The Story of Aeneas

We Must Remain Stoic


As some of you know, I am attending a local community college here in Denver for my core requirements for my eventuated master’s degree in International Business Relations. Part of that requirement is a taking humanities course in World Literature; and so it goes, elements of the paper require me to follow a certain criteria: revealing of personal narrative, compare present and past cultural or social events, and at least two quotations from media events as well as at least two text quotes from class readings assignments. I have also noticed, if the paper has a slant to the left better the grade; and, so it goes, my latest musings….

I have a catch phrase, “It just another day in paradise,” when I am asked how am I doing. Granted it is also a sappy Phil Collin’s song, but the meaning of my moods, attitudes, and perspectives are communicated quite well. Sometimes, when asked by perfect strangers the aforementioned question and my previously report response, our eyes will meet, and nothing more needs to be said. It is not a code phrase for a liberal, or a conservative, or even an empathetic minority. No these words go beyond contrivance, they are understood, and are at the deepest of level, that I, and we are to appreciate what we have in the here and now. In many aspects, my friends often hear this off the cuff response, and they know I am doing “fine,”—well even. That I am taking the world day by day; neither good or bad; it is what it is; the nature of things[1]; and, this by definition, they know that I am being stoic[2]; at least on a base level anyway.

So, when I said to a classmate, one of the most influential statements in class this semester was, “I know that I do not know,” this base philosophy surprised her, coming from me. And yes, I agree it is. But in the last fifteen years of my life, I have struggled to name the day to day of what my subsistence has been, my dhukka [3], my burden, my suffering way of life; has led me to this liminal[4] moment in my life.

Let me explain, for many a year it was okay for me to simply go to work and go home. Sometimes, I go out with friends, or on a date, or go out on a vacation. But as Marcus Aurelius posited,

“How small a part of boundless and unfathomable time is assigned to every man? For it is very soon swallowed up in the eternal.”[5]

In other words, life is short, and time is all too brief and yet seems all too grand to be examined. In essence, we are a tiny speck in the universe and our brief moment of existence is infinitesimal to the web of life. And thus, he goes on and says,

“And how small a part of the whole small part of substance? And a small part of the universal soul? And on what a small clod of the whole earth you creep?”[6]

Thus Aurelius indicates, that we are mere mortal beings within a vast cosmos, and it is our pietas[7], our fate, to live within the greatness of it, and thus, Aurelius concludes,

“Reflecting on all this consider (sic) nothing to be great, except to act as your nature leads you, and to endure that which the common nature brings.”[8]

Which places my sentiment of my past self, to merely be satisfied, to stew within my own restlessness and angst, only to be deconstructed in my life’s turmoil, and in a sense, I am and was the lost tragic stoic figure. I craved for more of the same, but was dissatisfied[9], never sure of which level to be at, only to find acceptance within a small parcel of my world, physically in space-time and mentally against the laws of Maya.[10] I know that I do not know, and that is okay. My life today confronts the esoteric and brings clarity, simply, because it is time do so and my own personal history has shone me.

Therefore there are times within history, such as in the story of The Aeneid, by Virgil, for instance, that the vehicles of expression are used to tell the story of a fallen Troy and the resurrection of its leaders; coming out of the flames and ashes with Phoenix wings spread over the known world of the time, the death of Troy is transformed into a rebirth of a new civilization called Rome. Thus, through metaphor my own personal narrative has embarked on its own redemptions, through ashes and fire, I understand the redefinition of the self; and, I see similarities to the story of The Aeneid.

Not in the heroic or epic sense, but similar through the use of The Aeneid’s allegories, parables, and histories to tell the narrative of life’s of stoicisms. In the case of Aeneas, the main protagonist of The Aeneid, the author Virgil, uses symbols and myths to convey and reveal the origins of Rome and the characters who founded it. In brief, the story of The Aeneid is an accounting of the trials and tribulations[11] and by the way of example The Aeneid’s story arc illustrates the gravitas and philosophy of stoicism.

