ABSTRACT

No one knows exactly, or even approximately, how many times the works of Virgil were printed in the early modern period. At the end of the twentieth century, interpretations of Virgil’s Aeneid tended to begin from one of two basic perspectives. In the first, Aeneas is seen to articulate more and more successfully the values that would come to be associated with imperial Rome, until in the final scene of the poem he slays Turnus, the enemy leader, and removes the last obstacle to Roman power and glory. In the last decades of the twentieth century, the adherents of this first approach came to be called “optimists” and those of the second approach “pessimists.” The roots of both the “optimistic” and the “pessimistic” interpretations of the poem that remain influential today extend deeply into the commentaries and prefatory matter of the early printed editions.