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Aeneid By Virgil
Aeneid By Virgil
The Aeneid, by Virgil, is an epic that attempts to give the Roman Empire an illustrious founding. As the story progresses, Virgil presents two very real human emotions: pietas, and impious furor. Pietas is duty towards the Gods, country, and family. Impious furor, in contrast, is the feeling of fury and passion. These two emotions are consistently at odds with each other. Many characters within the epic, such as Juno, are consumed by their own fury, a trait which Virgil sheds negative light on. Aeneas, the hero and central character, on the other hand, is a man who is presented as pious and dutiful. He obeys the Gods and journeys to Rome. However, at the end of the novel, Aeneas himself is overtaken by rage, and he kills out of vengeance. Virgil’s goal in writing the Aeneid is to present Aeneas as a pious individual, and thus giving Rome a glorious founding. By closing the novel with an act of rage, however, Virgil portrays Aeneas as a ruthless killer. The ending is inappropriate because it casts doubt on the very reason for which Virgil wrote the Aeneid.
Aeneas is presented as someone who is the model of pietas. A Roman must show piety towards his family, his country, and above all, piety to the Gods. When Aeneas visits Carthage, he falls in love with Queen Dido, and plans to remain there for an indefinite amount of time. However, he is quickly reminded of the more important task at hand.
Are you forgetful
Of what is your own kingdom, your own fate?
Ascanius growing up, the hopes you hold
For Iulus, your own heir, to whom are owed
The realm of Italy and land of Rome. (Aeneid, 4:353-369)
Mercury, the messenger god, is scolding Aeneas for remaining in Carthage. Mercury reminds him that he must remember his “fate,” and that he should leave for Italy immediately. He also reminds Aeneas of his son Ascanius, and that he should leave for Latium so that his son can eventually rule over the “realm of Italy.” Aeneas now must make a decision, does he stay with Dido, the woman he loves, or does he continue his journey to found Rome? Even though Aeneas “longs to soften, soothe [Dido’s] sorrow” (Aeneid, 4:540) because he cares for her, “pious Aeneas carries out the gods’/instructions” (Aeneid, 4:544-545). Pietas is love for Gods and putting aside your own heart to comply with the will of Gods. Therefore, Aeneas gives up Dido and instead chooses Rome and its glorious future. He is being dutiful by following the words of Mercury, who in turn represents Jove, God of Olympus. Virgil clearly intends this to be seen as a commendable trait. In addition, Aeneas is explicitly referred to as “pious” within the text. This description of Aeneas is appropriate, because by choosing the Gods over Dido, he has now become worthy of the term piety. Virgil is attempting to make a distinction between Aeneas and the other characters of the Aeneid. While other’s may indulge their anger, Aeneas has control over his emotions.
One different point of view that can be presented against Aeneas’s piety is his killing in the war against the Latins. Aeneas kills many of Turnus’ men in the course of the battle. However, Aeneas, in his battle with Lausus, feels compassion for the man he has beaten. “Poor boy, for such an act what can the pious/ Aeneas give to match so bright a nature?/ Keep as your own the arms that made you glad;/ and to the shades and ashes of your parents I give you back-” (Aeneid, 10:1132-1136). Aeneas has mortally wounded the man, but he still shows compassion towards him. Instead of taking Lausus’s weapons, Aeneas allows him to keep them, and he gives the man his blessing. For this reason, Aeneas displays piety, even when he takes the life of a man.
In contrast to pious Aeneas, Juno, Goddess of marriage, is someone who is overtaken by her own anger. She does not want the Trojans to reach the site of Rome, and her dislike of them is recounted early in the epic.
And Saturn’s daughter-
remembering the old war…
the causes of her bitterness, her sharp
and savage hurt,…
for deep within her mind lie stored the judgment
of Paris and the wrong done to her scorned
beauty, the breed she hated. (Aeneid, 1:35-43)
This description illustrates to what extent Juno loathes the Trojans. Juno is extremely upset because Paris denied her the golden apple. For this reason, she harbors “bitterness” against the people, and she plans to make their journey to Italy long and arduous. Virgil also uses strong words, such as “hate” and “savage,” to describe Juno’s anger towards the Trojans. Her rage only continues to grow, and Juno asks Aeolus, god of winds, to destroy the entire Trojan fleet in one great storm. “You Aeolus-/…Hammer your winds to fury/ and ruin their swamped ships, or scatter them/ and fling their crews piecemeal across the seas” (Aeneid, 1:95-103). Juno’s anger is so great that she wants Aeneas and his men, the only surviving Trojans, to be annihilated. She plans to destroy the entire Dardan race. Despite her attempts, the Trojans survive the attack and continue their journey. Finally, even when Juno realizes that she cannot win, she still attempts to deny the Trojans of their fate. “I cannot keep him from the Latin kingdoms:/ so be it, let Lavinia be his wife,/as fates have fixed. Virgin,/ your dowry will be Latin blood” (Aeneid, 7:415-421). Juno is openly admitting that the fates are going to give Latium to Aeneas. Nevertheless, she is still persistent and plans to create a conflict between the Trojans and the Latins in which “Latin blood” must be shed. Juno has been a vengeful character from the start, but in this passage she reaches the height of her anger, and she challenges even the fates. Thus, Juno’s actions represent the climax of impious furor.
For much of the story, Virgil presents Aeneas as a pious being, one who does not indulge in his own rage. However, as the epic nears its end, even Aeneas succumbs to his own impious furor. In the battle with the Latin’s, Aeneas does not heed the pleas of his enemy. “O Trojan hero,/…spare me my life;with pity hear/my prayer…Aeneas cut/him off…/Then with his sword, he opened Liger’s breast” (Aeneid, 10:820-826). Liger, a Latin warrior, begs Aeneas not to kill him. He asks Aeneas to “pity” him and “spare” his life. As a noble individual, Aeneas should comply and set the man free. However, he chooses to indulge his rage, and thus he sinks his sword into “Liger’s breast.” This sudden change in Aeneas is seen even more clearly in the final act of the book, when he faces a pitiful Turnus.
For you have won, and the Ausonians
Have seen me, beaten, stretch my hands; Lavinia
Is yours; then do not press your hatred further.
Aflame with rage-his wrath was terrible-
Cried:”How can you who wear the spoils of my dear comrade now escape me?
He sinks his sword into the chest of Turnus. (Aeneid, 12:1249-1269)
Turnus, a great warrior and himself the leader of a kingdom, begs Aeneas to spare him. Turnus knows he is “beaten,” and he asks that Aeneas turn aside his “hatred.” Aeneas, however, is full of “rage” at the death of his comrade, Pallus, and chooses to enact vengeance. Thus, he kills Turnus in an act of cold blood. This is not the same Aeneas that Virgil presents in the earlier portions of the Aeneid. In addition, he is not showing piety towards the Gods by killing Turnus and eliminating his enemy. Turnus admits defeat, and is begging for forgiveness. However, rather than honoring the Gods and showing nobility in sparing Turnus, Aeneas indulges in his own fury.
The change in Aeneas presents a dilemma at the end of this epic. Virgil intended the Aeneid to be a justification of Rome’s greatness. He wanted to detail Rome’s history and give it an illustrious founding. Initially, Aeneas is presented as a pious individual, and because of this he is someone who is worthy of founding the Roman Empire. However, Aeneas’s final act indicates a man consumed by his own impious furor, and rather than providing a noble conclusion to the epic, it suggests that Rome was founded by an enraged man. For this reason, Virgil’s intended message and his apparent message are at odds with one another. Thus, the ending of the Aeneid is left unresolved.
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