Aeneas: a modern hero?

October 7, 2008

Today my professor mentioned that, unlike his predecessors in the epic tradition, Aeneas is more of a modern hero. Instead of individual feats of valor, he is more prone to collective organization and cooperation. I found it interesting that this was allegedly the more modern view, as it seems to me that the individual vs. collective dichotomy is alive and well; neither has trumped the other, and moreover I would be hard pressed to pronounce one as more modern than the other.

For example, take a sports team. The collective is certainly valued, as the group wins or loses as a whole despite the relative performance of its members. At the same time, individual players are singled out for higher salaries and greater fame based on their ability to surpass their peers. I cannot think of a single instance in which an entire team was featured on a Wheaties box or in a Nike commercial.

Another, perhaps more pertinent comparison is the superhero comic. Superman and Batman are iconic figures who, for the most part, operate alone to bring villains to justice. However, even they have found themselves joining teams of heroes as a means of pooling their talents to achieve some goal that would, presumably, surpass each of them individually. A team of lone wolves, to quote an oxymoron. Is the collective superior to the individual? Or, as in the Argonautica, is the collective noteworthy because of the individuals it contains?

One thing is certain so far: Aeneas, unfortunately, is rather boring as a character because he has no discernible flaws. The gods make things hard for him, but he himself doesn’t make the mistakes that cause problems. Luckily, the descriptions of the environment are so beautiful and poetic that they are reason enough to continue reading. But if a modern hero is someone who is kind and good and always does the right thing, well… I’ll take a less modern hero, thank you very much.

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