Written in times of turmoil, the Aeneid, regarded from a functionalist (B. Malinowski) point of view, legitimizes the new Roman rule of Octavian Augustus, and of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Vergil makes this very clear in Book 4 (Williams, 219-278), when he shows Jupiter “th’ Omnipotent” commanding Mercury to remind Aeneas of his destiny: “look upon Iulus in his bloom, thy hope and heir Ascanius. It is his rightful due in Italy o’er Roman lands to reign” (Williams, 271-274).
This passage, however, can also be viewed as legitimizing the central role played by the father in Roman society. References to the social importance of the father can be found throughout the epic, but this episode presents the words of the most important god in the Roman pantheon – Jupiter, “he who commands all gods, and by his sovran deity moves earth and heaven” (Williams, 260-262).
Jupiter, referred to as pater omnipotens in Book 1, line 60 (omnipotent father, or “Father of the Gods”, as translated by Dryden), is very similar to the Pater Patriae (Father of the Fatherland), an honorific conferred by the Roman Senate to men who defended and/or ruled Rome. More down to earth, the god who orders everyone and everything is also similar, in power and function, to the very common pater familias, who had almost the same omnipotence over his own family (even if somewhat limited, in theory, at least, by the law).
His discourse, transmitted by Mercury, conveys his patriarchal authority, forcing Aeneas to be “dutiful” again, regaining his pietas, and to be, in his turn, a good father to his son. And by doing this, by listening to the almighty father, Aeneas, a pater familias, becomes, implicitly, the father of the whole future Roman Empire – a Pater Patriae.
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1. Vergil – Aeneid. Theodore C. Williams. trans. Boston. Houghton Mifflin Co. 1910.
2. Vergil – Bucolics, Aeneid, and Georgics. J. B. Greenough. Boston. Ginn & Co. 1900
3. Vergil – Aeneid. John Dryden. trans.