The Aeneid, by Virgil
The Aeneid, by Virgil, is an epic that attempts to define and
illustrate the founding of the Roman Empire. As the story progresses,
Virgil uses two strong 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 within ones' self. Some characters within the epic,
just as in life, are consumed by their own fury; a trait which Virgil
portrays as negative. Aeneas, the hero and main character, on the other
hand, is a man who is first 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 kills out of vengeance. Virgil's goal in writing
the Aeneid seems to be to present Aeneas as a pious individual at first,
and thus giving Rome a glorious founding. By closing the novel with an act
of rage, however, Virgil portrays Aeneas as a ruthless killer. This is
contrary to the portrait Virgil painted of Aeneas earlier, in which he is
presented as someone who is the model of pietas.
A Roman must show piety, or duty and goodness towards his family, his
country, and above all, to the Gods. When in Carthage, Aeneas falls in
love with Queen Dido, and plans to remain there for an indefinite amount of
time; however, he is quickly reminded of the task at hand. Are you
forgetful of what is your own kingdom, your own fate? Remember Ascanius
growing up, the hopes you hold for Iulus, your own heir, to whom are owed
the realm of Italy and land of Rome. (Book IV: 353-369) Mercury, the
messenger god, scolds Aeneas for remaining in Carthage and not staying his
course. Mercury reminds him that he must remember his duty and fate, and
tells him to leave for Italy immediately. 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" because he cares for her, "pious Aeneas carries out the gods'
instructions". (Book IV: 544-545) In this case, Aeneas shows pietas, with
his love for the Gods and by putting aside his own heart to comply with
their will. Consequently, Aeneas gives up Dido and instead chooses to
continue a search for the future site of 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. As the story progresses, Aeneas is even 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 them.
In this case, Virgil is attempting to make a distinction between Aeneas and
the other characters of the Aeneid. His main point seems to be while
others may indulge their anger; Aeneas has control over his own emotions.
Aeneas's piety is also shown in other situations. In the bloody war
against the Latin's, Aeneas kills many of Turnus' men in the course of the
battle in self-defense; 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-" (Book X: 1132-1136). Instead of taking Lausus' 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 by
not "finishing him" and leaving him to the will of the Gods. 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.
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." (Book I: 35-43) Juno is extremely upset because Paris
denied her the golden apple. For this reason, she harbors bitterness
against the people, and plans to make their journey to Italy long and
arduous. 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" (Book I: 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. Even when Juno realizes that she cannot defeat
them, 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" (Book VII:
415-421). Juno continues to be persistent and plans to create a conflict
between the Trojans and the Latins in which Latin blood must be shed.
Juno, being a vengeful character from the start, reaches the height of her
anger in this passage, and she challenges even their fate.
For much of the story, Virgil represents Aeneas as a pious being, one
who does not indulge in his own rage. As the epic nears its end however,
even Aeneas succumbs to his own impious furor. In the battle with the
Latin's, Aeneas does not heed the humane 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" (Book X: 820-826).
Liger, a Latin warrior, begs Aeneas not to kill him. As a noble
individual, Aeneas should comply and set the man free; however, he chooses
to indulge his rage, and sinks his sword into "Liger's breast." Aeneas's
apparent loss of piety is seen even more clearly in the final act of the
book, when he faces a defenseless 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." Aeneas, aflame with rage cried, "How can
you who wear the spoils of my dear comrade now escape me? Relentless he
sinks his sword into the chest of Turnus. (Book XII: 1249-1269) Turnus,
knowing he is beaten, asks that Aeneas spare his life. Aeneas, being full
of rage at the death of his comrade, Pallus, chooses vengeance and kills
Turnus in an act of cold blood. This is not the same Aeneas that Virgil
presented in the earlier portions of the Aeneid. Also, 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.
This 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. Aeneas's final
act however, indicates a man consumed by his own impious furor. Because
Virgil does not provide 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; leaving the
ending of the Aeneid unresolved.