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The Secondariness of Virgilian Epic and Its Unprecedented Originality

From: College Literature
Volume 40, Number 1, Winter 2013
pp. 11-31 | 10.1353/lit.2013.0005



Virgil’s epic obsessively laments its inferiority with respect to its Homeric model, and yet the creation of reflexive, self-lacerating interiority is itself a radical new departure. It turns into an original invention of prophetic revelation through reflection on history projected as a future destiny to be embraced and realized on the strength of an inner conviction and conversion issuing in self-sacrificial action. Obliterated as a man by his mission, Aeneas is no Odysseus, but the emptying of all meaning from his present existence opens a register of historical meaning generated by the interacting absences of past and future. History is thereby made into typology, yet its very hollowness as a supposedly triumphal procession exposes a deeper dimension of committed realization of visionary truth. Prophecy emerges not as magical forecasting of the future but as impassioned interpretation of the shape of events as a whole anticipated through enactment of history’s imagined goals.