Bernini’s sculpture of Aeneas, Anchises, and Ascanius fleeing Troy, on their way to eventually found Rome.

Anchises, the father of Aeneas, grabs the household gods while the city of Troy burns. Aeneas grabs his father, and has the boy Ascanius grab the fire. The boy carries the fire. The old man carries the gods. All their actions hope for some future civilization.

A while ago I mentioned that Cormac McCarthy sees himself as Dante’s Virgil, able only to take Dante through hell and purgatory before ending his journey at the threshold of heaven. However, the other evening my good friend, David Ritchie, was over for supper and we were discussing my recreational thesis and the resemblance McCarthy has to the actual Virgil.

David and another friend and myself visited Rome a few years ago where we toured the Galeria Borghese and saw Bernini’s sculpture. We were reminded of this scene portrayed by the actual Virgil in the Aeneid and also of the scene in McCarthy’s The Road where the father and son, fleeing a burning world in hopes of finding some civilization, come across an old man. The three eat canned peaches around a fire and discuss God.

Throughout the novel, the boy and the father promise to “carry the fire”, but this old man at the campfire says, “There is no God and we are his prophets.” This seems an intentional contradiction to Virgil’s scene. Once again, McCarthy won’t take any step further than Dante’s Virgil did, and it seems that it is his choice not to.

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