The “Ascanius problem” is a much-debated and increasingly researched topic in Aeneid scholarship and reception. For a figure so emblematic of Vergilian themes of pietas and family, and one who directly reflects Augustus’ emphasis on succession, he is often conspicuously absent from the narrative – an absence that persists in Vergilian reception, where Ascanius is a negligible presence at best. Even in Maffeo Vegio’s sequel to the Aeneid, the Supplementum, which shifts focus from Turnus’ murder to the wedding of Aeneas and Lavinia, Ascanius’ presence barely registers. But if Vegio’s sequel intends to provide closure to the Aeneid, ignoring the anxieties produced by Aeneas’ surrender to furor in favor of adopting a more optimistic ending, why exclude Ascanius?
To answer such a question, this paper seeks to analyze the character of Ascanius through Vegio’s utilization of him – or lack thereof – in specific passages of the Supplementum. I will argue that the decreased presence of Ascanius is deliberate, and that Vegio “pointedly sideline[s] and diminish[es] the figure of Aeneas’ son, Ascanius, to the extent that his succession to his father’s position becomes doubtful” (Rogerson 2013). I will then go one step further and argue that Vegio picks up on a theme Vergil establishes in the Aeneid – namely, that he increasingly associates Ascanius with Cupid throughout the poem, so that Ascanius comes to serve as a symbol of destructive cupido, with his every appearance bringing about more disaster. I will argue that Vegio does not so much resolve this problem as fall back on imagery that reinforces it, and that, by associating Ascanius with the concept of cupido in his Supplementum, Vegio uses this fusion to emphasize a lack of closure in the Aeneid (Buckley 2006).
Anne Rogerson, in her article “Vegio’s Ascanius: Problems in the continuation of the Aeneid,” makes the argument that Vegio’s inclusion of Ascanius in his Aeneid sequel is troublesome, especially since the Supplementum emphasizes family unity between Aeneas and the Latins. Particularly insidious is the audience’s knowledge that Aeneas and Lavinia will produce an heir, Silvius Aeneas, who will complicate issues of succession and inheritance for Ascanius. Her argument also highlights Vegio’s infantalization of Ascanius, where all the character growth Ascanius ostensibly gained in the Aeneid is undermined in the Supplementum, so that he comes across as an eternal youth rather than a legitimate heir and is “relegated to…obscurity” (Rogerson 2013). But while Rogerson focuses more on the elision of Ascanius out of the narrative, I analyze Vegio’s decision to lower Ascanius’ age in the narrative – and this choice is not as innocent as it appears. Though Ascanius’ presence in the Supplementum is minimal, his appearances, and his youthful exterior, recall imagery from the Ascanius/Cupid fusion in Aeneid 1 and the start of Dido’s destruction.
My paper will examine several scenes from the Supplementum (with particular focus on Latinus’ fascination with the boy Ascanius) and compare them to passages from the Aeneid. After explaining the ways in which Vergil uses Ascanius to signal (and even trigger) moments of heightened passion throughout the poem, I then intend to show how Vegio, with his use of linguistic parallels, loaded imagery, and thematic emphasis of cupido, not only acknowledges this connection between Ascanius and Cupid in the Aeneid but perpetuates it, effectively immortalizing Ascanius as a Cupidified version of himself. The consequence of representing Ascanius as a cupido figure, then, is that his very presence begins to undermine the peace intended by the union of the Trojans and the Latins. The metamorphosis of Ascanius into a Cupid-type tarnishes Aeneas’ entire legacy, and not even Vegio’s conciliatory marriage between Lavinia and Aeneas can wipe the slate of so much destructive furor clean.
Virgil and his Afterlife