustrated by Hawkins and in Bill Maher’s documentary on worldwide-organized religion entitled Religulous. Hawkins provides an analogy: Old Testament is to New Testament as Virgil is to Christianity. The New Testament is an exegesis of the Old Testament giving explanation and interpretation to God’s laws, as mentioned before, and of the prophecies of the coming messiah.
Harold Bloom (1973) who also writes on the Christian exegesis of the Old Testament, views the New Testament as an atrocious misreading of the Hebrew Bible. Bill Maher conducted interviews for his documentary Religulous in order to question the logic behind religion and understand why people would believe in illogical and improbable events described in the Bible, such as the talking snake from the story of Genesis or the unrealistic number of years that prophets, like Moses, lived.
The point I want to make, which Maher posits in his film to a group of Christian truck drivers is, “The New Testament came after the Old Testament, do we agree to that? ” to which the driver agrees. Maher continues by saying “all it means is that the people who wrote the New Testament read the Old Testament and then made prophecies fit” (Johnston & Charles, 2008). Maher also discusses another instance of adaptation on the New Testament writers’ part. He discusses the story of Jesus’s life with an actor who plays Jesus in a tour extraction in Orlando, FL called “The Holy Land Experience”.
Essentially it was explained that the story of Jesus Christ being born of a virgin, baptized in a river, crucified and then resurrected three days later reflects the themes raised in many other stories from different religions dating back before the birth of Christ. Maher states that Krishna, a Hindu deity, “was a carpenter, born of a virgin, baptized in a river” (Johnston & Charles, 2008), all of which are attributes more notably associated with Jesus Christ.
He also mentions the Persian god Mithra who was “born December 25th, performed miracles, resurrected on the third day” (Johnston & Charles, 2008), and also goes by the same aliases as Jesus (e. g. the Lamb, the Way, the Light, the Savior). A third example is the Egyptian god, Horus; Maher’s film states that the Egyptian Book of the Dead details Horus’s biography as a son of a god, born to a virgin, had 12 disciples, and was crucified and resurrected. Lastly, the emorable portion of the Exodus story when Moses parts the Red Sea in order to let the Jews cross can be seen in an earlier Egyptian story where a magician parts the Nile to allow the pharaoh’s lead oarsman (or woman) to retrieve her golden lotus jewelry. The adaptation of this story does not stop just at Christ, but continues even in present times. The same stories, which has made Jesus the embodiment of such miracles has been adapted into Hollywood films as well. This merely points out that adaptations have been around for centuries.
Thus one could infer that popular or ancient myths and biblical story are not original, that is to say that elements in these tales have probably been copied for a more ancient story. Under that assumption, it does not follow adaptations could hold any interpretation of value systems if they mirror the events of another work. Much like how Virgil mirrors Homer’s two famous works the Iliad and Odyssey, he does not copy the values systems in the two epic poems, only puts Aeneas in situations that echoes the two Homeric poems.
The most memorable adaptation of Virgil’s Aeneid is Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, three books that tells of Dante’s journey through the Christian afterlife with his guide Virgil, the same Virgil that wrote The Aeneid. Before the bulk of the story is even told it is obvious that Dante uses Virgil as a Christian figure in his poem. Not only does Dante place Virgil into his poem, but it is generally accepted that the Inferno is one large adaptation of Book 6 of the Aeneid, not only in the similarity of the events but in the framework and structure, as well.
For example, Hawkins writes that the number of adaptations “from the Aeneid are so abundant that it is impossible to escape the fact that the Commedia constructed out of its narratives, personae, metaphors, and imperial dream (Hawkins, 2003, p. 75). Dante himself even mentions this in Purgatory in Canto 21 verse 97 when he says, “The Aeneid [… ] was my mama and my nurse in writing poetry” (Durling, 2003, p. 351). These adaptations of biblical stories prove that Christianity can be adapted by other authors, aside from Virgil, and their works and not be argued to be an exegesis of social and religious values like the Aeneid has.
Moreover, the several examples of adaptations show that they are not exegeses of previous work; they merely echo the works of their predecessors and leave out the interpretation of values and morals. I believe that this argument holds true for Virgil’s works and Christianity. That is to say that Virgil preceded Christianity chronologically and thereby if any of the values of the Christianity were in common with The Aeneid then it would be because the authors of the New Testament had read The Aeneid and incorporated those values into Christianity.
This would explain some of values the two texts have in common, but chronological order would not be sufficient to make a strong claim that The Aeneid is not a precursor to Christianity, which is to say that just because the Aeneid predated the New Testament and therefore easily explains why similarities occur between the two, it does not explain why the Aeneid was reinterpreted for its religious and social values. While the chronological order can explain some similarities in values, the rest of the answer to why one text is not a precursor to another lies in the stories that were adapted from The Aeneid.
