Aeneas’ Characteristic in Aeneid by Virgil
The epic Aeneid is the most outstanding work of the Roman poet Virgil. The poem is based on mythical accounts of the legendary ancestors of the Romans, the Trojans, and their king Aeneas. The latter, according to legends, founded a kingdom on Latin soil, which became the foundation of the Roman state. The myth of Aeneas has been known in Italy since ancient times. Images of Aeneas and his father Anchises are still found on monuments of Etruscan art. This myth became especially popular during the Punic Wars, when Rome subjugated various countries of the ancient world. The path of Aeneas, full of trials and obstacles, reflects the history of the formation of the Roman Empire. Following the gods’ will and his destiny, the hero displays the best qualities of warrior and ruler, which helped him lay the foundations of the future mighty state. The character cannot be called a man without a will. The main character of the epic is a strong individual who devotes all his energies to his mission.
The image of Aeneas is the author’s means of praising Emperor Octavian Augustus, to whom many of the poet’s works were dedicated. The story of the wanderings and wars of the Trojan hero was intended to reflect the greatness of the Roman ruler and the entire Roman Empire. The Aeneid is a poem of exclusively positive heroes, with a centralized characterization that puts forward some essential features of the image in each case. It is shown in various situations against a contrasting background of other characters. There are almost no sharply negative characters. Even Mezentius, “despiser of the gods,” is endowed with love for his son, softening the ferocity of his appearance. Virgil sought to support his hero with the most idealistic traits: courage, loyalty, and wit. His bravery and courage have no limits, and no battle can be won without him. From the beginning of the journey, Aeneas is accompanied by good fortune; however, it cannot be claimed that the hero’s successes are the help of the gods. Before the warrior sees Mercury in a dream and learns of his mission, the protagonist has already traveled a difficult path, impossible for a weak individual. Having escaped from the burning city, Aeneas is forced to sail to an unknown land, not understanding what awaits him in the future. Nevertheless, the hero bravely accepts the challenge:
I sing of warfare and a man at war:
From the sea-cost of Troy in early days
He came to Italy by destiny,
To our Lavinia western shore,
A fugitive, this captain, buffeted (Virgil, lines 1 – 5).
The character is not afraid to admit the tragedy of the past as well as all his losses and is ready to face the unknown. In approval of the hero’s courage, the gods command him to accomplish what he is destined to do: establish a city, a new homeland for his descendants.
The strength of Aeneas’ personality is evident in his relationships with the people he loves. As a devoted and loving husband, Aeneas returns to fire-stricken Troy to find his wife, Creusa. Aeneas is very good-hearted, full of pity even for his enemies. As a good son, Aeneas does not leave his infirm father in Troy but carries him out of the flames; then, he perseveres to the realm of Hades to see his father. The work also demonstrates the character’s true paternal love for his son Ascanius. The protagonist’s reciprocal love for Dido is not expressed strongly (Meban 85). There is a temporary halt in Aeneas’ journey in the love story, an apostasy that he overcomes. The hero, having explained himself to his beloved, continues his journey. However, the cost of the girl’s life, who could not survive the separation and committed suicide, leaves the hero in great pain. It is evidenced by the meeting of the beloved in the realm of the dead. After leaving Dido, the character does not forget her. He stays devoted to reminiscences of their story, revealing his moral power.
The nature of the relationship between Dido and Aeneas indicates that the two heroes are strong leaders of their people. The Carthaginian queen is also, like her lover, endowed with character traits ideal for a Roman ruler. She is adamant about her principles and loyal to her state. All the tragic events that happen to Dido do not make her a victim. She is ready to take the blows of fate, defending herself and the interests of her people. The heroine’s irreconcilability with the will of fate is her principal difference from Aeneas.
Virgil presents Aeneas and Dido as leaders of different types in the poem. The man found new lands while his beloved conquered and enslaved the people. Despite the sympathy for the heroine as a woman, the reader has tremendous admiration for her as a ruler. Gods do not assist her; she has to show initiative, cunning, and ingenuity. She makes Aeneas look like a weaker leader. He, not of his own free will, but by fate, became the founder of a new city in new lands that did not need to be enslaved. Aeneas is willing to go along with what the gods have given him, and Dido is willing to stand up for his ambitions and desires to the end. For this reason, in terms of leadership, Dido can be considered more honorable.
Aeneas’ strength of spirit is evident in his humanity toward others. The author gives him a high sense of duty to the citizens of his kingdom. The hero shows mercy and justice to those around him, and he is condescending to human weaknesses. For this reason, Virgil urges readers to be lenient to the character’s mistakes. The reader is interested in Aeneas in himself and mainly as a specific historical type of man displayed in him. The author presents a particular kind of mentality in which the “human” and the “superhuman” destiny not only do not exclude each other but also cooperate. They build the type that is most advanced in forming a strong personality of a new kind (Spence 107). Every instance of preserving humanity and its growth, even while performing “superhuman” tasks, instills confidence that society is not to be overcome or destroyed. It is the essential perspective of man, supporting his existence and guaranteeing his spiritual growth. It shows the readers that the character is not a superhuman as he makes many mistakes. Nevertheless, the courage and decency that were not lost on his way are the evidence of Aeneas’ humanistic solid nature.
Aeneas always feels a man of duty and historical mission, a bearer of responsibilities to others and posterity. Aeneas puts civic duty above all else, sacrificing personal happiness for higher interests. As a perfect collective image, Aeneas is presented as a person with ordinary human shortcomings in the poem. He is impulsive and inconsistent in his decisions. However, the warrior’s primary flaw lies in his inability to define specific goals for himself. He is aware of his dependence on fate and destiny, and he accepts his mission. Nevertheless, throughout his journey, the protagonist finds no way to answer the question of why he is experiencing all the difficulties. This flaw of the hero gives the work tragic and mythical features, demonstrating to readers the divine nature of the origin of the Roman state.
In the poem, myth is intertwined with modernity, and the protagonist’s trials are only a significant beginning of the Roman greatness prepared by fate. According to this idea, the history of the mighty empire could not be started by a weak-willed human. The character advises his son Yulus to follow his father’s example in bravery, but not in bliss. Virgil’s portrayal of Aeneas is genuinely tragic. The poet himself constantly emphasizes his righteousness and, contrary to mythology, makes him almost the first of the Trojan heroes, equal to the divine Hector. Many French Classicist critics point out that the pious Aeneas deserves no blame. The hero is impeccable throughout the poem, but at no point is he animated by passion. The coldness of his character extends throughout the work and is evident in every episode of the story.
The story of Aeneas is a complicated way of completing his mission. He is chosen and led by gods, but it does not diminish his willpower and decent moral qualities. They are revealed through the author’s attitude to the protagonist, who is presented as a symbol of an ideal Roman leader. On his path, Aeneas shows courage and perseverance, he wins all the battles, saves the lives of many people. The hero shows himself as a good warrior and leader, he is able to understand people around him, justify their mistakes and imperfections. Following gods’ will, the warrior reveals his best traits and this is the cause of his success. The readers can evidence the hero’s strength by hiding his behavior towards his family members, the citizens, and his duties.
Meban, David. “James J. O’Hara. Vergil, Aeneid Book 8. Focus Vergil Aeneid commentary.” Mouseion, vol. 17, no. 1, 2020, pp. 85–87. Crossref.
Spence, Sarah. “The Aeneid as space of poetic negotiation.” Classical World, vol. 111, no. 1, 2017, pp. 106–108. Crossref.
Virgil. The Aeneid. Translated by Sarah Ruden, Yale University Press, 2009.