Emotions of Anger in Aeneid
The idea of piety in Ancient Rome is not the same idea of piety that we have today. To the Romans, piety, or “pietas” in Latin, describes a set of social constructs that governs what makes a respectable person. Piety encompasses one’s devotion to the gods, love for one’s country, respect for one’s family, and understanding of fate. These characteristics are essential for a great Roman leader, so there’s no question as to why Virgil calls Aeneas by “Pious Aeneas” in his epic The Aeneid. The mythical ancestor to Romulus and Remus should possess these qualities; otherwise, he wouldn’t be able to command the hearts of his men in their search for their new home.
If there are to be pious people in this world, there also must be the impious. Impiety is easily defined as the opposite of broad-reaching virtuousness. Fury, or “furor” in Latin, “connotes a frenzied derangement of the mind and spirit, something akin to madness,” in which the behavior of the individual is often brash, violent, or impulsive (Boyle 88). Those who are impious lead themselves to make foolish, uncharacteristic choices with severe consequences. In The Aeneid, characters in power such as Dido, Turnus, and Camilla find themselves giving in to their impious furor, ultimately hindering their own progress or leading to their demise. Virgil uses these stories of piety and impiety to paint a picture of the legendary history of Rome, inspiring his audience to admire Augustus, the heroic Roman leader of Virgil’s own time, and to legitimize Augustus’s rule.
Turnus appears in the seventh book of The Aeneid, and is introduced to us as Livina’s suitor, one who will eventually produce heirs for the throne of Latium. When Aeneas arrives in Latium, King Latinus promises him land for a new city as well as his daughter’s hand in marriage, following Anchises’s prophecy to have the daughter of Latinus marry a foreigner. Allecto, a Fury summoned by Juno, inspires Turnus to grow angry at his King’s decision, setting the seed if impiety within Turnus.
Over the course of the next four books, Turnus fights against Aeneas in a war for Lavinia’s hand. In Book IX, Turnus has assembled his troops to attack the Trojans and eventually find a way into their camp. Virgil notes that Turnus could have opened the Trojans’ gates to let in his troops, but that his erratic, furious behavior kept him from thinking clearly and strategically. Turnus then takes Pallas’s belt at the end of Book X, showing his reckless pride. This belt eventually leads to his death, because when Aeneas sees it he forgets his thoughts of sparing Turnus and flies into a furious rage, killing Turnus with a spear.
Turnus perhaps sealed his own fate when he defied his king’s wishes and continued to seek the hand of Lavinia. This lapse in piety led to a war that he could not win because Aeneas was destined to found a new city in Latium. It is worth mentioning, however, that Turnus is not a character entirely without piety. In fact, in the last book of the epic, as Aeneas is seizing an opportunity to attack the undefended city, Turnus hears the news of his queen’s suicide and sees his people’s suffering. This reminder of the pain he’s causing his own people by continuing this war provides a moment of clarity, a moment in which he could escape his impious fury. But just as quickly as Turnus comes to his senses, he gives in to his fury by challenging Aeneas in single combat. He knows that Aeneas must win, but he realizes his wrongdoings, succumbs to his fate and dies. In the end, he realizes his wrongdoing too late: his undesirable impiety was his biggest weakness. Any future leader must not behave as carelessly as Turnus did.
Dido is another central character who experiences a lapse in piety. While she was the queen of Tyre, her brother Pygmalion murdered her husband and compelled her to go with some of her citizens to found the city of Carthage. She vows not to marry again, in honor of her husband, and instead vows to place her priorities in governing. Dido is represented as a dedicated, and pious, leader. Her flaw is that she’s earned the epithet “infelix,” which is defined as “ill-starred, unfortunate, and unhappy,” (Covi 57).
This picture of a perfect ruler changes when Venus allows Dido to fall in love with Aeneas. Dido forgets her promise not to marry and grows close to Aeneas, but most importantly she begins to neglect her duties as a queen. She admits to her shortcomings, and therefore she accepts that she isn’t acting with piety. As Madeline Covi explains in her essay “Dido in Vergil’s Aeneid,” at this point in the text, “the language used in connection with Dido again suggests a guilty conscience: she is not moved specie famave (4.170)—but it must by implication be on her mind,” (58). In other words, the rumor of Dido’s “furtivum amorem,” or secret love, and its subsequent confirmation after her metaphorical marriage to Aeneas weigh heavily on her mind (Covi 59). Her people feel betrayed by her broken promises and her decreased attention to governing, ultimately a result of her failure to stay pious.
Dido, like Turnus, became aware of the mistakes that resulted in a lapse of piety. But also like Turnus, Dido realized her mistakes and did not correct her shortcomings. Following the trend of the impious, Dido begins at act impulsively when Aeneas tells her that he must leave her and follow his own destiny. Dido calls out to the gods, “may he never enjoy his realm and the light he yearns for, never, let him die before his day, unburied on some desolate beach,” cursing Aeneas, and asking for “war between all our peoples, all their children, endless war,” (Virgil 4.771-782) This impulsive curse would not have been uttered by Dido had she not succumbed to her fury. In fact, in the eyes of Virgil’s Roman audience, the careless Dido may have tragically doomed her people to years and years of aggression, namely the Punic Wars that they would fight with Rome many centuries later.
Ultimately, Dido kills herself on her own funeral pyre using Aeneas’s own sword, showing the power of a mind that is acting under the influence of furor. Later, we see her in the Fields of Mourning in the underworld of Dis, where she is doomed to eternal suffering because of her lapse in judgment. But again, much like Turnus, Dido was not completely without piety. At one point, she was a good enough leader to convince swaths of people to follow her to a strange land to found their own city—calling to mind the mission pious Aeneas has set out to accomplish. In the end, it was her inability to stay pious, to stay committed to her late husband or to keep the interests of her people at hand, that led to her desperate situation.
Even Camilla, a warrior maiden and a general of Turnus’s army, lets impiousness enter her life, leading to her quick death in Book XI. While on the battlefield, Camilla is a force to be reckoned with. Then she notices a man wearing particularly fancy armor and forgets herself. Remember, an aspect of piety is that one puts the gods, country, and family before oneself, and Camilla abandons her companions in order to track this man and win a trophy to show off her skill and glory. So “Camilla, keen to fix some Trojan arms on a temple wall or sport some golden plunder out on the hunt…she stalked him wildly, reckless through the ranks, afire with a woman’s lust for loot and plunder,” lost track of what was going on around her, and inadvertently allowed Arruns to throw his spear, blessed by Apollo, which impales and kills her, (Virgil 11.914-918).
This is by far one of the quickest examples of inattentiveness to staying virtuous getting the better of one of Virgil’s characters. Not too much earlier in the same battle, Turnus puts Camilla in a position of power while he goes to set a strategic ambush; when she forgets about her fellow Volscians and the Latins that she is fighting alongside, she leaves herself vulnerable to attack.
Not everyone in the epic, however, succumbs to impious fury. Aeneas remains relatively unscathed by the tragic circumstances that fall on those who let fury take over their minds. Aeneas’s epithet of “pious” is quite the clue: he is considered he quintessential image of piety in a ruler. As mentioned earlier, Virgil may be writing this epic as a form of political propaganda in which he draws parallels between pious Aeneas and the emperor Augustus. According to Sabine Grebe, “Vergil celebrates and, more importantly, legitimizes Augustus’s power,” (Grebe 35). Both the epic hero and the actual ruler fought in wars to legitimize their claims to the land they ruled, Aeneas against the Latins and Augustus against Caesar and Mark Antony. Both men were trusted as leaders “who can create order out of disorder, with divine support,” (Grebe 39).
Virgil takes this connection a step further, even including references to Augustus’s “divi genus,” or his divine connection to Julius Caesar as his legitimate heir within Anchises’s prophecy in book VI, (Grebe 58). If Augustus is truly of divine lineage, connected to Venus through Julius Caesar and Aeneas himself, as he is purported to be in the text of the epic, this fact would entirely legitimize his claim to rule the Roman empire. If Augustus is a mirror of the fictional Aeneas, he must also share in Aeneas’s famous piety as well, right? That’s the idea behind Virgil’s poetry.
Aeneas runs into many obstacles during this epic poem, including his evacuation of Troy, the journey to Italy, and the deaths of his father and of Pallas. Even though these events anger Aeneas, he is still able to control himself and does not give in to his rage, nor does he forget his piety, his duties, or his purpose. He even offers a twelve-day-long truce to the Latins so that they may properly bury their dead after learning the news of Pallas’s death, a respectful gesture that impresses even his enemy’s emissaries. This fact is important, especially with regard to the Roman Epire. If a ruler of a powerful people is to conquer a nation and add it to their empire, as the Romans were doing as this time, their leader needs to possess the qualities that would allow their conquered enemies to respect a new ruler.
