in Language, Literature

Servius on pietas

Servius, in his note on Aeneid 1.10, has a very straightforward, no-frills, useful definition of what it means for Aeneas to be insignem pietate:

quia patrem et deos penates de Troia sustulit.

And that pretty much sums it up. He then connects this to Vergil’s reason for invoking the Muse: he had to invoke her assistance because of the apparent contradiction involved in Aeneas’ pietas on the one hand and the anger of the gods toward him on the other:

et hic ostendit merito se invocasse musam. nam si iustus est Aeneas, cur odio deorum laborat?

Juno, obviously, is Aeneas’ main problem; but her anger leads Aeneas to suffer at the hands of the gods more broadly (vi superum, saevae memorem Iunonis ob iram, 1.4).

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  1. But Servius’ definition doesn’t fit the ‘pius amor’ for Euryalus that Nisus is ‘insignis’ for (5.296). Virgil shows here that a personal, chosen commitment (that of Nisus for Euryalus) can illustrate ‘pietas’ just as well as a public, imposed commitment (that of Aeneas towards the destiny of Troy).

  2. That is an interesting parallel; thanks for pointing it out. I’m skeptical that it illustrates pietas “just as well,” since the description is so striking precisely because Vergil allows it to participate in the archetypal qualities ascribed to Aeneas at the outset of the poem. In other words, if V. hadn’t already said what he had said about Aeneas, the remark about Nisus wouldn’t be as significant. You may already know this, but the way pio usually seems to be taken in 5.296 is to make it clear that Nisus’ “love” for Euryalus was not illicit. For instance, DServius glosses as “casto, non infami.” Ganniban follows in the very recent Focus commentary: “Vergil presents Nisus’ love for Euryalus in idealized ‘platonic’ terms of admiration for his character rather than physical attraction.” I wonder if it’s not so much that as that Vergil assimilates it to the love and duty for family that is ascribed to Aeneas–so familial (even though he’s not a blood-relative) rather than platonic.