Tree-chopping in the Aeneid has long been seen as a disturbingly violent symbol of the Trojans' colonization of Italy. The paper proposes a new reading of the poem which sees Aeneas as progressive extirpator not just of foreign rivals but also of his own Trojan relatives. Although the Romans had no family “trees” as such, their genealogical stemmata (“garlands”) had “branches” (rami) and “stock” (stirps), and their vocabulary of family relationships takes many of its metaphors from planting, adoption, and uprooting, while plant life is often described in human metaphors. Imperial historians use the growth and collapse of trees to mark the rise and fall of dynasties; natural historians like Columella and Pliny use metaphors of adoption, abortion, and adultery to characterize the perversions of agriculture and horticulture. It is thus no coincidence that Aeneas' encounters with Hector, Priam, Deiphobus, and others often take place against a background of real or metaphorical trees (tree similes, headless or mutilated human trunks, ancient trees and woods). These encourage us to see an element of dynastic encroachment in scenes that look pious and peaceable but confirm Aeneas' ascendancy and claim to Trojan succession. The Polydorus episode in particular can be read not just as a grotesque interlude but as a nightmare about endlessly reproducing heirs; one loose strand from Priam's house is allowed to remain, while Virgil deals imperfectly with the problem of Aeneas' own successors. The paper ends by re-examining Virgil's account of grafting in Georgics 2 and arguing that it is viewed positively, perhaps in order to cast Augustus' adoption of heirs as a miracle solution.
Skip Nav Destination
Research Article| April 01 2011
- Views Icon Views
- Share Icon Share
- Search Site
Emily Gowers; Trees and Family Trees in the Aeneid. Classical Antiquity 1 April 2011; 30 (1): 87–118. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/CA.2011.30.1.87
Download citation file: