Aeneas: Roman Portrait of a Father

08.aeneasTo a Roman man, the exemplum of fatherhood was Aeneas.  One image in particular summed up the expectation and burden Roman men felt.  The image of Aeneas fleeing the burning city of Troy on his was to Italy gets repeated throughout the ancient world in sculpture, painting and coins.  Every instance contains the same 3 elements.

  1. Aeneas is carrying Anchises, his aged and crippled father, on his shoulders.
  2. Aeneas is carrying the household gods.
  3. Aeneas is leading his son Ascanius by the hand.

(Note:  In order to make sure Aeneas has enough hands, sometimes Anchises is shown either holding the household gods himself or clinging to Aeneas’ back piggy-back style.)

Though the story of Aeneas contains things easy to find fault with (ie. where is Aeneas’ wife…answer: he lost her on the way out of Troy…Sorry, not enough hands for her to hold).  This image does offer a window into how manhood and fatherhood were conceived of in Ancient Rome….and perhaps a little wisdom for a world losing its way.

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