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Public and Private in Vergil's "Aeneid"

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In our increasingly fragmented world, finding a balance between the public realm of city and politics and the private realm of family, intimate relationships, and the raising of children is not an easy task. When faced with a choice between action in the public world and care for the concerns of the private, we, like Vergil's Aeneas, are often torn between whether to stay or to go.

In this new reading of the Aeneid, Susan Ford Wiltshire provides a historical perspective for the current debate over the public/private dilemma. It is Wiltshire's contention that our present concern over this issue was Vergil's own.

Wiltshire traces the split between public and private back to the origins of bureaucracy in the Roman Empire. She shows that Vergil, although loyal to the new Roman state, was acutely aware of the costs of empire: mothers grieve throughout the Aeneid, home seems far away, friends are missed, intimate forms of love are almost always defeated. And so Vergil developed strategies for reconciling the public and private: characters in this epic act in the public realm while maintaining self-distance, offer hospitality to strangers, perform sustained hard work, and develop a new pietas that is both public and private. Through these means, Wiltshire argues, Vergil thought to strengthen the fragile alliance of public and private spheres, an alliance on which the well-being of both individuals and societies depends.

This book will be of interest to classical scholars, students of political theory, the history of ideas, and women's studies.

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