A certain young lady that I know is intending to write a paper on, “Whether Aeneas is Pious?” I think this is a splendid topic and have been struggling with just why I think it is a splendid topic.
Here is the struggle:
On the one hand it seems perfectly obvious that Aeneas is Pious because one might say that his piety is a premiss upon which the Aeneid based. Every couple hundred lines Virgil makes certain to remind us that Aeneas is pious by simply using the word as an epithet
“Pius Aeneas especially groans now for keen Orontes, now for the fallen Amycus ….”
To draw a parallel with the Iliad, one would not ask “whether Achilles was wrathful?” If Achilles was not wrathful then the whole Iliad just kind of melts away into a little green pool of ooze, sort of like the way that the wicked witch of the west melted in The Wizard of Oz.
On the other hand, piety is an important virtue when it comes to civilization and Aeneas is an important figure in civilization, because he is the iconic founder of the Roman civilization- which is among the greatest civilizations known to man (another premiss that we will not question!)
That piety is a fundamental virtue in the very founding and sustaining of any civilization needs a little discussion. We might even suggest that Virgil is indicating it as the chief virtue from which civilization is born.
Is piety in fact the chief virtue that gives rise to civilization? Arguably it is. Civilization appears to spring from a continuance of practices of our fathers and ancestors. We build upon those who came before us and thus traditions spring up and give rise to rituals and a sense of something beyond ourselves.
Perhaps other virtues are involved as well – but piety seems to be all wrapped up in civilization and not just its founding but also its healthy continuance. We might ask “whether a civilization can long endure should its citizens lose their piety?” Frightening question.
So given the importance of this virtue and the importance of the Roman civilization (as a beacon of civilization for all) it is therefore significant to establish a clear idea of what piety is.
And Aeneas is also an important figurehead of this virtue insofar as he was a good old-fashioned pagan!
Christians might begin to think that important virtues like piety only come through baptism and no real virtue is possible without supernatural grace. Christians should not confuse what belongs to nature with what belongs to grace. And so Aeneas might be thought of as someone who represents what is possible by nature. He is a very important example for Christians.
But is he? In other words does Aeneas live up to a Christian idea of piety? Or does he show us how flawed human nature is without Christ? Is he Pious? Is piety even possible without Christ?
I have a hunch that many of my friends will say “No! Piety is not possible without Christ! There is no true piety without Christianity!”
and therefore it would seem to follow that “Civilization is not possible without Christianity,” although I don’t think these same friends would feel comfortable saying this especially from a historical standpoint.
And to make matters worse, we as Christians tend to identify the pious man with the holy man. But Aeneas does seem to involve himself in various situations which do not seem holy. One …Dido! Two…his apparently unmerciful stance towards poor Turnus!
But Saint Gregory says that
Hence the struggle. Was Aeneas Pious?