While Vergil’s complicated interweaving of visual sources and literary allusions in the Heldenschau allows for multiple and varied interpretive strategies, this paper will focus on Anchises’ underappreciated role as proto-censor of the Roman people, and its possible connections with,reflections of, or allusions to Augustus’ census of 28 BCE, his cura morum and his paternal role in relation to the Roman people.
The idea that Vergil derived inspiration for his Heldenschau—the congregation of Roman heroes seen by Aeneas in the underworld (Aen, 6.752-892)—from aristocratic funeral processions has been popular among scholars for nearly fifty years (Skard 1965: 53-65; Novara 1987; Flower 1996: 109-10; cf. Habinek 1989: 236; Bettini 1991: 142-50). Even the didactic aspect of this passage has been woven into the funeral theory: Flower (110-114) considers Anchises’ discourse to Aeneas about his descendants as an example of how a father might teach his son Rome’s history via the‘ancestors’ (actors wearing imagines maiorum) at a funeral. The eschatological nature of Aeneid 6 makes such theories attractive; but a closer examination reveals many layers of thematic elements, topographical allusions, visual clues and verbal cues that evoke other activities as well.
For instance, Vergil’s descriptions of heroes can be linked to known statues, reliefs, paintings, even coins (Delaruelle 1913; Austin 1986: 232-4); verbal clues indicating that Aeneas’ group is moving in, around and through the heroic concourse, along with allusions to Rome’s topography (6.648-899 passim) help Vergil’s readers to envision Aeneas on a didactic city walk through Rome’s historic center among the statues of great men (Kondratieff, APA 2011).
But one cannot stop there, for Vergil further complicates matters by using the verbs recensere and lustrare to characterize Anchises’ review as an actual census of his progeny. Indeed, Anchises’ genealogical exposition, his approbation or disapproval of his descendants’ deeds, his monitory interventions (i.e., with Caesar), and his hortatory admonition to Aeneas to imitate their exempla and uphold the mores iuniorumstrongly evoke the public discourse of Roman censors (on censorial duties: Suolahti1963: 32-56; Lintott 1999: 115-120). Moreover, topographical clues provide the setting for a Roman census: the shadowy vale wherein Anchises conducts his first part of his review recalls the Velabrum and Forum Romanum. Taken with the description of many of his descendants—mostly grouped into gentes—as wearing military kit, these clues strongly recall the recognitio equitum, or travectio, a separate census of Rome’s elite that retained its military character well into Augustus’ day (perhaps even recalling elements of its revival in the census held by Augustus in 28, the only complete census held in Vergil’s adulthood). And, not for nothing does Anchises lead Aeneas—ready to fight for his destiny—to the twin gates at the end of the passage: after making vows for the next lustratio, censors of the Republic would lead the citizens under arms from the Campus Martius to Rome's gates, where they dismissed them.
Of course, some components of a census are missing from this passage, and others are conflated. Thus, the “census model” cannot stand as a unitary, or even primary,explanation for the Heldenschau; rather, it is but one of several overlapping, interwoven themes from which Vergil drew inspiration. Nevertheless, it is the purpose of this paper to tease out as much of the censorial theme as possible, to see how it lends substance to, and furthers discussions of, the topography of the underworld as a representation of (a dream-state) Rome, while also examining how this theme functions as yet another allusion to Augustus and as an enhancement of his central position in Vergil’s “Parade of Heroes.”
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