18th Century Views
Vergil's Aeneid
    From the introduction to Christopher Pitt's 1753 text and translation of The Works of Virgil, printed in London, with wide circulation in the American colonies:

On the purpose of epic poetry:

    One may define epic poetry to be, a fable related in verse, to inspire an admiration and love of virtue, in representing to us the action of an hero, favoured and assisted by heaven, who executes some grand design, notwithstanding all the obstacles that oppose him.

On the political purpose of the Aeneid:

    The Romans having lost the virtue and harmony of their ancestors, liberty could not in the nature of things long survive. They began to be profligate, and to be slaves. As they had not virtue enough to be free, and since they must needs have fallen into the hands of one governor, the happiest circumstance they could meet with, was undoubtedly that this one governor should be a mild one, and bind their chains with a tender hand. To reconcile his countrymen to this almost necessary change of government, to wean them gradually from an inveterate hatred to monarchy, and to evince that all revolutions in states are brought about by the interposition of heaven, these were the motives which induced Virgil to undertake the Aeneid.

On the moral character of Aeneas:

    He intended to delineate in the person of Aeneas the character of a wise lawgiver and a just monarch; and artfully threw several features into the piece, that induced his readers to apply this amiable portrait to Augustus. For this reason he represented his hero endued with great piety to the gods, with mildness and clemency, and with an affectionate concern for his country.