Counterfactuals in the Aeneid

Anita Frizzarin

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis examines the counterfactuals, both syntactic and structural, of Virgil's Aeneid. These are alternative stories presented by speakers (primary narrator and characters) as conceivable but only partly or not at all materialized; they clash with the more visible story of the fated advent of Rome and Augustus. The purpose of the study is to envisage some alternatives to the Aeneid as readable from the actualization, in some cases already under way, of the counterfactuals scrutinized; these include the universe and the text not starting or collapsing, Troy surviving, the Greeks losing the Trojan war, Aeneas repeatedly failing to carry out his mission, and Turnus defeating him. Virgil's counterfactual language and images are examined in relation to a number of obvious sources as well as developments contemporary to Virgil, as relevant to the individual case: Homer (particularly if not constructions in the Iliad: A would have happened, if not B), pre-Stoic and Stoic studies of conditionals, linguistic changes in Latin (uses of the indicative / subjunctive and coordination / subordination), the practice of comparison between pairs of differently actualized entities in Livy and earlier historians (synkrisis) and political language in Horace. The main strands of modern thought on counterfactuality from logical, linguistic, narratological and psychological viewpoints are also taken into consideration. An attempt has been made to examine all syntactic counterfactuals spoken in the Aeneid, including some but not all cases of possible counterfactuals, such as wishes, and two types of structural counterfactuals: those which become such when characters are saved through the diversion of weapons, and those which depict partial Troys. The different types of analyses have been as far as possible integrated. My conclusion is that Virgil was revealing but also deflecting alternative stories to that of the destiny of Rome and Augustus as well as those of Aeneas' career circulating at the time.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Lowe, Nick, Supervisor
  • Powell, Jonathan G.F., Advisor
Award date1 May 2017
Publication statusUnpublished - 2017


  • Aeneid
  • Iliad
  • Virgil
  • Homer
  • conditional
  • counterfactual
  • Aeneas
  • Latin
  • epic
  • Greek
  • Augustus
  • Caesar
  • indicative
  • subjunctive
  • Livy
  • Stalnaker
  • David Lewis
  • Calboli
  • Orlandini
  • Torrego
  • Wakker
  • Odyssey
  • consequent
  • antecedent
  • apodosis
  • protasis
  • Dionysius of Halicarnassus
  • Servius
  • Polybius
  • Herodotus
  • Horace
  • Thucydides
  • Sallust
  • Cicero
  • actualization
  • alternative
  • Plutarch
  • synkrisis
  • hypotaxis
  • parataxis
  • truth table
  • Hornblower
  • Nesselrath
  • possible worlds
  • Vergil
  • Alexander digression

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