Be Warned and Study Justice:The Shifting Definition of Justice in Virgil’s Aeneid

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Be Warned and Study Justice:The Shifting Definition of Justice in Virgil’s Aeneid A twenty-first century reading of the Iliad and the Odyssey will highlight a seeming lack of justice: hundreds of men die because of an adulteress, the most honorable characters are killed, the cowards survive, and everyone eventually goes to hell. Due to the difference in the time period, culture, prominent religions and values, the modern idea of justice is much different than that of Greece around 750 B.C. The idea of justice in Virgil’s the Aeneid is easier for us to recognize. As in our own culture, “justice” in the epic is based on a system of punishment for wrongs and rewards for honorable acts. Time and time again, Virgil provides his readers…show more content…
Instances that may confuse today’s audience are directly linked to the interference of the Roman gods’ will in our contemporary idea of justice. Woven throughout the Aeneid are many examples of the punishment/reward system of justice. The story of King Mezentius is a lesson in the types of characteristics and actions that can be justly punished. The King ruled his land “barbarously by force,” was a man of arrogance, and a tyrant (Virgil 246, lines 647-8, 650). He had no qualms about unnecessarily torturing his subjects in disgusting and cruel ways. Though Mezentius eventually allows himself to be killed in battle, the death of his innocent son, Lausus, is the king’s true punishment for his actions. Mezentius himself acknowledges this: My son, I stained your name with wickedness –Driven out as I was, under a cloud,From throne and scepter of my ancestors. Long since I owned my land, my hating folk,Punishment for my sins. I should have given My guilty life up, suffering every death,”(325, lines 1191-6) While the death of blameless Lausus is unfortunate, Virgil shows the type of retribution exacted for terrible treatment of others. Regardless of power or throne, Virgil shows that a king is not at liberty to do whatever he wants. The prince’s death is Mezentius’ just reward for his evils,

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