The Shield of Aeneas: Narratives of World­Historical Mission, Ancient and Modern

  • Lars Lih
Keywords: Aeneid, epic, Marxism, socialist realism, world-historical mission


As pointed out by John Taylor, both the Old Testament and Virgil’s Aeneid evoke “the grand theme of national identity linked to cosmic purposes […] the formation of a people under the superintending hand of Providence.” The many narratives of the Marxist tradition—including the Communist Manifesto, Lassalle’s idea of the Fourth Estate, Kautsky’s Erfurt Program, Lenin’s “heroic scenario,” and the “socialist realist” novels of the Stalin era—are based on the same logic. All these narratives tell of a collectivity that, by the very act of fighting for survival in a hostile world, is destined to carry out a world-historical mission. These narratives also share a particular reflexive quality: their plots center on a protagonist’s gradual realization of his role in a grander, all-encompassing historical narrative. An emblem of this feature is the Shield of Aeneas, which (in contrast to the Shield of Achilles) outlines a world-historical narrative, namely, the rise of Rome. In this way, Aeneas is the prototype of the “inspired and inspiring hero” central to Marxist narratives of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The Aeneid can thus be termed “the first socialist realist novel.”

Author Biography

Lars Lih

Adjunct Professor
McGill University, Schulich School of Music
845 Rue Sherbrooke Ouest, Montréal, Canada QC H3A 0G4


Ahl, Frederick (2007). Virgil’s Aeneid. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Boyle, Anthony J. (1999). “Aeneid 8: Images of Rome.” In Reading Vergil’s Aeneid: An Interpretive Guide (Oklahoma Series in Classical Culture), ed. Christine Perkell. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Campbell, Joseph (1969). The Hero with a Thousand Faces [1949]. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Clark, Katerina (1981). The Soviet Novel: History as Ritual. Chicago: University of Chi- cago Press.

Dryden, John (1944). Virgil’s Aeneid. New York: The Heritage Press.

Engels, Friedrich (1972). Socialism: Utopian and Scientific [1880]. New York: Pathfinder Press.

Fitzgerald, Robert (1983). Virgil’s Aeneid. New York: Vintage Books.

Hardie, Philip (1986). Virgil’s Aeneid: Cosmos and Imperium. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Harrison, S. J. (1991). Virgil Aeneid 10. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Jackson, John (1921). Virgil. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Kautsky, Karl (1908). Die historische Leistung von Karl Marx. Berlin: Vorwärts.

Kautsky, Karl (1965). Das Erfurter Programme [1892]. Berlin: Dietz Verlag.

Le Guin, Ursula K. (2008). Lavinia. New York: Harcourt Inc.

Lih, Lars T. (2002). “Melodrama and the Myth of the Soviet Union.” In Imitations of Life: Two Centuries of Melodrama in Russia, eds. Joan Neuberger and Louise McReyn- olds. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Lih, Lars T. (2006). Lenin Rediscovered. Leiden: Brill. Lih, Lars T. (2011). Lenin. London: Reaktion Press.

Marx, Karl (1864). Inaugural Address of the International Working Men’s Association (accessed 16 March 2015).

Propp, Vladimir (1968). Morphology of the Folktale. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.

Quint, David (1993). Epic and Empire: Politics and Generic Form from Virgil to Milton. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Raffa, Guy (2000). Divine Dialectic: Dante’s Incarnational Poetry. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Shaw, Prue (2014). Reading Dante: From Here to Eternity. New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation.

Taylor, John (2007). Classics and the Bible: Hospitality and Recognition. London: Duckworth.
How to Cite
LihL. (2015). The Shield of Aeneas: Narratives of World­Historical Mission, Ancient and Modern. Stasis, 3(2). Retrieved from