Aeneas’s only major run-in with true fury is when Turnus is injured during their one-on-one battle. Aeneas spots Turnus wearing Pallas’s belt as a trophy, and “Aeneas, soon as his eyes drank in that plunder—keepsake of his own savage grief—flaring up in fury, terrible in his rage,” kills Turnus on behalf of his late friend, “blazing with wrath,” (Virgil 12.1102-1109). This wave of fury caught Aeneas as he was feeling a moment of mercy, and the scene begs the question of how the epic could have ended differently (and if Turnus could have remained alive). However the narrative might have run, Aeneas seems justified in his actions, and is able to keep his untarnished reputation. After all, his motives for fighting were to establish a new land for his people and to keep his pious promises.
It is apparent that the idea of piety was extremely important to the Romans, and that for them the absence or lapse of piety leads to “impius furor,” a state of mind in which individuals find themselves making irrational decisions and meeting untimely demises. Dido, Turnus, and Camilla are all examples of people in positions of power who let their own motivations — whether love, power, or glory — get in the way of their ability to effectively lead. Only a true, respectable leader can set aside furor and let “pietas” govern his or her actions — a leader like Aeneas or Augustus.
Boyle, Anthony James. The Chaonian Dove: Studies in the Eclogues, Georgics, and Aeneid of Virgil. Leiden: Brill, 1986. Print.
Covi, Madeline C.. “Dido in Vergil’s Aeneid”. The Classical Journal 60.2 (1964): 57–60. Web.
Grebe, Sabine. “Augustus’ Divine Authority and Vergil’s “Aeneid””. Vergilius (1959-) 50 (2004): 35–62. Web.
Virgil. The Aeneid: (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition). Trans. Robert Fagles. N.p.: Penguin, 2006. Electronic.
Ovid and Vergil: Two Perspectives on the Same Relationship
Mythological accounts constantly transform themselves in crossing cultures and enduring time, but two versions of the story of Dido and Aeneas, one by a shy, serious, government-sponsored poet; the other by an often lighthearted author, a future exile, show that even among contemporaries living in the same city, an author’s sensibilities can shape an ancient story. Vergil’s tale of Dido and Aeneas, forming the most memorable portion of the Aeneid, is sympathetic to both players while ultimately serving the poem’s goal of revealing the toil and tears that went into Aeneas’ founding of an empire. Ovid’s letter from Dido to Aeneas, on the other hand, forms a part of the Heroides, a work sympathetic to the women whose fictional letters it contains, and subverts the themes of the epic upon which it is based.
Vergil’s Dido calls on Aeneas’ promises to hold him back. Whether these promises ever existed is unclear, but in Dido’s mind “[her] plighted right hand” (IV.307), “[their] marriage” (IV.316), and “undertaken marriage songs” (IV.316) should suffice to bind Aeneas to her. Aeneas swears that “[He] never came into a [marriage] pact with [Dido]” (IV.338-9); from their own points of view both characters are right. To Vergil, this domestic scene has universal implications; whether Aeneas stays or goes will decide the fate of an empire, and the gods themselves are involved in the struggle. Juno, patron of Carthage and Venus, mother of Aeneas, arranged the marriage of Dido and Venus, but neither did so in good faith. Venus “felt that Juno had spoken [of the marriage] with feigned purpose in order to turn aside the Italian kingdom to Libyan shores” (IV.105-6), and indeed Juno suggests, “‘let it be permitted for [Dido] to serve a Phrygian husband and for you [Venus] to entrust the Tyrians as a dowry’” (IV.103-4). Aeneas and the Carthaginian Queen are exalted pawns in the divine plan. Dido and Creusa, Aeneas’ former wife, both had to die for dramatic expedient so that Aeneas can marry Lavinia and effect peace between the Teucreans and Latins.
Though Aeneas’ departure is his destiny, Dido takes the fact with less grace than he. In the Aeneid, we see Dido’s entire buildup of passion: her initial love, her fears of unfaithfulness to Sychaeus, her acceptance of Aeneas, and here, her rejection of him. We see that she has considerable right to be angry, and angry she is; she treats his task with sarcasm even while realizing the cruelty of the gods, saying, “‘doubtless this work is from the gods; this concern disturbs the quiet ones’” (IV.378). She wishes for Aeneas to “drink in punishments in the middle of the rocks” (IV.383) and looks forward to his death. We get little of Aeneas’ own emotions, as he is trying to be a good stoic, but Vergil does tell us of the hero’s regret, that “he desires to calm the sorrowing woman by consoling her and to put away her cares with words, he much lamenting and shaken in his soul by her love” (IV.393-5). We even are allowed glimpses of secondary characters’ emotions, such as the jealousy of Iarbas and the loyal sorrow of Anna.
Ovid, on the other hand, has Dido write in the first person and he focuses entirely on her emotions. Where Vergil provides a section of epic that reaches from Aeneas’ shipwreck on the shores of Libya to Dido’s rejection of her former love in the underworld, Ovid’s tale focuses on Dido’s feelings just after Aeneas has left. Since Ovid based his account on Vergil’s, he must have felt there was something to be gained by narrowing and concentrating his range, making his own version not a thematically broad and sweeping epic but a concentrated torrent of emotion that nevertheless touches upon many of Vergil’s themes. In fact, Dido’s letter implicitly reverses the fate found so often in the Aeneid; she sees herself as the main character and, while not outright denying Aeneas’ fate, views him as though he never had one.
Dido’s first argument is sound sense and something that never occurred to her in the Aeneid: that “[Aeneas] flees the achieved and seeks that which must be achieved” (VII.13), that he has a cozy job as King of Carthage and would be foolish to leave. She worries earnestly about his fate, even more than her own, complaining that “I am not of such worth[…]that you should perish as you flee me” (VII.45-6), a position it took Vergil’s Dido a great deal of time to reach. But Dido here takes the theme much further than her counterpart did. “‘What did the boy Ascanius, what did the Penates do to deserve this?’” (VII.77) she asks, subverting the Aeneid’s theme of sacrifice; Aeneas is not sacrificing his own happiness for the good of his people if “whatever lightning bolts fall [on his ship] are sent for [him]” (VII.72). Dido even attacks that most sacred of epic character marks, the epithet; Aeneas is not “pius” (his epithet in the Aeneid, meaning “faithful”) if he worships with a hand that is “inpia” (VII.130) the Penates he brought from Troy.
Dido, having destroyed the rest of Aeneas’ credibility, goes on to attack his fate. “‘Where is the mother of beautiful Iulus? She died, left behind all alone by her flinty husband!’” (VII.83-4) exclaims Dido, putting aside the fact that Aeneas went back to flaming Troy to look for Creusa and saw her ghost telling him to go on. Dido’s point is that Aeneas has a fairly suspicious and self-serving “fate”. It is a destiny that will lead him to abandon the race it is his duty to save; where in the Aeneid Dido explicitly wishes she had had a child by Aeneas, Dido here is pregnant, and “[Aeneas] will be the cause of his unborn son’s death” (VII.136) when Dido commits suicide. Dido hammers home the uselessness of Aeneas’ fate by showing its cruelty and arbitrariness. Tyre would be as just as good a spot as Latium to build a city; “there is place [there] for the laws of peace, place for arms” (VII.156).
It seems to Dido in Ovid’s tale that Aeneas must leave because it is her own fate to be miserable; “fate pursues [her]” (VII.112). Destiny is by no means benevolent to her; it is not even the mixed draught that Aeneas must drink, of punishments and rewards, lost love and gained empire. Aeneas never curses the relentless lot that drives him all over the seas, but not everyone has such great forbearance, or such opportunity for gain from the endeavor. The fate that in the Aeneid occasionally seems excessive and cruel is nonetheless good; Aeneas is often tested, but never for a pointless cause. Ovid, however, by focusing on Dido’s pain and making it seem much more reasonable than it did in the Aeneid, shows that while Aeneas suffered much to build Rome, those whom fate brought low suffered much more.
An Analysis of the Contrast of Beliefs Between the West and East in The Epic of Gilgamesh, the Iliad, and the Aeneid
A Contrast Between Beliefs
Spirituality, religion, and the divine creation of humans have been central topics for many years. From the texts we have read, we see a major distinction between Western and Eastern society’s viewpoints. Western philosophy, as we have seen through our Ancient Greek texts, was focused on the divine, spirituality, and gods. Eastern Philosophy and views from philosophers such as Confucius, revolved around ethics, one’s self, and connecting with nature.
Within The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Iliad, and The Aeneid, gods and spirituality are prevalent and given the utmost importance. Odysseus, Achilles, Gilgamesh, and more characters within Homeric texts relied on the gods for almost everything. The gods were in charge of nature, mortals, actions, cities, etc. The gods had the ability to bring about natural disasters and determine a persons place in the afterlife. This gained the gods a tremendous amount of respect and adoration. In Book 24 of the Iliad, when King Priam is speaking he says, “Revere the gods, Achilles! Pity me in my own right….” (145). This quote shows the respect that is expected for the gods during that time. All of the actions of the Trojan War were due to the gods themselves and the roles they played.
