Empire of Exhaustion: the Tired Subject of Latin Epic

James Uden (Boston University)

A number of negative ideas cluster around exhaustion. It exists as the unpleasant precursor to sleep, which, through its connection to dreams, has a far greater potential for sublimity in ancient texts. In aesthetic terms, the 'exhausted' theme or trope is one that is empty of inspiration, waiting for some artistic spark. Something that is exhausted shouldn't really interest us on its own. Yet Virgil opens his epic by emphasizing repeatedly that Aeneas and his men are exhausted. Why? What did it mean for Virgil to fashion a tired subject for his national epic? How was that tiredness reinterpreted by successive poets in the Latin tradition? Could tiredness in literature signal resistance to a political imperative to embrace energy, productivity, work? Why embrace exhaustion?