Analysis of the Use of Female Characters in the Aeneid
Key mortal female characters heavily influence this journey, and Goddesses who hold positions of power and influence within the world the poem is set in. Although it is common to have Goddesses play roles in such literature, Virgil’s makes the decision to divert from mortal female stereotypes and the expected roles of Roman women at the time, this being a domestic role in raising a family. Instead by placing mortal female characters in positions of power and influence along with the Goddesses, it allows for Virgil to critique his female characters. This leads to Virgil constructing and exploring the idea that ultimately female characters prove themselves to be problematic, even when holding positions of great power, as a result of their inability to control their own emotions. The lack of control over emotions from key female characters negatively impacts on Aeneas, the protagonist of the poem, and his peoples’ journey.
Goddesses play a major role within the epic poem, and are heavily involved in manipulating the events that occur to the mortals in the story. Juno is presented as Aeneas’ major antagonist from the beginning as a result of two main factors. Firstly, her love of Carthage as it is heard that the city of Carthage is fated to be destroyed by a race of men descended from Trojans. Secondly, her own personal history with them, as a Trojan prince once picked Venus over Juno in a competition over who is the most beautiful Goddess, and then her own husband Jupitar previously having left her for a Trojan shepherd. This directly places Aeneas against Juno and results in Juno carrying out a series of acts to try to stop Aeneas in his quest. Juno’s reasoning for the anger shown towards Aeneas is questionable, as it comes from a place of jealousy and a lack of self confidence rather than anything that Aeneas has particularly done. Juno labelling Aeneas and his people as ‘a people hateful to me’, strengthens the idea that Juno’s hatred for Aeneas is trivial and which reflects poorly on the character of the Goddess. Juno asks Aeolus, the god of wind, to ‘hurl fury into your winds, sink and overwhelm the ships, or drive the men asunder and scatter their bodies on the deep’(analyse this quote and cut out the bits where u are just telling the story, say how this quote perhaps shows her persuasive nature and power as a women, defying the submissive stereotype of the time?? And then say the following quote confirms this). Aeolus agrees to this under the terms that Juno promises Deiopea and to ‘will link to you in wedlock, making her yours for ever’. Furthermore, it can be used as evidence to support that idea that Virgil to showing his female characters to prove to be problematic and a hindrance to Aeneas quest. Venus is the mother of Aeneas and therefore allows Aeneas to be characterised in the usual ‘hero’ manner as it provides him with a link to the Gods. Venus provides guidance and help to her son on his quest so initially it can be argued that she provides a completely positive impact on the events of the epic poem. However, Venus’ actions can be categorised as harmful when her actions involving Dido are analysed. Venus, out of fear of Juno’s potential actions and distrusting of the people of Carthage, sends Cupid in a disguise in order to make Dido fall for Aeneas and states that she must ‘outwit the queen with guile and encircle her with love’s flame’. By influencing Dido’s feelings on Aeneas and then the eventual tragic demise of Dido as a result of such feelings, it can be argued that the meddling nature of Venus proves to be problematic. Venus being a potential cause of such tragedy, as a result of her emotions regarding her son’s safety, within the Aeneid reinforces the idea of the female characters proving themselves to have a negative impact in the epic poem due to the lack of control over emotions they exhibit. This bit is good nice wan linking back.
Upon Dido’s initial introduction, she is portrayed as a strong, independent and powerful leader who is loved by her people. This is shown when Dido ‘moved amid her people, cheering on the toil of a kingdom in the making’ (1.682-685). This quote can be used to show two key points in regard to Dido and her reign; firstly, that there is a loving relationship between the Dido and her people as she is able to move freely through the crowds, and secondly that the city of Carthage is experiencing great levels of development which tells us she is an effective leader. Dido can also draw parallels to the protagonist, Aeneas, as she is also ruling over a group of exiled people as a result of her husband Sychaeus being murdered by her own brother Pygmalion, king of Tyre. Virgil writing Dido’s back story, which is one of adversity and her having to prevail through this shows levels of heroism; this is another example of Virgil giving a female character a role and backstory that is usually placed upon male characters. Dido being given a role that is traditionally reserved for men in other pieces of literature of the time period, it is an example of Virgil discussing gender politics within the poem. Dido also receives aid and advice from her sister Anna who highlights potential added incentives to Dido for marrying Aeneas. The idea of political opportunism is not one that would have been typically associated with women during the time period. This is due to how Ancient Roman societal and governmental frameworks were constructed to favour patriarchy in politics. Within the epic poem, Anna states ‘Think what a city you will see, my sister, what a kingdom rising high if you marry such a man! With a Trojan army marching at our side, think how the glory of Carthage will tower to the clouds’. The idea of marriage for political gain and the consolidation in the power of the city of Carthage, exhibits such political opportunism that challenges the gender stereotypes of the time period.
The initial impressions of Dido are those of a loving leader and someone who exhibits virtues such heroism and strength, both of which are more typically aligned with male characters in Ancient Rome. However, these impressions created by Virgil through his writing begin to collapse. Dido allowing herself to fall for Aeneas comes at the cost of her once thriving ‘Tower’ which are now ‘half-built, rose no farther’. Dido’s inability to manage her growing city whilst falling in love with Aeneas exemplifies Virgil’s idea that female characters are unable to control their emotions, even when in great positions of power like Dido. This idea is then exacerbated when Aeneas fails to reciprocate the love shown by Dido and decides to turn his back on the Queen of Carthage. The decisions taken by Dido and Aeneas show that Virgil is further critiquing women as it shows that the female characters are willing and comfortable with jeopardising their people’s future when it comes their own love interests, a potentially selfish action. Conversely, the male character Aeneas puts his people first ahead of his own emotions to ensure their safety and wellbeing. Dido’s reaction to Aeneas rejecting her is one of fury and the regal demeanour that was first presented by Dido is lost. Instead Dido is presented as a desperate woman who as a result of her being unable to put her city’s future ahead of her own feelings has led to her own city being in disarray. This is evidenced by the Dido quote of ‘because of you, Libyans and nomad kings detest me, my own Tyrians are hostile. Because of you, I lost my integrity’. Her eventual suicide, as a result of Aeneas leaving Carthage, reinforces the selfish and erratic nature of the former Queen as although her heartache may be traumatic, to leave her city without a leader in such a fashion in undoubtedly irresponsible and selfish; an inability as a female character to control her emotions and thus is portrayed in a negative light.
To conclude, female characters in the Aeneid are ultimately proved to be problematic and to some degree disruptive to Aeneas and his quest. Characters such as Dido who showed an irrational and selfish reaction to being rejected by Aeneas help to prove this thesis as it shows that female characters, even when in positions of power, succumbed to their emotions.
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