As we have read from the texts, we see that there isn’t really a clear outcome for the future of the characters within the Iliad and Aeneied. The future was set to be controlled and predetermined by the gods. No matter how hard people tried, the gods were to decide on everything. A Greek poet named Hesoid who lived around the time of Homer, briefly touched on the importance of gods as well. Hesoid claimed that, “First there is emptiness, then earth, and only then do the gods appear. And, when the gods do appear on the scene, they behave in a rather disorderly way, and often bend the operations of nature according to their whims.” These explanations for the gods can be seen as both philosophical and religion based. It is known that Greek philosophers during the Western time period were focused on primarily both of those two things.
Confucius and most Eastern philosophical teachings weren’t ever too focused on the divine and gods. As mentioned prior, Confucius believed solely on “the realm of the concrete and human” (380). Going more into depth about this, Confucius believed strongly in morality and how humans were the ones who should be in touch with themselves. There were to be no other gods or spirits controlling things. We are in charge of our human capacities and everything that happens to us. He believed that it was crucial to be in tune with our selves and the nature around our Earth. We as humans in nature are all alike but, can be known for the habits of doing good or doing evil. Despite the evil doings of others, Confucius reflects on the love for humanity that we should have. He talks about this many times in The Analects while also further discussing the importance of human nature in humanity. “What nature puts together, habit separates.” (392). I feel as though many Eastern philosophers saw things in that way and how they correlated so they sought out the pursuit of happiness through nature and discovering themselves.
Eastern and Confucian philosophy wanted to emphasize behavior and how an individual should act. For example, it was known that a child should respect their parents and superiors. “A man who respects his parents and his elders would hardly be inclined to defy his superiors. A man who is not inclined to defy his superiors will never foment a rebellion. A gentleman works at the root. Once the root is secured, the Way unfolds. To respect parents and elders is the root of humanity.” (380) Eastern philosophy was also intently focused on maintaining a set balance of life that they completely disregarded outside forces or anything else as having control over every day things. Ideal relationships were seen as balanced and ethically moral if followed by the system and what Confucius talked about.
Unlike what I mentioned before with Western philosophies, Eastern philosophy believed that your future was determined by the choices you made in your daily life and not by gods. There is a very ethical and “zen” way of thinking behind what Confucius and many other Eastern philosophers like Cheng Yi and Gandhi thought. With virtue and piety on the top of the mind, Eastern society realized that life was a journey not meant to be taken lightly. Everything in the universe was somehow connected to each other and you had the ability to change whatever you wanted about it.
Confucius’ Analects dealt with the inner and outward life of a human. The aesthetic that understanding yourself and one’s surroundings led to a happier life was outplayed a lot. Morality and doing “what was right” wasn’t focused on as much in Ancient Western Greek philosophy. We saw heroes defying gods and ultimately facing the consequences. We saw characters begging to gods for a desired outcome. Even the gods themselves begged to other gods. Take for example: in the Aeneid when Venus, Aeneas’s mother, begged Jupiter, king of the gods, to end the Trojans’ suffering. Overall behavior and moral ethics were put aside and were of less importance for the Greek characters within our texts. A lot of pride, arrogance, greed, and power-hungry events took place that the Eastern philosophy would not approve of. Moral power was more significant in Eastern philosophy than the term “power” in Western aspects. Confucius said to, “Put loyalty and faith above everything, and follow justice. That is how one accumulates moral power.” (389). In the Epic of Gilgamesh, power meant everything, but, not in terms of moral power. Gilgamesh wanted to be known as the highest and most admirable man there was. This need for importance was why Gilgamesh set out to kill Humbaba and prove himself to his people. In Eastern philosophical aspects, the need to “prove oneself” would not even be prevailing in the first place.
As you can see, although both Western and Eastern philosophies had common values, the two were very different in a multitude of ways. Eastern philosophy established the real reason behind human existence and what a person’s purpose in the world was. All the while in Western Philosophy, starting off with the Greeks, there were only a few aspects that touched on the human condition and where it all began. Whether a person believed in multiple gods, the divine, or the realm of human nature- there is no denying that a lot can be learned from ancient times and applied to our daily modern life.
Separating the Fiction From Reality in Aeneid
Virgil’s Aeneid is one of the seminal works of the antiquity which offers us a lens into the life and art of ancient Romans in the era of 1 BC – the year the epic was written. A reading of the epic shows that Virgil’s attitude towards fact and fiction is one of complexity. He does not see the two as binary and opposite, but looks at them as tied up in a dialectical relationship. I will show that this is noticeably manifest. The way in which the two are meshed together presents most clearly in Virgil’s treatment of dreams and reality, earthly existence and the afterlife as well as history and fable, which each hold the same binary connotation of fact and fiction. Through a discussion of the dreams and their role in the epic, I will explore how the influence each has on the other supports this assertion. This will be shown by further considering the way Virgil depicts the dead and their interaction with the living, which is deeply entwined with dreams and reality. I will then turn to a discussion of the historical basis of the epic and the way it is in conversation with fable, in the form of myth. The entirety of this will serve to exhibit the way Virgil has kneaded together fact and fiction.
Virgil obfuscates the boundary between dreams and reality by showing the occurrences in dreams to be intricately linked to the occurrences in reality. There are three main instances of this in the epic. In Book II, Hector comes to Aeneas in a dream and tells him of the sack of Troy, warning him against fighting. When Aeneas awakes, he runs to fight against the Greeks as they pillage his city. The information he received in the dream was factual – the Greeks are pillaging Troy – and the assumption that dreams are of the world of fiction does not hold. Aeneas uses the information from the dream to inform his waking action. In Book IV, Aeneas is drawn away from his duty to establish the Roman people by his affair with Dido. Mercury, sent by Jupiter, appears to Aeneas in a dream to remind him of this duty. Awakening from this, Aeneas soon abandons Dido to return to his duty. It is what takes place in Aeneas’ dream that compels him to neglect Dido and continue with his charge. In Book VI Aeneas descends into the underworld of Dis to meet his father in Elysium. Many interpretations of Virgil’s Aeneid hold that this is a dream (McNeely, 1997). The ethereal nature of the entities Aeneas encounters as well as the process by which Aeneas makes his way into Dis both indicate that the journey is a dream. As soon as Aeneas leaves Elysium, he makes haste to continue on his journey to establish Rome. Once again, the information Aeneas receives via dream directly influences his behaviour in reality. We see that in all three cases, dreams have an immediate effect on Aeneas’ actions. There is no clear distinction separating the incidences of dreams from the events of reality as dreams are often seen to impact on waking life – the world of fact. Virgil is indicating that there is a murkier relationship between the two where dreams inform the real world and Aeneas’ actions in it.
Similarly, Virgil indicates that dreams are dependent on reality. At the time Virgil was writing the Aeneid, there was a typology of dreams that classified them into one of five categories; the enigmatic, the prophetic, the oracular, the nightmare or the anxiety-dream and the apparition or wish-fulfilment dream (Calcidius, 1992). McNeely (1997) also considers the incubation dream. This is similar to the prophetic dream but emphasises that the dreamer follows certain practices so as to be given some sort of prophecy. McNeely claims that Virgil’s dream of the underworld is primarily an incubation dream with aspects of the anxiety-dream and oracular dream (McNeely, 1997). He argues that with the Sibyl, Aeneas goes through several processes so as to communicate with his father through the dream. He attempts to incubate a certain dream. However, I believe that the dream is in fact anxiety driven. As McNeely discusses, Aeneas confronts Palinurus, who dies after going overboard on Aeneas’ ship, without a proper burial and suffers in Dis because of this. Aeneas also meets Dido, who he abandoned in Carthage – as he was told to do in the Mercury dream. He feels guilt for leaving her in his attempt to fulfil the will of the gods. He also sees all the men that died in the Sack of Troy. Aeneas is clearly confronting sentiments of guilt that are manifesting in a nightmare or anxiety-dream. Aeneas’ reality has intimately affected his dream. It is clear that dreams also affect reality. The dream also has oracular aspects as Anchises tells Aeneas about the lineage of Rome which inspires him to act with more resolve when he wakes (McNeely, 1997). It seems that there is a dialectical relationship between the two as the Mercury dream impacts Aeneas’ actions which lead to guilt, subsequently shaping his dreams.
