Roman, remember by your strength to rule
Earth’s peoples—for your arts are to be these:
To pacify, to impose the rule of law,
To spare the conquered, battle down the proud.
This passage is part of the speech Anchises delivers to Aeneas in the underworld, in Book VI, as he unfolds for his son the destiny of Rome. Virgil places his own political ideals in the mouth of the wise father, warning that the Roman nation should be more merciful than violent, even in its conquests. Virgil here propounds the values for which he wants Rome to stand, and which he believes he has, in his own time, let guide him. Anchises’s rhetoric here about the Roman Empire’s justification for its conquering of other peoples expresses the same justification that Aeneas and the Trojans make for settling in Rome. They defend their invasion by arguing that they bring justice, law, and warfare—with which they “pacify” and “battle down”—to the conquered. Especially in modern times, critics and readers have taken passages such as this one and labeled them propaganda for the Augustan regime. This criticism is valid, but when the values of a regime are expressed by a poet who shares those values, the line between art and propaganda becomes blurry.