Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Is The Aeneid Relevant to Modern Leadership?

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posted on 2021-11-10, 19:56 authored by Ahn, Mark J.

This thesis explores the Aeneid, Virgil's foundation epic of the Latin canon, from a values-based leadership perspective, which is defined as the moral foundation underlying stewardship decisions and actions of leaders. The Aeneid was originally written to enhance the political legitimacy of the Augustan principate, deliver a cohesive national identity, and extol traditional Roman virtues—all of which were deemed critical to the peace, prosperity and effectiveness of the Roman imperium. Further, this study reviews the epic in its historical context, codes the themes of its key leadership lessons, and employs a mixed-method research framework to juxtapose the leadership lessons identified to the demands of modern leadership. Specifically, the Aeneid is analyzed to juxtapose the resonant leadership elements of vision, culture and values—and their corresponding equivalent Roman themes of fatum, pietas, and virtus. Whether viewed qualitatively or quantitatively—in the first century BCE Rome of Virgil or across modern sectors (i.e., for profit, non profit, government)—results from this study suggests that rather than bowing to the illusion that current events (e.g., globalization, communication, computing) are beyond ancient insights, this study affirms the unequivocal relevance of the Aeneid to the demands of modern leadership. First, a compelling vision, larger than any individual, is found to be necessary for organizational success and sustainability in the Aeneid, contemporary Rome, and modern organisations. Second, nurturing the culture or prevailing attitudes, beliefs and preferences through multiple approaches, including symbols and rituals, is affirmed to be a critical aspect of organisational leadership which is shared by ancient and modern leaders alike. Third, the Aeneid was coded into the following eight values (or virtus) in order of importance: integrity, good judgment, leadership by example, decision-making, trust, justice/fairness, humility, and sense of urgency. Of note, integrity was by found to be the most superordinate, essential and resonant value by far—without this the other values are severely lessened in worth. Far beyond transmitting a worn standard diatribe of stoic Greco-Roman values, the Aeneid timelessly illustrates the tensions and tradeoffs facing leaders amidst changing circumstances, challenges, and resource constraints. Far beyond being wooden and moralistic, Virgil adjures leaders to reflectively struggle with inner conflict and growth as they decide on what changes to seek and to what moral foundations must be steadfastly adhered. Far from simply promulgating a celebratory, self-aggrandizement of the Augustan regime, the Aenied echoes an arching vision of the Roman imperium which is universally rooted in the rule of law and climbs to the highest aspiration of mankind’s advancement. In sum, while the Aeneid extols prototypical values, the epic instructs that truly effective leadership is not about being a monochromatic prototype. Rather, the epic reveals that the essence and privilege of effective leadership demands reflection on the dynamic relationship between the leader and the led towards a better, envisioned future.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Name

Master of Arts

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Art History, Classics and Religious Studies


Trundle, Matthew