Virgil further emphasises the muddying of the boundaries between the two when he tells us that Aeneas leaves Elysium through the gate of Ivory. The gate of Ivory is said to be the gate of false dreams or deceit in contrast to the gate of Horn which represents truth. McNeely looks at several purported reasons for this, concluding that the most convincing argument states that it is because ‘no-clear images of his dream reality will remain in his memory’ (McNeely, 1997, p. 122). The claim is that by having Anchises take Aeneas out of the gate of Ivory, Virgil is suggesting a sense of uncertainty; that Aeneas will awake with a resolve that originates from the dream without recalling the dream itself. I approach it with a slightly different take which is based in the same uncertainty. Aeneas in fact wakens able to remember what has taken place in the dream, but is unsure of whether or not it is real – dubious about its factual basis and how reliable the information is in waking life; in reality. The fact that it is Anchises who leads Aeneas out the gate rather than him leaving of his volition does not detract from this. As mentioned above, the dream is in a sense partly a product of Aeneas’ psychological state. As such, Anchises is a reflection of Aeneas’ psyche and emotional state. Hence, it is still plausible that the Gate of Ivory symbolises Aeneas’ uncertainty with the dream and his duty to establish Rome (the uncertainty can also be read in Aeneas’ wavering commitment to his duty when in Carthage. Unsure of his duties, he turns to pleasure with Dido). The reader is aware of the tangibility of the dream of Dis, but for Aeneas it is far more unclear, and Virgil is trying to convey this uncertainty. It may have merely been a device by which Virgil emphasised Aeneas’ piety – another central aspect of the epic – by showing Aeneas’ conforming to the will of the gods despite his uncertainty. Many argue that Virgil’s agenda in composing the Aeneid was to affirm the genealogy of Rome (O’Meara, 1988). The issue of the Ivory gate challenged this as it suggested that the dream was false thereby undermining Virgil’s project. However, it is shown above that in fact the use of the Ivory gate does not do so as the reader is still led to believe in the immutable truth of Anchises’ exposition of Roman lineage. Once again, Virgil shows that the boundaries between dream and reality are indeterminate – this time by showing how Aeneas himself struggles with this distinction.
Correspondingly, Virgil treats the ideas of earthly existence and the afterlife and in so doing intertwines these two concepts. Despite death, characters in the Aeneid continue to play fundamental roles in the epic. Hector, who has died, comes to Aeneas to warn him of the sack of Troy. Anchises, Aeneas’ father has died, but is crucial to inciting Aeneas to continue on his duty to found Rome with fervour. Aeneas comes across both Dido and Palinurus when in Dis, causing him great emotional discomfort. Aeneas is also confronted by his dead wife, Creusa, who ‘mitigates [his] distress’ after her death by telling him it is of no use to ‘indulge in such mad grief’ and that he is still to find ‘kingship and a royal wife’ (Virgil, Bk II, 76-77, 83). Virgil is clearly indicating that the divide between earthly existence – Aeneas’ existence – and the afterlife – Hector, Anchises and Dido’s existence – are not so divided. In fact, those that have died, and now inhabit the afterlife have major effects on the living world. Yet, the dead are still somehow separate from the living. ‘In the Aeneid there exists more than one [cosmos]: it is clear that the souls in the seses beatae of Aeneid 6 inhabit their own cosmos, with its own celestial bodies outside of time’ (Mittal, 2011). The dead are part of a different realm but are still able to significantly interact with the living. They are not grounded by corporeal issues of time and space, but still interest themselves in the issues of the living. Death in the Aeneid is not terminal – it signifies a transition to the afterlife which is merely a different realm. Virgil makes it impossible to claim that the afterlife and earthly existence are entirely separate. The impact that the one has on the other, the way the one flows into the other, exhibits the blended view Virgil held of the concepts.
The afterlife and earthly existence are deeply related to dreams and as such reflect that same disorientation between the two. It is in a dream that the dead Hector comes to Aeneas. Aeneas is also in a dream when he meets his father, Anchises, in the underworld, as is true of his encounter with Palinurus and Dido. As the line between what is dream and what is reality is blurred, one can no longer distinguish clearly between those that are dead and those that are alive. Instead of such discrete categories, the dead take on a life of their own in the epic. Virgil has subtly blended earthly existence, reality, dreams and the afterlife in such a way that it is not possible to observe them as isolated from one another.
Equally, Virgil conflates the concepts of history and fable by making use of both to achieve the same end – legitimating Roman genealogy. ‘Augustus wanted Virgil to tell a story that grandly mythologized the founding of Rome’ (Vandiver, 2008, p. 65). Merely telling the history of Rome would not have achieved this – it would have been a simple recounting of history and not a story. In order to ‘mythologize’ Rome and do so ‘grandly’, Virgil needed to add elements of fable. Not only does this give new meaning to history but it also draws the audience in and allows further engagement with the history which has been intertwined with fable. Virgil used ‘myth as a vehicle for expression’ (Mittal, 2011, p. 1). I argue that the use of myth represents, in the Aeneid, what we term fable. There is no shortage of mythological instances in the Aeneid. When Laco?n throws a spear at the Greek horse in Book II, we see a mythical event:
‘See, a pair of serpents with huge coils, snaking over the sea from Tenedos through the tranquil deep (I shudder to tell it), and heading for the shore side by side: their fronts lift high over the tide, their blood-red crests top the waves, the rest of their body slides through the ocean behind and their huge backs arch in voluminous folds.’ (Aeneid, Bk II, 203-208)
The serpents are daunting beasts sent by the gods to punish Lacoon for his actions. Rather than merely expressing the story of the Trojan horse, Virgil glorifies the history with images of godly intervention and magical beasts. By including gods and myth in his recounting of Roman history, Virgil gives greater import to the story. In a sense, it serves as divine sanction that heightens the epic’s worth in the eyes of the pious. This is just one of many instances of mythical events in the epic. The prevalence of these events adds to the marvel that Virgil imparts on Roman history. He does this by clouding the distinction between history and fable by making them cooperate to achieve his aims.
Likewise, the presence of historical fact serves to ensure the epic is seen as valid. There is myriad archaeological evidence which supports the events in the epic. There are ruins attesting to the Sack of Troy in 1180 BC which Virgil explores in Book II. This is an important aspect to consider. Without this historical accuracy, the Aeneid may have been dismissed as no more than fable. It would not have been able to serve its function. It is also noteworthy that Virgil based a large part of the Aeneid on Homer’s Iliad. Homer’s work acted as the historical source upon which Virgil built his grandiose vision of Rome by infusing it with aspects of fable and Roman myth. Virgil has incorporated history and closely followed Homer’s epic which legitimises both Roman and Greek myths as well as the history of Rome itself. Once again, the synthesis of history and fable into one are employed by Virgil, indicating that he saw them not as distinct but as intertwined.
Conflation of fact and fiction is an eminent feature of Virgil’s Aeneid. Dreams impact reality and reality impacts on dreams in such a way that it is impossible to differentiate the two into distinct categories – Aeneas’ action is continually driven by his dreams and his waking life has a major impact on the dream worlds he inhabits. It is often the dead that cause him to act through these dreams and it is evident that the afterlife is merely a different realm which overlaps with the earthy existence of Virgil’s characters. It is similarly exposed that Virgil’s approach to history and fable as interdependent and equally important for his agenda reflects his attitude towards fact and fiction. I have conclusively shown that Virgil views fact and fiction not as antagonistic binaries but rather as overlapping and interdependent aspects of life.
Calcidius. (1992). Commentary on the Timaeus: Dreaming in the Middle Ages. In S. Kruger (Ed.). Cambridge University Press.
McNeely, S. (1997, September). Vergil’s Dreams: A Study of the Types and Purpose of Dreams in Vergil’s Aeneid. Kingston, Ontario, Canada.
Mittal, R. P. (2011). Time and History in Virgil’s Aeneid.
O’Meara. (1988). Virgil and Augustine: The “Aeneid” in the “Confessions”. Maynooth Review, 13, 30-43.
Vandiver, T. (2008). Revelations fo Rome in Virgil’s Aeneid. Hohonu: A Journal of Academic Writing, 6, 65-69.
Virgil. (n.d.). Aeneid.
Stylistic Analysis of Aeneid: Repetition
Repetition in the Aeneid
Ancient Rome was highly dependent on repetition; a repetition of Greek Architecture, repetition of the Olympian Gods, and even a repetition of Greek Literature. This is not to say that Roman culture was a cheap knock-off of the Greece, for Romans strived to not only match Greece’s rich culture but to rise above it. Virgil’s The Aeneid is a fine example of the manner in which Romans aimed to glorify Rome by imitating Greece. The theme of repetition is crucial to Virgil’s poem, particularly in Book VI, where history, myths, and tales reoccur or foretell an occurrence.
Near the beginning of Book VI, we enter a temple dedicated to Apollo, and upon entering, our narrator reiterates the history that gave rise to this temple. It is significant that the history of a shire is described so meticulously, and in the beginning of the book—in a manner, interrupting the reader, and Aeneas (for he stops to admire the gates) from continuing on with the story. Not only does this bestow the notion of history with a sense of great importance in the poem, it insinuates that everyone must yield to history, even a great hero such as Aeneas. This brief history begins with the tale of the inventor/artist Daedalus, who escapes Minos’ Kingdom by using a pair of man-made wings. Upon landing, he builds this temple and dedicates it to Apollo. The gates of the temple also feature many carvings depicting their history. What is most peculiar about that history is that it does not relate directly to Apollo or the temple’s location, but to an altogether separate narrative and mythos.
