Twentieth-century Epic Novels by Theodore L. Steinberg

By Theodore L. Steinberg

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The more dangerous threats to society, however, have human sources and frequently involve deception or some other human failing. Anyone looking at the monsters would recognize them immediately as evil, but how can we tell what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The monsters, then, provide most of the poem’s excitement, but their major role is to contrast one form of evil, open, obvious, and opposable through the heroic code, with another form of evil, subtle, deceptive, and difficult to recognize, let alone combat.

Quint concentrates more precisely on Virgil, whom he views as the archetype of the epic poet working in tandem with the imperialist state. ”51 It is undeniable that Virgil loved Rome and that his poem glorifies the new-born empire, but it is an error to view the Aeneid as Roman propaganda or as a justification for everything Augustus did. 52 The character of Aeneas himself raises vital questions. 53 He often seems like a stick figure, a hero who makes few choices and does what he must, illustrating the ways in which every Roman man must do his duty regardless of the personal sacrifices that such duty requires.

In the description of Achilleus’ shield in book 18, we see two cities. The first is a city at peace, where marriages and festivals are celebrated, symbols of life and continuity. This is a real city, however, populated by real people, and so there are disagreements and potential strife in the city as well. Two men argue over the blood price to be paid for a man who has been killed: they negotiate the value of the man’s life so that proper restitution can be paid. How the narrator knows these details simply from looking at the shield is unexplained (and inexplicable), but the scene itself is certainly real enough.

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