Virgil has been claimed as an ancestor by partisans of recent centuries: he has been seen as forerunner of Christianity, as a gentle `national poet' following World War II, as a kindred spirit for opponents of the Vietnam War, and recently as a critic of man's damage to the natural environment. However, most - except the young - feel that Virgil was not often concerned to express support for Octavian-Augustus. This near-consensus of literary critics rests on the tendency of political historians to skim the period between 44 and 31BC, and thus to ignore most aspects of Octavian's contemporary reputation. This book applies a historian's eye to the poetry of Virgil's work. It challenges the orthodoxy that Virgil was a faithful follower of inherited literary genre. It attends closely to his deviations from poetic tradition, and argues that - after the eclogues - those deviations form a pattern: Virgil has identified, addressed and sought to palliate, structurally and on a grand scale, the ugliest and most damaging aspects of Octavian's reputation. His Aeneas steals the clothes of Octavian's most powerful and popular opponent, a man - unlike Mark Antony - little noticed by modern historians. This study insists on the need to combine scholarly disciplines: to argue closely from Virgil's Latin, and from Greek literary genre - and to inform such arguments with a knowledge of ancient political writing and of contemporary coinage. The Virgil who emerges is a more purposive, bloodstained and courageous individual than most have wished to see. Powell's book aims to become a reference for all those who address - in whatever spirit - the question whether Virgil was deeply engaged in the politics of his time.
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