The historical account of Daedalus begins with the death of King Minos’ heir, Androgeos. Upon the death of Androgeos at the hands of Athenians, King Minos punishes the citizens of Athens by demanding the sacrifice of seven young men and seven young women every year. The concept of a blood sacrifice appears multiple times throughout the Aeneid, as every book mentions at least one blood sacrifice performed to the gods. However, the sacrifices performed by Aeneas characterize him as a pious and grateful servant to the gods because they are performed in honor of the gods. King Minos’ human sacrifices are not performed in honor of the gods, but made to relieve his own grief and feed a monster conceived by sin. By demanding these yearly sacrifices to satisfy himself, Minos not only proves to be a cruel and brutal leader, but ascends (or seeks to ascend) to the status of an angry god. The scene of the “seven bodies” (Book VI, ln. 31) of the Athenian boys meant to feed the hungry Minotaur alludes to an earlier episode in Book I where Aeneas hunts seven stags to feed his hungry crew men. The language of the poem describes the stags as “seven giant bodies along the ground” (Book I, ln 267-8) and reveals that the stags were not only sacrificed to quit the hunger of his men, but also to “[soothe] their melancholy hearts” (Book I, ln. 275). The demand for the sacrifice of seven lives occurs once more while Aeneas is still before the carvings on the gate of Apollo’s temple. Here, Deiphobe demands that Aeneas sacrifice seven steers from “a herd the yoke has never touched”(Book VI, ln. 55). This request refers back to the carving of the Athenian sacrifices, as the individuals sacrificed were young — like the steers — and perhaps even too young to truly partake in hard manual labor.
The carvings on the temple’s gate continue with the story of Pasiphae and the Minotaur. The story of Pasipha? is the story of a woman’s extreme infatuation with a male, though not a human male, which leads her to commit the unthinkable; the narrator refers to this as a “polluted passion” (Book VI, ln.37). This unyielding passion leads Pasiphae to act unreasonably and parallels the passion of Dido for Aeneas in Book IV. (Spurned by her lover, Dido’s passion becomes polluted and lures her to indulge in her own emotions which yield her decision for suicide without regards for her kingdom or people.)
Carved next on the gate is the story of Ariadne and Theseus. The scene depicts the intricate labyrinth crafted by Daedalus, and the manner in which Theseus manages to escape — using a solution proffered to him by Ariadne. It is important to note, however, that it is not merely Ariadne’s love for Theseus that saves him, but Daedalus’ pity for that love. (Daedalus is persuaded by it to disentangle the thread to lead Theseus out of the Minotaur labyrinth.) This episode portrays a triangular plot, as Theseus is trapped by Daedalus’ creation, Ariadne attempts to help him out of it, and Daedalus helps Ariadne help Theseus. Other triangular plots occur throughout Aeneas’ wanderings: the struggle between Venus, Aeneas, and Juno, to find and prevent Aeneas from finding Rome, and the love triangle between Aeneas, Turnus, and Lavinia.
Although Ariadne’s story as depicted on the gates ends with the release of Theseus, Ariadne’s tale in its entirety is highly reminiscent of earlier events in Aeneas’ journey. The story, according to Ovid, continues as Ariadne and Theseus sail off to the island of Dia. There Theseus, either by mistake or by technique, leaves Ariadne on the island while he sails away home. Upon watching him sail away without her, Ariadne utters a speech much like the one executed by Dido on Aeneas’ departure in Book IV, in which she attempts to place a vengeful curse on Aeneas. Ariadne’s story also alludes to the story of Creesa’s attempted escape from the burning Troy. When Aeneas leads his family out of the burning city, he has his wife Creesa follow behind them; however, in the panic of being overtaken by Romans, Aeneas frantically flees from the aggressors without once thinking of Creesa. It is not until he has secured his own safety and the safety of his father and son that he attempts to find the woman he left behind. (Another who perished in the escape from his city is Daedalus’ son, Icarus, whose wings melt apart when he flies too close to the sun. The narrator refers to Icarus with great regret, for Daedalus is too overcome with grief to carve his achievements into the gate. This is not the only regret however, as the narrator states that Icarus could have had a “great” [Book VI, ln.44] part in Daedalus’ work — insinuating that Icarus too could have grown up to be a great artisan/inventor like his father.)
The themes of history and legacy are both very present in the artwork carved into the gates of Apollo’s temple, as well as throughout the poem. The concept of immortalizing the history of one’s people is especially important to the end of Book VIII, when Aeneas receives an “indescribable” (Book VIII, ln. 809) shield. This magnificent piece of armor is forged by Vulcan and offered to Aeneas as a gift from his divine mother. In this respect, the shield and the temple gate are very similar: both are gifts exchanged between gods and mortals. Just as the carved gates depict the story of Daedalus’ people, so does Aeneas’ shield illustrate the story of his future people and his future nation. What is significant about the timeline of both artworks is that Daedalus’ art shows the past, insinuating that history is all he has or will ever have. With the death of his son Icarus also died his future and his legacy. Aeneas on the other hand, carries a shield which shows only the future — insinuating that his Trojan history has no part in the future of his people or his nation.
In 1362, Renaissance scholar Giovanni Boccaccio wrote Famous Women, in which he analyzed female characters from Classical texts. Other Italian scholars at the time devoted their efforts to studying male heroes and gods, but Boccaccio brought attention to these women who oftentimes existed solely to benefit the hero as romantic interests or appear as goddesses bestowing wisdom for a few lines before departing. Most notably is his analysis of Dido, the queen of Carthage from The Aeneid. His celebration of the queen, however, becomes instead a rigidly Christian perspective of her behavior in the text as Boccaccio views her through a Christian lens, and his portrayal of a mythological character from Roman loses its accuracy in favor of glorification. Boccaccio’s tone in his interpretation of Dido contradicts The Aeneid through his decision to disregard many of Dido’s actions in order to depict an idealized Christian image of the queen as a martyr of chastity.
In many Classical texts, women are almost never in positions of power, expected to be dutiful and submissive to men. At the beginning of his analysis, it seems as if Boccaccio deviates from that stereotype, beginning with praise of the queen: “O Dido, venerable and eternal model of unsullied womanhood!” (Boccaccio 1). However, Boccaccio does not dwell on her role as queen of Carthage, he instead uses Dido to push a Christian ideal of a woman’s behavior. “If they [Christian women] can, let them mediate upon how you shed your chaste blood – especially women for whom it is a trivial matter to drift into second, third, and even more marriages” (Boccaccio 1). In Boccaccio’s work, Dido is defined in terms of her widowhood. In The Aeneid, Dido is defined by her strength after fleeing from her murderous brother. “A woman leads. They landed at the place where now you see the citadels and high walls of new Carthage rising; and then they bought the land called Byrsa, “The Hide”, after the name of that transaction” (Virgil, 14, 516-520). The transaction refers to Dido’s craftiness as she marks out land for her people, a story Boccaccio does not to mention. Boccaccio does not acknowledge Dido’s skillfulness as queen. He speaks of Dido in abstraction, creating a stereotype of a chaste widow refusing to betray her husband with another man.
Boccaccio’s adherence to the Christian beliefs of a women’s modesty falters against The Aeneid with the relationship of Dido and Aeneas. Aeneas is the catalyst for the queen’s suicide, stirring up Dido’s psychosis with his departure. This relationship is absent from Boccaccio’s description. Aeneas is not mentioned. Boccaccio focuses on Dido’s reputation and how her chastity is an example to other women. He addresses her suicide with a calm tone, revering a martyr: “Rather than marry again, rather than break her holy resolve, she died by her own hand, steadfast in spirit, unshaken in determination” (Boccaccio 1). However, in The Aeneid, Dido’s suicide is far from peaceful. The act has a frantic, chaotic tone with Dido caught up in insanity over the disappearance of the man she has fallen for. “But Dido, desperate, beside herself with awful undertakings, eyes bloodshot and rolling, and her quivering cheeks flecked with stains and pale coming death, now bursts across the inner courtyards of her palace. She mounts in madness that high pyre, unsheathes the Dardan sword, a gift not sought for such an end” (Virgil, 101, 888-895). She is not the image of Boccaccio’s martyr with her flushed cheeks and desperation. Her “holy resolve” (Boccaccio 1) is shattered and she lashes out with a savagery that is very different from Boccaccio’s Dido who goes “to her death for the sake of fleeting reputation”(Boccaccio 1). “Goes to her death” implies an act of peaceful sacrifice in loyalty to her husband. However Dido does not go quietly in the original text bringing about frenzied, vengeful destruction. “‘I shall die unavenged but I shall die…May the savage Dardan drink with his own eyes this fire from the deep and take with him the omen of my death’” (Virgil, 101, 910-913). Her death triggers chaos, not Boccaccio’s reinforcement of chastity. “The blade is foaming with her blood, her hands are bloodstained…Shrieks of women sound through the houses; heavens echo mighty wailings” (Virgil, 101, 915-921)
Dido’s position is unique; she is queen who is equal to the hero, facing great adversity in forging new kingdoms. However ever, successes are short-lived as her passion drives her to suicide over Aeneas. In Famous Women, Giovanni Boccaccio’s views of Dido are completely misconstrued from the original text. He discusses Dido through a narrow Christian perspective, dwelling on her role as a widow not as a powerful queen. He reconceives her suicide as a martyrdom for chastity, as a woman who never falls prey to lust, although Dido’s suicide in The Aeneid occurs for the opposite reason – she stops thinking of her husband, she falls in love Aeneas who has left and is driven mad by her desire to the point of suicide. Boccaccio takes Dido’s insanity and paints over it with a tone of his own beliefs, using Dido as a mythological symbol of Christian ideology all while ignoring the actual context of her actions, reducing her a stereotype of an obedient widow rather than exploring the chaotic tone of her lunacy with the violence she produces with her suicide, caught in the throes of lusting madness.
