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28 Aug

Augustine As Aeneas

In these and other particulars it can be seen that both the Aeneid and the Confessions approach a usual pattern and to one another. Aeneas in his flight from Troy has many shattering personal experiences, many a trial, and a visit to the underworld from which he emerges regenerated, with a clear vision of his destiny and the strength and confidence to fulfil it. Augustine, likewise, pictures himself as the Prodigal Son fleeing back to the Father (an important related motif in the Confessions), has equally shattering personal experiences and trials, ‘dies to his old self and puts on Christ in a mystic calling from which he emerges regenerated. There are differences of emphasis between the one work and the other – in particular the Confessions stress the ‘flight’ in terms of the Neo Platonic flight to the Fatherland and the way thither. But broadly speaking each is the story of Everyman in his journey through life.”

From “Virgil and Augustine: The Aeneid in the Confessions” by John Ó’Meara, in The Maynooth Review / Revieú Mhá Nuad , Vol. 13, (Dec., 1988), pp. 30-43 [available on JSTOR, limited free access]

The Irish philosopher John J. O’Meara on the parallels between Augustine’s Confessions and Virgil’s Aeneid. The Aeneid, written by Virgil between 29 and 19 BC, recounts the tale of Aeneas, a Trojan who wandered the Mediterranean after the Fall of Troy. He eventually arrives in Italy where he became the ancestor of the Romans.

O’Meara argues that Augustine, fully familiar with the Aeneid, sees himself as another Aeneas, and his Confessions are constructed along the same lines as the Aeneid. Augustine refers explicitly to the Aeneid in Book I of his Confessions:

For certainty the first lessons, which formed in me the enduring power of reading books and writing what I chose, were better because more solid than the latter, in which I was obliged to learn by heart the wanderings of Aeneas, forgetting my own wanderings, and to weep for the death of Dido, who slew herself for love, while I looked with dry eyes on my own most unhappy death, wandering far from Thee, O God, my life. For what is so pitiful as an unhappy wretch who pities not himself, who has tears for the death of Dido, because she loved Aeneas, but none of his own death, because he loves not Thee?

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