Viewing myth and history on the shield of Aeneas

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This article analyzes the representational strategies Vergil uses in the description of the shield of Aeneas to shape the reception of his text. Three aspects of the ekphrasis highlight its ambiguous status as a literary representation figuring itself as a material presence that can become part of history as well as depicting it. First, descriptions of rivers frame narrative units within book 8 as though the text were a visual image, while failing to perform such a function in the case of the shield itself. Rivers also symbolize both the linear progression of the narrative and its static visual surface. Second, the presence of multiple levels of internal spectators simultaneously reminds Vergil's audience of the differences between poem and image and image and reality and provides focalizing perspectives from which each represented image can be perceived as real. Finally, intertextual references to defining features of historiography as a literary genre provide a model for how literary accounts of the past can influence events. But the comparison with historiography also draws attention to what Vergil does differently, particularly his direct representation of divine action and his refashioning of history's linear order into a circular, spatial image that can be viewed synchronically.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)281-318
Number of pages38
JournalClassical Antiquity
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 1 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Classics


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