The Platonic Soul in the Aeneid
While many scholars are of the belief that Vergil penned the Aeneid to provide the Roman people with a propagandized epic glamorizing their own history, there is great evidence for Vergil’s intending the Aeneid to be something vastly more valuable: a parable on the powers of the Platonic soul. In his Republic, Plato outlines the different elements of the soul: appetitive, spirited, and rational. As the lowest part of man’s soul, appetite desires temporal things, lowest according to the hierarchy of being. The spiritedness of the soul is that from which the soul derives its energy in struggling to overcome challenges. Intellect governs man and is served by appetite and spiritedness according to its place of primacy among the powers of the soul. Throughout the Aeneid, Vergil endows the epic’s significant characters with the task of portraying the powers of the Platonic soul and revealing how such powers are ordered toward the virtue of justice.
Before examining exactly how the Aeneid’s characters portray the different powers of the soul, it is necessary to discuss the nature of the soul according to Plato. In his Republic, Plato writes on the kallipolis, the ideal city comprised of three major classes: the producers, the guardians, and the rulers, all of whom depict a particular power of the soul. Each class, along with its correlative power, finds its perfection in a virtue peculiar to its operation. It is for the producers, those who aid the city in acquiring resources necessary for survival, to exercise the virtue of moderation in declaring a ruler. It is for the guardians, who embody the spiritedness of the empire, to cast aside the false allures of foolhardiness and put on courage in their defense of the kallipolis. The rulers of the city cultivate wisdom that they may rationally govern the city. All of the classes of the city fulfilling their societal obligations, rendering to each class its respective due realizes justice, that virtue paramount throughout antiquity. Just as Plato describes the rulers of the city as necessarily aiming to promote justice among themselves, so does Vergil endow Aeneas with a growth toward justice throughout the whole of the Aeneid. Despite Aeneas’ efforts in such growth, the lower powers of his soul often hinder him and cause him to falter.
In her embodiment of the soul’s appetitive power tragic Dido, queen of Carthage, plays a critical role in Aeneas’ falling short of justice. Vergil shows that the relationship Aeneas shares with Dido does not promote justice, but selfish immoderation. Concerning Dido’s unmitigated passion Vergil writes, “She thought no longer of a secret love but called it marriage. / Thus, under that name, She hid her fault.” Just as Dido leads Aeneas into serious fault, so does the appetite, when operating in a manner wholly unchecked by the intellect, lead the individual toward unbridled pleasure. In falling relentlessly into such imprudent pleasure, Dido loses her reputation among neighboring rulers. Lamenting her tarnished character, Dido exclaims to Aeneas:
Because of you, Libyans and nomad kings
Detest me, my own Tyrians are hostile;
Because of your, I lost my integrity
And that admired name by which alone
I made my way once toward the stars. (4.290-342)
Such immoderation, such carelessness with regard to integrity, instigates in both Dido and Aeneas an attitude focused principally on taking from, rather contributing to their respective governances. Dido neglects her duties toward Carthage, where Aeneas remains throughout the winter, having lost sight of his mission to found a new kingdom. On Dido’s negligence, Vergil writes:
How Dido in her beauty graced his company,
Then how they reveled all winter long
Unmindful of the realm, prisoners of lust. (4.175-234)
Appetite dominates such behavior, totally disregarding one’s duties toward society and embracing disordered indulgence.
Like appetite, spiritedness when in total domination of the soul, leads to disorder. Turnus, Aeneas’ rival in taking control of Italy and winning the hand of the beautiful Lavinia, embodies spiritedness, and the unfortunate consequences of his rash decisions illustrate how, when a soul is under the reign of spiritedness, disorder arises. In his essay “War and Peace” K.W. Grandsen writes on Turnus’ overarching tendency toward spiritedness, “He is prepared to take risks.” Such is certainly true, for Turnus’ imprudent judgements are often based solely on his desire for war: his bloodlust. When describing Turnus’ character, Vergil writes, “lust of steel raged in him, brute insanity of war, and wrath above all” (7.634-636). Through the sorry consequences of his vainglorious actions, the character of Turnus symbolizes the necessity of channeling the spiritedness of the soul and holding fast to the virtue of courage: courage that seeks to defend the rights of others, rather than amass worthless glory for oneself. One particular incident in which Turnus distinguishes his foolishness is that in which he mindlessly ceases the wrong weapon before making for battle, such is his thirst for the conquests of battle. The scene during which Turnus brutally kills Aeneas’ comrade, Pallas, also signifies spiritedness, poorly controlled — an outburst which consequently causes Aeneas to allow his own spiritedness to rise above the authority of his intellect. From Turnus’ ill-judged actions in battle, especially his inhuman killings, emerge a great lack of justice. Such is displayed when Turnus, locked alone within the gates of the Trojan encampment and consumed in his own pursuit of glory, thrashes his sword about wildly rather than open the gate and enable his comrades to enter. That Turnus experiences an intense temptation toward suicide points the reader to the ultimate deprivation of such justice: robbing oneself of one’s own life.
Just as Aeneas must conquer Turnus in order to take control of the barbarism that so pervades primitive Latin society, so also must the intellect take control of spiritedness and appetite. Yet unlike Dido and Turnus, who portray their corresponding powers of the soul so flawlessly, Aeneas’ portrayal of the intellectual power of the soul seems at first to be riddled with imperfection. Frequently in the Aeneid does the epic’s hero fail to tame his appetite and spiritedness. His behavior with Dido and disproportionate course of action in response to Turnus’ killing of Pallas reveals his weakness in governing his lower faculties. Yet the lack of order in Aeneas’ soul points toward growth in the power which ought to be present in all of his actions: intellect. Just as the whole of the Aeneid is a gradual journey towards establishing the land fated to become the Roman Empire, so is Aeneas’ interior growth a process which encompasses the whole of the epic, and Aeneas, like Vergil’s readers, has yet to discover how this process will end. As Harold Bloom writes, “Virgil’s Aeneas is a man set apart by a destiny of which he himself seems uncertain.” Aeneas actualizes his potential for interior growth in intellectual control over his appetite upon making the decision to leave Dido. Aeneas, though wishing to remain with Dido, understands his duty to establish a place of settlement for his people. Concerning Aeneas’ struggle to leave Dido, Vergil writes:
Aeneas, though he struggled with desire
To calm and comfort her in all her pain,
To speak to her and turn her mind from grief,
And though he sighed his heart out, shaken still
With love of her, yet took the course heaven gave him
And went back to the fleet. (4.545-551)
Thus does Aeneas accept the difficult duty given him, and in doing so achieves rule over his appetite. Aeneas’ wrestling his spiritedness into submission to his intellect is shown vividly when he defeats Turnus in battle. The Aeneid’s last scene, in which Aeneas addresses Turnus before dispatching him in battle, portrays Aeneas’ spiritedness at last in submission to his intellect. Aeneas addresses Turnus before administering the deathblow:
You in your plunder, torn from one of mind,
Shall I be robbed of you? This wound will come
From Pallas: Pallas makes this offering
And from your criminal blood exacts his due. (12.1291-124)
Aeneas’ final words in the epic direct the reader to the justice he is about to render on behalf of his dead friend. Such justice reveals the proper ordering of his soul, at long last achieved. The culmination of the Aeneid in the virtue of justice, the crowning virtue in Roman society, shows the corollary ordering of the soul of the Empire’s first ruler: Aeneas, who portrays the importance of the intellect’s predominance and correlative wisdom in every individual soul.
