Rome has been a locus of fascination for writers since antiquity. The city’s history and architecture, among many other things, have inspired countless works in modern literature and were also captivating for ancient Roman authors, particularly those of the Augustan era. As Edwards (1996: 3; cf. Jaeger 1990 and 1997: 7) comments, “it is no accident that the Augustan era—a time when the material city was profoundly transformed—sees a new concern with the city in Roman texts.” One way in which ancient authors pondered the city was through comparison between past and present Rome, the so-called “Then and Now” trope. According to Fantham, this topos first appears in the eighth book of Virgil’s Aeneid, where Evander leads Aeneas on a tour of Pallanteum, or proto-Rome, supplemented with interjections of contemporary Rome by Virgil. This passage has proven to be very popular with scholars, from discussions of its topographical route (Fowler, McKay, Spencer, et al.) to its multiple layers of temporality (Rossi, Smith, Mayer, Jenkyns, Seider, Hardie et al.).
Though it has often been claimed that this passage in Aeneid 8 is the first place where Aeneas truly “sees” his destiny (Fowler, for instance), I argue that Aeneas is provided with topographical glimpses of the future Rome throughout earlier books of the Aeneid, especially in the sixth and seventh books. Foreshadowings of Rome and its greatness as narrated by Anchises to Aeneas in Aeneid 6 are complemented by architectural descriptions of underworld structures, which contain specifically Roman architectural and topographical features. Aeneas’ ultimate landing upon the shore of Italy in Aeneid 7 and his introduction to Latinus, his palace and city gates likewise highlight similarities between Latian and Roman customs, ideologies, and architecture.
In this twenty-minute paper I will begin by briefly summarizing instances of clearly Roman topographical allusion in earlier books, specifically the building of Carthage and the Temple of Juno in Aeneid 1. The main focus of this paper, however, will be an analysis of passages in Aeneid 6 and 7, including the walls of Tartarus, the palace of Latinus, and the gates of Mars, where I will examine the architectural description and terminology as well as other allusions to Rome. In fashioning a sort of ring composition, Virgil projects contemporary architectural, social, and political features back into the mythic past, which, in turn, would seem to inspire those more modern structures and institutions. Due in part to these projections of then and now, the poet historicizes myth and helps to validate his epic tracing the beginnings of Rome.
Rome: The City as Text