The story begins after the fall of Troy and the perilous voyage of the Trojans citizens arriving with their storm battered ships on the shores of Carthage. In the descriptive words of Virgil,he narrates how the people of Teucrian stock[12] were brought down by their overconfidence[13], the judgment of Paris[14], and the cleverness of the Spartans. Aeneas, the leader of the refugees, is visited by his mother, Venus, to tell him that not to worry that he has arrived in land that will welcome him and his fellow Trojans. He, Aeneas, before the escape from Troy had lost many friends including his wife, Creusa, as well as during the voyage (See the history of the American pilgrim as a corollary as they fled religious persecution from the Church of England). With great pietas, however, Aeneas continued on through his tragedies and triumphs with urging of his gods and the resiliency of his heart.[15] He understands that he must push forward for not only himself, but for his son—Ascanius. This is his stoic moment. Not because he is nobly sacrificing himself for his son, but he knows that the steady path will lead him to his redemption and salvation.

In book two, he, Aeneas, tells Dido, the queen of Carthage, of his fated Troy (some might say similar to the fall of the Twin Towers on 9/11 equals the emotionalism of the Trojan’s demise)[16], and the losses he suffered. As the story unfolds her compassion grows and she falls in love with him, with the aid of Venus, Aeneas’s mother, and her other son Cupid. However, unlike Aeneas, Dido’s past demises had left her jaded and emotional, because of her first husband’s death at the hand of her brother Pygmalion. She never truly resolved the issues of life’s cards being dealt to her[17] and so, in book VI of the Aeneid, Virgil shows her ultimate dysfunction with her suicide in a “conversation” with Aeneas. So embittered she is with her life, she cannot see beyond the hanging stone above her head[18].

In contrast, although Aeneas is spurned on by his gods to conclude his destiny and leave Carthage for his descendents in order to found Rome, he is almost monolithic in his rationality. But interestingly, as the story swells, Aeneas is aided by the Sibyl of Cummae, a prophetess, that provides the consistency for his stoicism; she fills the bill, in that, the old adage “behind every great man there is woman,” establishes her as the best of political advisers. Such advisers tactfully guide and empower their leaders, and yet refrain from gleaning for the power for themselves, they understand their role. Inauspiciously, there are those, such as Karl Rove[19], who have failed to understand their role. But, Sybil of Cummae steady gaze of “seeing” gives the protagonist, Aeneas, the resolve to come to terms with his past transgressions and move forward, admit mistakes. This, of course, is the difference between arrogance of thinking that you know what is best and ruling through righteous leadership, and Sybil understands that difference as an adviser.

Unfortunately, such advisers in the current political atmosphere are unavailable, because of present histrionics of days gone by within the United States does not allow for admission of errors. The atmosphere of polarization and absolutism shunts us, and leads us to ill advised ideals, such rallying words that “we must stay resolute,” “never surrender,” “by admitting such; we show our infirmities,” according to the supporters of White House policy, never having to admit wrongness, despite evidence to the contrary, “be lost in emotion of the past,” they advocate through words of implication, “and continue the rage of anger, never forget the fear of our darkest day—9/11 and be soothed with our righteous mission;” only brings harm to our just cause of redemption and salvation.

Hence, we continue the see the world through Tantalus’s eyes. These are the arguments for “staying the course” is also mistakenly seen as being stoic, and sometimes reified as the same as “being resolute.” Though similar in definition, the philosophy of stoicism requires more. It requires for us to be adaptable and flexible; stoicism requires us to be honest with ourselves, to confront life head on, and understand the trails of life, the highest joys, and the lowest moments, is the nature of things.

So when I say, “that it just another day in paradise,” I am demonstrating my own brand of stoicism and I am rightly adapting to the cards being dealt to me in life. And as for the current political environs, if we are to survive as nation, we must learn to adapt to the trials and tribulations of life. “We the people of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility” must remain stoic in order to secure our Liberty[20] to retain our ability to protest, to dissent, to acquiesce from authority, whether from the ability of a free press or the right rebel against injustice of might, America must remain the beacon of hope for the world. This noble experiment of light must not ever be extinguished.