Vergil, in outlining the organization of the Platonic soul’s powers in the Aeneid, illustrates such powers as embodied in the work’s key characters: Dido, Turnus, and, of course, the poem’s hero, Aeneas. Vergil directs the reader’s gaze to the virtues emerging from the different powers of the properly ordered soul: moderation, courage, and wisdom. In the soul perfected by its appropriate virtues is realized the virtue of justice, the outward manifestation of which denotes order in the soul. The lack of such justice is clear in the consequences of Dido’s actions and the madness which ensues from her allowing appetite to surpass the intellect in control of her being. Similarly, Turnus’ spiritedness eventually leads to his own rightly warranted demise at the hand of Aeneas, who in administering justice executes the power of the soul corresponding to his role in the Aeneid: the intellect. In the demise of the characters representing and dominated by the lower natures of the soul, Vergil points his reader toward the primacy of intellect, and its necessary function in governing the soul. Yet Aeneas’ movement toward interior order and its parallel justice represents the right operation of the intellect in the human soul. Aeneas’ gradually conquering the lower parts of his soul lays out the journey fated for every human soul and the decisions necessary in traveling upon it well. Man has either to allow his appetite and spiritedness to rule him or to use his intellect in exercising his actions aright. Vergil presents man with this universal choice, reminding him that it is only through proper ordering of the powers soul that justice can be achieved.
Feldherr, Andrew. “Viewing Myth and History on the Shield of Aeneas.” Classical Antiquity vol., 33, no. 2 (2014): 281-318.
Grandsen, K.W. “War and Peace.” In Modern Critical Interpretations of Vergil’s Aeneid, edited by Harold Bloom (New York, NY: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987), 127-147.
Plato. Republic. Translated by G.M.A. Grube. Revised by C.D.C. Reeve. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1992.
Vergil. The Aeneid. Translated by Robert. Fitzgerald. New York: Vintage Books, 1984.
Image Creation in Aeneid
An important recurring image throughout Virgil’s Aeneid is that of the serpent, which appears both realistically and metaphorically. The serpent icon is a harbinger of death and a symbol of deception. These two elements represented by the snake are important to the whole epic, but even more so to Book II because it describes how the Greeks, in order to finally take Troy, used deception to gain access into the city.
In spite of the mighty Greek heroes like Achilles and Ajax and the sheer numbers in their army and navy, in the end it was the snake-like craftiness of Sinon combined with an omen of death embodied in twin serpents that proved to be the downfall of Troy. Aeneas recounts,
“This fraud of Sinon, his accomplished lying,
Won us over; a tall tale and fake tears
Had captured us, whom neither Diomedes
Nor Larisaean Achilles overpowered,
Nor ten long years, nor all their thousand ships.” (II:268-272)
Virgil does not directly utilize snake imagery with Sinon’s character, but he emphasizes the concepts of lies and deception, which are associated with the serpent metaphor. By speaking in lies, Sinon takes on the characteristics of Virgil’s serpent images. While Sinon’s acting was very convincing in favor of bringing the horse within the city walls, two real snakes from the sea serve to complete the ruse and convince the Trojans to accept the horse.
Even though Laocon was the only man whose insight into the true nature of the horse was correct, the twin snakes kill him and his two sons. “Laocon had paid… For profanation of the sacred hulk.”(II:308-310) Since he had flung a spear at the horse in contempt prior to being attacked, the Trojans assumed that the horse was a divine object protected by the gods, and so they felt obligated to pull it into the city. The men become so blinded by Sinon’s lies and the deceptive behavior of the serpents, that they do not notice the “four times the arms/ In the belly thrown together made a sound,”(II:325-6) each time that the horse halts. Unbeknownst to these men was the fact that these snakes were an omen that represented the utter destruction of their city. In describing the death of Laocon and his sons, Virgil is preparing the reader for the snake that will be the death of Troy itself.
The serpent that does destroy the city is not an actual snake, but the wooden horse, which Virgil imparts with snake-like qualities. He describes its movement, “Deadly, pregnant with enemies, the horse/ Crawled upward to the breach.”(II:317-318) Like a venomous snake laden with deadly offspring, the deceptive contraption moves into the heart of the Trojan City. The horse has taken on the role of the twin serpents, while Troy, whose destruction is imminent, assumes the role of Laocon and his sons.
Virgil uses snake imagery one last time in Book II by giving serpentine qualities to the Danaan Pyrrhus, who appears to Aeneas,
“As a serpent, hidden swollen underground…
Renewed and glossy, rolling slippery coils,
With lifted underbelly rearing sunward
And triple tongue a-flicker.”(II:614-619)
This description of Pyrrhus foreshadows death to come as it is this very same Greek who becomes the bane of Priam and his son Polits, “That was the end of Priam’s age, the doom that took him off.”(II:722-723) Virgil subtly sets the reader up to expect the worse from Pyrrhus’ actions because up to that point, every snake image the reader has encountered has been followed by death and destruction.
Sinon’s lies, the snakes from the sea, the wooden horse and Pyrrhus all reflect the qualities of death and deception that Virgil associates with the serpent. Throughout the remainder of the epic, the snake image retains these symbolic characteristics. Virgil uses the imagery to bring a lust for war onto Amata and to predict the death of Rome’s future enemies.
The fury Allecto, who single-handedly incites war between the Trojans and the Latins, is, by her physical and character description alone, one of Virgil’s serpents. She is,
“Grief’s drear mistress, with her lust for war,
For angers, ambushes, and crippling crimes.
Even her father Pluto hates this figure…
For her savage looks, her head
Alive and black with snakes.”(VII:445-450)
Allecto’s persona reeks of death and she is employed by Juno precisely for this trait, because the goddess knows that this serpentine creature will gladly and effectively stir up war among the Latins and Trojans. Considering the mass amount of tragic deaths that result from the war, Allecto can be classified as a harbinger of death, which her snake-like qualities already suggest.
Allecto uses one of her serpent tresses to fuel the anger already harbored by Amata towards the Trojans to the point of uncontrollable rage. This snake is similar to the wooden horse, because it came upon its victim insidiously and resulted in destruction. While Troy is burned as a result of the horse, Amata’s mind is corrupted by the snake to the point of insanity, “The serpent’s evil madness circulated… And with insane abandon (she) roamed the city.”(VII:517-520) The queen’s mind has been destroyed and remains in ruins like the Trojan City.
While the reader witnesses the destruction wrought by Allecto and the other serpent images within the context of the story, Virgil also uses snake imagery to comment on forthcoming events. Aeneas’ shield, which is crafted by Vulcan, depicts many accomplishments of the future Roman Empire, not the least of which is the defeat of Marc Antony and Cleopatra. In order to convey the future victory of Rome over the Egyptian Queen to the reader, Virgil uses serpents to represent death once again. He describes Cleopatra as, “Never turning her head as yet to see/ Twin snakes of death behind.”(VIII:944-945) The snakes precede other icons of death such as the furies, Mars and Bellona, which demonstrates their importance to Virgil as a true harbinger of death.
The serpent is a necessary element of the Aeneid, because the death and deception that it represents are essential to the events that take place within the epic. If the Greeks had never sacked Troy, Aeneas would never have left, and Rome might not have been founded. Deception is what brought victory to the Greeks and Virgil realizes this fact, so he chooses the snake to represent this concept. By remaining consistent in his use of the image, Virgil helps the reader to identify the presence of deception and looming death.
Landscape Symbolism in the Aeneid
Throughout The Aeneid, Virgil details the fated trajectory of Aeneas, who follows his preordained path from the ashy ruins of destroyed Troy to the high ramparts of incipient Rome. In the convoluted framework of the epic poem, these two cities appear as among the few absolute certainties, marking the starting and ending points of the Trojans’ journey as well as essential boundaries within which Virgil geographically and historically contextualizes the entire plot. Between these two designated locations, however, lie places of uncertainty: seas, mountains, and forests, the latter of which soon emerge as Virgil’s primary regions of ambiguity. Different peoples are defined through their contrasting relationships with forests; the Latins are described in terms of their affinity for and integration with nature, while the Trojans, by their desire for conquest and construction, are placed inherently in opposition to forests and their associations with the primitive, virginal, and supernatural. Forests function in The Aeneid not only as backdrops but also as dynamic actors, as Aeneas and the rest of the Trojans have encounters that take place both within forests and with forests. These human interactions with nature reveal the nuanced and complex nature of the highly symbolic landscape that is the Virgilian forest.
Where the Trojans appear to stand at odds with the forests, the “rustic” Italians live in harmony with them, having integrated their natural environment into their culture and lifestyle. The home of King Latinus exemplifies this intimate relationship; his palace is described as “an awesome place both for its forests and for the sanctity of ancient worship” with “images of their forefathers […] carved in ancient cedar” (166). The use of wood and other natural materials (as opposed to man-made ones) to express power and history reveals the centrality of the forest as a component of Latin identity as well as the degree to which Latin concepts of nature, ancestry, rusticism, and religion are closely intertwined. This connection is further developed when the Arcadian king, Evander, traces the origins of the land and its people from the time when “These groves were once the home of fauns and nymphs and of a race of men sprung from tree trunks and study oaks” (198). Although that “golden age” has passed, the Latin people still retain elements of this past, maintaining a primitive worldview and a peaceful coexistence with the forests that is soon disturbed by the Trojans in their quest to found Rome.
The initial conflict that begins the war between Latins and the Trojans does not take place between two men; instead, it occurs as an antagonistic act towards the Latin forest itself. Aeneas’ son, Ascanius, is driven by divine forces to shoot down a stag, cared for by a Latin woman, Silvia (whose name appropriately derives from the Latin word for “forest”). Virgil explains that “this hunting was the first cause of the troubles, and for this the rustic minds of Latium were driven to war” (176). Indeed, in the act of hunting and killing the animal (which had lived so peacefully with both the woods and people), Ascanius essentially violates the harmony that had been established between humanity and nature. His action serves as a harbinger, foreshadowing future intrusions by the Trojans onto the land, and highlights the tension between the two opposing concepts at play in the Trojan drive for conquest: the forests that the Latins have kept virtually unbreached and the city that Aeneas envisions to build on that previously untouched soil.
For the Trojans, the forest represents the unknown – a place of both uncertainty and danger. Seemingly out of the realm of civilization’s control and influence, it functions as a location for exile, but its “darkness” proves to be detrimental for the exiles that find themselves lost in it. It is in the woods that Dido and Aeneas have their first romantic tryst, overseen by the gods above; in their forest cave, detached from any reminder of other human presence and the sanctity of man-made institutions, the lovers succumb to raw and unregulated passion, losing their self-control and shirking their duties in the process. The forest that was the site of Dido’s consummation of her doomed lust is recalled in her funeral pyre, piled high “with logs of pine and planks of ilex” and the “greenery of death” (96). A similarly tragic ending comes to warriors Nisus and Euryalus, friends who lose one another while escaping from the enemy in the treacherous, unfamiliar wilderness of the woods. The deceptive, maze-like forest offers them no refuge from their fate:
“And shaggy, wide, the forest stretched, with dark ilex and thorny thickets; everywhere the tangled briers massed, with here and there a pathway glimmering among the hidden tracks in the dense brushwood. Euryalus, who is hampered by the shadowed branches, by his heavy spoils, mistakes his way through fear” (224).
In both examples, the forest functions as an ambiguous crossroads of sorts, allowing for both the union and separation of these ill-fated couples. Dido and Aeneas are united in mutual love in the forest, but the forest also eventually provides the medium by which Aeneas leaves Dido; “[his] crewmen, keen for flight, haul from the forest boughs not yet stripped of leaves to serve as oars and timbers still untrimmed” (92). Nisus and Euryalus are initially separated by the forest, but the forest subsequently becomes the setting for Nisus’ display of courage and loyalty, a suitable tableau for his fervent desire to be reunited with his friend, even if in death.
The mysterious and enigmatic nature of the forest is further emphasized by its associations with the gods and the supernatural. When Amata is driven to insanity and furor by the fury Allecto under Juno’s instructions, “She pretends that Bacchus has her; racing to the forest, Amata now tries greater scandal, spurs to greater madness. She conceals her daughter in leafy mountains, stealing from the Trojans that marriage, holding off the wedding torches” (173). Amata’s actions also reveal the parallel that arises between the similar images of the untouched forest and Lavinia, the virginal maiden; both are objects of Trojan lust and the fertile bodies from which their future city, and its inhabitants, will arise. In the context of The Aeneid, forests are thus politicized to the extent that they are no longer mere environments in which actions take place arbitrarily. They are liminal spaces, where the characters find themselves straddling the lines between life and death, wilderness and civilization; they are also, themselves, engaged actors and participants in the essential and ongoing conflict between gods and humans, Latins and Trojans.
The Last Scene of the Aeneid: Analysis
Virgil borrows many stories and themes from the Homeric epics and revises them for the Roman tradition in the Aeneid. Aeneas’ journey in search of the Latium shores parallels Odysseus’ journey to Ithaca, except the latter knows what home he is going to. The war with the Latins is literally a second Trojan War, paralleling the Iliad, only the Trojans win. But both Homeric epics come to a relatively peaceful, definite ending (funeral for Hector, and restored order in Ithaca). In comparison, the Aeneid ends with a violent death, the equivalent of ending as Achilles drags Hector’s body around the wall of Troy or when Odysseus kills all the suitors. One reason for this difference and for the suitability of the ending in the Aeneid is that it has a larger cultural directive than either of the Homeric epics. Homer was never commissioned to speak his plays. More than just a story of heroes, war, and art in its various forms, the Aeneid is also about the founding of Rome. Aeneas killing Turnus at the very close of his story is directly a step toward the founding of Rome and also relates to the reestablishment of Rome under Augustus.
Much of the scene where Aeneas kills Turnus can be cast in a positive light. First, Aeneas kills Turnus after seeing wearing the belt he stole off of Pallas, Aeneas’ ally. In this way, he is avenging his friend and being pious, Aeneas’ constant attribute. It is worth noting though, that Aeneas does not say he kills Turnus as pious Aeneas, as he otherwise readily identifies himself, but says, “It is Pallas who strikes, who sacrifices you, who takes/this payment from your shameless blood”(XII.1266,7) Additionally, the scene ends the book on a definitively masculine note. For much of the Aeneid, Aeneas does not appear in the worthy hero status of Achilles or Odysseus. He’s easily distracted from his mission and must be reminded of his purpose repeatedly by the gods. Virgil in turn makes the very enemies who called Aeneas a second Paris look the more feminine party. By killing Turnus, Aeneas can join the ranks of the emotion charged heroes before him, and more importantly, become the great man that Romans of Virgil’s time could actually see founding their great city.
The final scene of the Aeneid can also show the dark side of empire. Throughout the epic, many people, unknowing pawns of fate, are crushed don the path to Roman greatness. Most of them are women, Aeneas’ wife Creusa, Dido, Camilla, but armies of young Latin men fall in their war with the Trojans. “was it/ your [Jupiter] will that nations destined to eternal/ peace should have clashed in such tremendous turmoil”, asks Virgil (xii. 678-80). What taints Aeneas’ most classically heroic action even more is the fact that he and Turnus share a connection through pre-Roman heritage. The Latins and the Trojans go on to make up the Romans, making Turnus and Aeneas like brothers; fratricide is generally frowned upon. Also, Aeneas direct compulsion to kill Turnus comes from seeing him with young Pallas’ studded belt. While Virgil’s description of Turnus’ actions “[Pallas] whom Turnus had defeated, wounded, stretched/upon the battlefield” (xii. 1258-60) makes the taking of plunder from defeated enemies seem a gross deed, it is far from unheard of. Aeneas himself does it when he takes armor or weaponry from the Greeks. Whether or not his reason is entirely justified does not explain Aeneas’ uncharacteristically emotional reaction, at least for Roman culture. For most of the epic, Aeneas is successful at the stoic mentality, subverting his emotions for his higher goal, but here Aeneas steps into the space of Achilles, “aflame with rage-his wrath was terrible” (xi.1264), brutally killing an opponent over the loss of a friend.
When Aeneas kills Turnus, it provides something deeper than just commentary on the cost of empire or value of stoicism and masculinity. The closing image is reminiscent of the Battle of Actium, also described by Virgil on the shield of Aeneas, the result of which was Augustus Caesar taking sole control over Rome. In this case, Aeneas is analogous to Augustus and Turnus plays the role of Antony. For one, throughout the epic Augustus is prophesized to Aeneas; the two have a cosmic and distant blood connection to start. Aeneas is the founder of Rome and Augustus refounds Rome. Antony does not share blood with Turnus, at least in a significant way, but they do share a character flaw. Both men lose their senses and rationality because of women. Antony loses his senses, and much respect from Romans because of his marriage to the Egyptian Cleopatra. Virgil, who treats most women in a similar way says, “and-shamefully-/behind him follows his Egyptian wife” (viii.894-5) as Antony marches to face Augustus bringing with him monsters and barking gods from the decadent East. Likewise, Turnus was originally the Latin’s best warrior, stubborn, strong, and sane, but he is literally driven wild by sexual longing for Lavinia despite Queen Amata’s plea to keep him from fighting, Turnus is “even keener now for battle”(xii.96). His lust drives him to kill Pallas and leads to his final fatal encounter with Aeneas. Both characters therefore fit their individual roles in the analogy. Furthermore, Aeneas, as mentioned earlier, kills Turnus who is nearly his brother and at least a fellow nearly-Roman. So too, Augustus defeats Antony (who later kills himself) even though the two helped establish the second triumvirate in Rome.
But even with the multi-dimensional interpretations and the connection to Augustus, Virgil could have continued his epic to another point. In addition to making the moment infinitely more important by closing the epic with it, he also keeps from having to fill in the rest of Roman history through Augustus. Virgil’s original audience would probably have recognized the illusions in the last scene to the Battle of Actium. Knowing also how Rome was entering into a sort of golden age of peace under Augustus, a similar era of greatness can be applied to Aeneas. The same logic can be worked in the opposite direction. By closing the story of the founding of Rome with a violent death committed by the father of Rome, it lends validation to the violent ascension of Augustus and places greater emphasis on it by casting it as a founding of Rome.