Many ethnic groups today place great value on traditions that link them to a glorious past. This is not unique to our age by any means. Throughout history, people have devised myths tracing their particular group to noble or even divine origins. Even the Romans, great as their empire was, craved an origin story that would justify their belief in their own greatness. That origin story was provided by the poet Virgil, a contemporary of Caesar Augustus and the author of the Aeneid. The epic, modeled on the earlier works of Homer, tells the story of Aeneas, a warrior who fled the fall of Troy and, with his companions, traveled by circuitous means to Italy, won a bloody war, and laid the foundation for what was to become the city of Rome. The poem is full of allusions to the destined greatness of the empire founded by Augustus and glorifies the Roman virtues of duty to family and the gods, even at the expense of personal feelings and desires.
Virgil was famous in his own day, but after his death his fame grew even greater. His writings were required works in schools and universities throughout the Middle Ages and beyond. Myths grew up around Virgil himself. Even many of the Christian thinkers in the Middle Ages considered him to be a prophet; a passage from one of his works, the Eclogue, was thought to predict the coming of Christ. But the warlike virtues portrayed in the Aeneid were simply not compatible with the simple words of Jesus requiring His followers to love their neighbors, and even their enemies, and the arbitrary and contradictory actions of the gods in the epic eventually caused people to question the value of such deities. The selfish gods of the Aeneid were ultimately displaced by the Son of God who sacrificed himself rather than demanding sacrifices from His followers for His own self-gratification. This most recent addition to the literature website thus shows us, not only the character qualities that shaped the Roman Empire of the New Testament era and beyond, but also clearly contrasts those qualities with the faith that led the early Christians to suffer martyrdom and in the process defeat the glorification of power that was the essence of Rome.