[1] This is a reference to Lucretius’s philosophy see The Bedford Anthology of World Literature Vol. 1, pages 785-787.
[2] In being stoic, I have surrendered to the complexity of life. I understand that the challenges before and after me are just that, challenges; inasmuch, that I continue to reach for them is also part of stoicism. In learning this distinction, in striving to a better existence, I have changed from merely survival, to the attainment of continuity through enlightenment of “being” within the moment. There is a difference…
[3] This is a Hindu-Indian word for suffering, but it is also has a layered meaning, in that. the soul of the individual also suffers, both spiritually in the emotional sense, as well as the physical sense.
[4] In earlier papers, I have discussed and defined this word as to mean—transition. Victor Turner, famed anthropologist, first used this word. He sought a way to describe the moment within the transition of a culture, of an individual, or a civilization, crossing the threshold to a new beginning. The action itself, in a sense, is a “mystical moment,” whether long or short lived the moment of “liminality” becoming exorcised through both perception and perceptual growth of the event
[5] This quote is from Marcus Aurelius works called the Meditations, to what the editors of “The Bedford Anthology of World Literature” Vol. 1 refers to as a spiritual diary, see pages 1639-1642. The excerpts in the next following lines are from Book XII, paragraph 32 (see the bottom of 1641 and top of 1642).
[6] See previous note.
[7] Pietas –as defined, it is our duty, our obligation to appreciate the moments of triumphs and darkness within the short certainty of life. To understand the duty and honor for the sake of family, friends, and compatriot in arms gives meaning to one’s existence.
[8][8] See footnote 5. In essence, life’s journey is long, if your lucky, living the past is riddled with what could have been, is to defeat the spiritual journey of the self. It is the day to day that is enduring, and knowing when to celebrate. All clichéd—yes, but the element of truth within allegories, metaphors, and clichés births the epiphany when the spirit can crossover from understanding it to transcending it.
[9] Put another way, as Lucretius describes the Faustian nature of the human drive, before Christopher Marlowe set paper to pen. Lucretius, eloquently states, “…no one knowing what he really wants and everyone forever trying to get away from where he is, as though mere locomotion could throw off the load. Often the owner of some stately mansion, bored stiff by staying at home, takes his departure, only to return as speedily when he feels himself no better off out of doors…” In essence, we are so busy worrying about trivialities that, we forget to simply stop and enjoy the moment of the “now.” The materials we collect along the way brings for the providence of our true nature—the journey of self-discovery. (See The Bedford Anthology of World Literature Vol. 1, pages 786-788, specifically in the edited version, last paragraph).
[10] Maya is the Hindu/Buddha deity of delusion.
[11] In the political arena of today, describes America’s action in the War on Terror as “resolute,” uncompromising, and even stoic. In that, there are “good times,” “bad times,” even “horrific times,” but we muddle through and “stay the course” in order to have victory, although it may take a lifetime to win.
[12] Reference the founder of Troy, King Teucer, who descendents became the Trojans.
[13] By “overconfidence,” I mean that the Trojans, after years of war with Spartans, they ignored not only their Laocoon, their priest, but their prophetess (by designed of the gods), in foretelling the fate of Troy.
[14] Prior to the fall of Troy, Paris, the son of King Priam, had judged a beauty contest between Helen, wife King Menelaus of Spartan, the queen of the gods Juno, and the Venus. Venus promises Helen’s heart as a bribe for Paris, if he judged her well. He did so. Thus, began the fall of Troy, when Paris led with his heart and chose unbridled passion, and received the curse of Juno.
[15] On a personal note, I understand such loss, my grandmother, grandfather, on my mother side, and my father, who died of cancer. The closet of which was my grandmother, in many ways, her spirit (she died fifteen years ago) lives on within me. She was the “lightning bolt” (a reference to Zeus/Jupiter being the god of lightening and thunder) who inspired my sense of righteousness. Zeus, according to Edith Hamilton, role changed over time from the impetuous god who spread his “seed” to mortal women and his vengeance, he later became the deity for justice transforming him into a god who is more temperate and just.
[16] In many respects, the Twin Towers were the symbols of Western-American culture successes and triumphs. They were one of the beacons of system that represented capitalism and democracy. They were the gates of free expression and liberty that the barbarians demolished as they clamored through.
[17] Cleanthes, the founder of stoicism, discourses on how one “must act out his or her part in the best way possible,” despite the trials and tribulations and eventuated “outcome.” Essentially deal with the “cards” dealt. (See page 1636, in The Bedford Anthology of World Literature, vol. 1).
[18] Dido had become like a ground swell of emotion, being overwhelmed in emotionality, and like Tantalus, used as the example of Lucretius, Dido has been swept away in the maze of chaotic irrationality, instead of living in the here and now. (See pages 785-788 of The Bedford Anthology of World Literature, vol. 1)
[19] Karl Rove is president political advisor of President George W. Bush, and reifies the work of Niccolo Machiavelli in The Prince, who seems to worship the machinations as form of ministry to adhere to.
[20] Of the italicized words, in the last sentence, there are no more powerful words than these from the introduction of our United States Constitution. See the US Constitution as the reference.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: