Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Plagiarism, Classics Style

Since Virgil is dead, and I can’t be sued for libel (slander is spoken, libel is in print—I’m not sure which one a blog falls under, but I’m covered), I’ve decided to speak my mind about The Aeneid. For those of you who don’t know, Virgil wrote the epic poem The Aeneid. Something I’m forcing my children to read, much against their will (imagine me smiling—my kids don’t call me the “mean parent” for nothing).

Caesar Augustus supported the writing of the poem in the hopes that it would revive Roman ideals of self-sacrifice, dedication to the state, etc. Apparently, these ideals had deteriorated, no kidding. Augustus becoming emperor might have contributed to that.

At any rate, Virgil decided that Aeneas from The Iliad was the ancestor to the Romans. Why did he decide that? My guess is propaganda. Anyway, Virgil wrote the poem but died before he finished editing. (That explains some things, doesn’t it?) He directed that the poem be burned after his death (and you thought Emily Dickenson came up with that on her own.). Of course, Augustus wasn’t going to waste all the money he put into getting this epic written so he had it “published.”

Some people think that Virgil wanted it burned because he no longer supported Augustus’ policies. (Others think he wanted it burned because it sucked.) But the real reason—remember, you read it here first—is because he’s such a massive plagiarist.

I mean hello, whole chunks are taken out of Homer’s The Iliad. Compare the “shield scene” of Aeneas in (book 8) with Achilleus’ shield in (book 18, Iliad). Pretty similar. How about Odysseus/Diomedes Raid (Iliad, book 10) with the Nisus/Euryalus Raid (Book 9)? Yep, plagiarism, pure and simple. Granted the Dido episode is quite cool and is a lesson to women everywhere to make sure you’re really married and did not just undergo a fake promise/ceremony.

Yes, yes, I know imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Consider this: Imagine I wrote about a boy who discovers he’s a wizard and goes to wizard high school. But instead of calling him “Harry” I called him “Bob the boy Wizard,” and instead of going to Hogwarts he went to Omaha High School, do you think JK Rowling wouldn’t sue? Of course, she would. And she’d get a whole pile of money because it’s plagiarism! The only reason Virgil didn’t end up in jail in Rome (besides the fact that he was Augustus’ buddy) was that Homer had long since rotted in his grave.

Right now I’m thinking about writing a novel—it’s about a man who tries to sail home after a long battle. But the gods interfere, and in the years it takes to get home, he meets lots of weird creatures, including a Cyclops. I’m thinking of calling it the Long Voyage Home. The title’s not as catchy as The Odyssey, but hey, Homer can’t sue me either.


  1. Hey you plagiarised my blog. I'm going to sue.

  2. In an effort to maintain full disclosure, the idea for this post came from my son's blog. Thanks, Matthew!!

  3. It's all true!! It's all so very true!!

  4. "The Odyssey" is a work that defines the Greek culture and stands as one of the Greeks' most precious works of art (and definitely the most famous.) The Romans probably saw this and wanted in on that. "The Aeneid" hence works pretty well as a symbol of all things Roman-- that is, cadged off of the Greeks, but adapted to be manlier and bloodier and there are more big hairy guys bashing other big hairy guys' brains out and tons of hot Cretan babes and less wussy weedy poetry-spewing Greek pansies trading tripods.

    It's a perfect picture of what makes the Romans the Romans!