The Aeneid Vs. the New Testament – Adaptations All of this works towards affirming the assumption that while certain aspects of some stories are unoriginal and draw upon things that have come before them, this does not provide sufficient evidence to claim that one text is a precursor for the other. The same would hold true for The Aeneid and Christianity to the extent of saying that the Aeneid, though itself not original, is not a precursor for Christianity just because certain aspects of its story are similar and, therefore, it must follow that the value system of was derived from Virgil’s work.
A reading of both texts does not reveal many similarities. The most noticeable presence of The Aeneid in the New Testament is the actual use of the protagonist’s name in the stories. The New Testament directly puts the name of Aeneas into the Bible as one of the ill who is healed by Paul in the name of Jesus. Found in the book Acts, Peter came across a man who was paralyzed and bedridden; his name was Aeneas. Peter healed Aeneas and converted all those around him into seeing the light of God.
The context of the story, such as where Aeneas was when the healing took place, seems like a failed attempt to connect the two stories. First of all, the Aeneas in the Bible was a man from Lydda, a place located near Joppa. Joppa was a wealthy port city in or around the borders of Phoenicia. The Virgilian Aeneas in Book 1 stays with Dido, the Phoenician exile who is queen and founder of Carthage. One can see the stretch in the correlation, making this somewhat farfetched.
Had the Aeneas of the New Testament been living and healed in Carthage or Latium, the new Troy that Aeneas established in The Aeneid, the connection would’ve been obvious and indisputable. This example seemed to have danced around the fact that it might have been a connection to The Aeneid, which is very inconclusive. In another work of literature Aeneas died, the details of his death were not revealed, but Aeneas’s death was short-lived; he became immortal at the request of his mother. This story is similar to that of Jesus Christ: a mortal that died and is resurrected into a god.
The Aeneas in Virgil’s poem was neither paralyzed nor bedridden for eight years, nor was his death explicitly related to these circumstances, and the reference to Joppa and possibly to Phoenicia is too coincidental and seems to try to force the connection onto the reader. Additionally, the history and events during the time biblical times and Virgil’s time are cloudy at best, and one can only assume that Aeneas could be a common name at the time, which would further distance The Aeneid from The New Testament.
Justice clearly comes in many different interpretations. The Old Testament views justice as something that ought to be done for the sake of following a law and a proper relationship with God while the New Testament views it as something people ought to do out of morality and love. The Aeneid obviously does not follow suit with the New Testament’s justice because love and forgiveness is not emphasized and one’s duties are placed above a moral decision out of compassion.
Aeneas is compelled to fulfill his duty rather than stay with Dido to save her life and preserve her love because he is Virgil’s ideal Roman; one who fulfills his duties and puts that obligation before himself and others. On that one fact alone is can’t be possible for the New Testament and the Aeneid to be connected because of the two different outlooks on justice. A more accurate description of the Aeneid is that it shares many qualities of the Old Testament, from its perspective on ustice to how to maintain it with an obligation to laws and fitting punishments for those who disobey. Moreover, by presenting a skeptical and logical view on these assumptions that the New Testament is an exegesis of the Aeneid, one can see that it is only an adaptation and doesn’t possess any of the same values as the Aeneid on justice or otherwise. It seems that those who argue in favor of Virgil as a Christian-precursor conflated the two, believing that the New Testament adaptation of some stories in The Aeneid are an exegesis uncovering Christian values in disguise.
The same holds true for many of the things in today’s society; that many things we know are not original ideas, but have been adopted, adapted, and changed; much of this is seen on television or Hollywood movies. The stories of Jesus were not original, nor were the gods that seemed to be omnipresent in The Aeneid. The Roman gods were derived from the Greek gods and only had their names changed (e. g. Minerva in Roman mythology is equivalent to the Greek’s Athena). While this only focuses on The Aeneid, the same cannot be said for his other works with great certainty.
Others have written about some of his other works in association the Christianity such as The Eclogues. But as for the dissent of these claims for other Virgilian works, that area still remains for the most part uncharted. Reference Allbee, R. A. (2006). Asymmetrical continuity of love and law between the old and new testaments: Explicating the implicit side of a hermeneutical bridge, leviticus 19. 11-18. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, 31(2), 147-166. Beaton, R. (1999). Messiah and justice: A key to matthew’s use of isaiah 42. 1-4? Journal for the Study of the New Testament, (75), 5.
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