Unlike Homer, Virgil adhered to an ideology. He wanted to make a contribution to the power of Roman society. He felt - in many ways accurately - that it was destined to extend its power over the whole world. For Virgil, the impulsive group belonged to the past, and the society of responsible fathers to the future. It was the loom on which Rome had decided to weave its cloth, and the axis of its system of laws. So, in the second book of the Aenid, none of the Greeks abandon the condition that makes them a horde, whereas the Trojans, no matter how disarrayed, give birth to a project and arrange themselves in an orderly way around Aeneas.
In addition to feeling the impulse to go out and do battle, Aeneas is also subject to the impulse to save his family and his people. This drive is much more complex than the first. It has something of the quality of Ulysses' project. It's a goal that never grows immediately clear to him. He has to be persuaded by interventions from Hector, from Venus his mother, and from the spirit of Creusa. We have already seen that fatherhood comes into existence by way of the family and society. Aeneas seems constantly to turn his back on this task, always distracted by the immediate duty to enter into combat. It's rather as though seeking salvation required a mode of reasoning which was too abstract for a mind immersed in fire and blood, and therefore in the grips of animal battle. Though the constructive impulse is surely presented as a highly powerful force, it still remains less than definitive, or somehow not yet mature.
The poet has given a description of an evolutionary shift which is no less decisive than incomplete: in the personality of Aeneas (ontogenetically) but also, since Aeneas was the symbol of a new society, in the founders of Rome (phylogenetically).
This is the development in which we're interested, just as it interested Virgil.
Aeneas has to choose. The final moments of the defense have arrived, and time and energy are running out: he must either do battle against the enemy, or save the tribe. The terms of the conflict are irreconcilable: on the one hand stands a duty so simple as to constitute a simple extension of instinct (the instinct which has led young men throughout the ages to volunteer to rush toward death, and which old men find it comfortable to see as the exercise of free choice); and on the other, we have a duty which can only be constructed by fighting against that instinct. In the second case, the immediate satisfaction of impulse is rejected. Effort is channeled into a composite operation which offers immediate gratification only for a mind with an abstract grasp of adherence to project and intentionality. The rest is deferred.
The mind has no natural readiness to function with such complexity. It has to be prepared by listening to a variety of voices. Aeneas has to hear the words of his mother, of his father, of his wife Creusa , of the ideal model which he sees in Hector. (Whether it's a question of real people or of various interior authorities is of little importance.) Since intention isn't rooted in instinct, it offers no immediate sense of security. Aeneas' feelings when lifting his spear and when lifting his aged father cannot be compared to one another. The first is simple and gratifying. The second depends on the achievement of an act of understanding, by plumbing the depths of the mind. It's only within the mind that the adolescent, horizontal strength of the warrior can mature into the vertical strength of the fathers.
Horizontality is the typical quality of the fighting spirit of the peers in the group of the young lions whose steps stride lightly since they know no weight of responsibility. All of them are handsome and glorious, but none of them is himself; each of them while standing still is the group, and the horde while in running attack.Verticality is found in the force of the tree as it springs up into the sky and sinks down its roots into the earth. The pressure of his father on Aeneas' shoulders is vertical.Verticality is found in the need for understanding which led him to decide to carry that weight. The only thing left of the young lion - of the youthful spirit of combat - is its skin: the symbolic cushion for the burden which the adult has to bear. The son's shoulders support the father who no longer can carry himself. Both of them have the instinct for survival, but only one of them has the strength that makes survival possible. Implicitly, the vertical bond is also hierarchical, and the bearing of the burden brings the compensation of an elevation. Bearing the weight of the other grows out of an awareness of difference and complementarity: it brings about clear liberation from the state of dispersion experienced in the group of the youths, where equality and anonymity are synonymous.
The image of Aeneas in flight with his father and his son is the central link in the chain of the fathers that held society together. Very few images have ever been so thoroughly charged with a program.
For ancient Rome, the arms of the hero who had founded the city - the right arm that guides Ascanius, the left arm that steadies Anchises on his shoulders - were symbols of the highest ideals, much as Christians see the open arms of Christ. Statutes, paintings, mosaics and coins (dating back to as far as the sixth century BC, when Rome had just been born and Virgil was still half a millennium away) reveal this image to have been one of the figures most frequently employed in antiquity. Augustus, who commissioned the Aeneid and consolidated the triumph of the Roman patriarchy, ordered the erection at the center of the Roman Forum of precisely such a statue of Aeneas, in flight with his father and his son.
Why does the apotheosis of the founding hero show him in flight? The answer is clear if we shift our attention away from the story's literal meaning and look instead at the underlying symbolism which excited the interest of both Virgil and Augustus.
The decisive struggle isn't to be found in the brief, circumstantial conflict between the Greeks and Trojans (who starting in Book VIII of the Aeneid are even allied with one another). It lies instead in the millinery and still undecided conflict between the two psychic structures, as found, on one hand, in the male of the horde, and, on the other, in the male who assumes individual responsibility, which is to speak of the male that Roman society wanted to incarnate in the fathers.
The course that Aeneas most truly follows is not the voyage from Troy toward the founding of Rome (which, as we'll see, is of a circular nature, with the voyage returning to its point of departure). It's the question, instead, of forever taking leave of the flames - not only the fiery destruction of Troy, but also the ardent impulses of the horizontal group of youths - for the purpose of founding non-reversible and vertical commitments, such as genealogy.