Thesis: Despite his accomplishments and the glory associated with his life, Aeneas only achieves the status of hero through divine intervention, and this god-given position causes him just as much grief as it does splendor.
What is a hero? We would like to think that a hero is someone who has achieved some fantastic goal or status, or maybe someone who has accomplished a great task. Heroes find themselves in situations of great pressure and act with nobility and grace. Though the main character of Virgils Aeneid, Aeneas, is such a person, it is not by his own doing. He encounters situations in which death is near, in which love, hate, peace, and war come together to cause both good and evil. In these positions he conducts himself with honor, by going along with what the gods want. Only then goes on to pave the way for the Roman Empire. His deeds, actions, and leadership would never have come to be if it were not for the gods. The gods took special interest in Aeneas, causing him misfortune in some cases, giving him assistance in others. On the whole, the gods constantly provide perfect opportunities for Aeneas to display his heroism. Without them, Aeneas would not be the hero he is. This gift does not come without a price, though; he must endure the things heroes endure to become what they are. Despite his accomplishments and the glory associated with his life, Aeneas only achieves the status of hero through divine intervention, and this god-given position causes him just as much grief as it does splendor.
Aeneas is the son of Venus. This fact alone brings about much of the hero in him. Venus, a concerned mother, always looks out for her son. She does everything she thinks will help to ensure his safety and success. At the beginning of his journey from Troy, she prevents his death at sea. Juno has persuaded King Aeolus to cause vicious storms, rocking Aeneas fleet and nearly killing all of them. Venus then goes to Jupiter and begs him to help Aeneas:
Venus appealed to him, all pale and wan,
With tears in her shining eyes:
"My lord who rule
The lives of men and gods now and forever,
And bring them all to heel with your bright bolt,
What in the world could my Aeneas do,
What could the Trojans do, to so offend you?
Jupiter then assures Venus that he will keep his promise to allow Aeneas to live on to set the stage for the coming of the Romans. In this case, without Venus watchful eye and concern, Aeneas would have no kind of protection or security as he made his way to Italy.
Another instance in which Venus uses her influence to assist Aeneas is during the fifth book. When Aeneas and the Trojans leave Sicily, Venus fears that Juno will attempt to kill Aeneas again, and so asks Neptune for safe passage over the ocean:
Beset with worries, Venus turned to Neptune,
Unfolding from her heart complaints and pleas:
"Junos anger, and her implacable heart,
Drive me to prayers beneath my dignity.
But as to what comes next, I beg you, let them
Safely entrust their sailing ships to you"
Once again, Aeneas would have to deal with the wrath of Juno on his own, if it were not for the divine influence of his mother.
In book eight of the Aeneid, with war between the Trojans and the Italians imminent, Venus once again fears for the safety of her son. To ensure the well-being of Aeneas, she cajoles her husband, Vulcan into making a suit of armor for Aeneas:
"Most dear husband,
I never wished to tax you, make you toil
In a lost cause, however much I owed
To Priams sons, however long I wept
Over Aeneas ordeals. Now, however,
I do come, begging your sacred power
For arms, a mother begging for her son."
Venus is willing to put on this facade of extreme passion for her husband in order to help Aeneas. She goes to lengths that many mothers would not. This is not quite enough, though; average mothers concern alone does not make Aeneas a hero. A divine mothers concern makes him a hero. Without her willingness for personal sacrifice, Aeneas would never survive through the Aeneid.
Occasionally, as is the case with most mothers, Venus judgment of what is best for Aeneas contradicts what fate and the other gods have in store for him. During the Trojans time at Carthage, Juno and Venus both agree that a union between Dido and Aeneas is in order. They use the attraction that Aeneas and Dido already have for each other and use it to cause them to fall in love. The intensity of this love is enough to cause Dido to break her vow of fidelity to her dead husband and she neglects her responsibilities to the development of the city. Jupiter disapproves of this union, and sends Mercury to remind Aeneas of his responsibility to Rome:
Approach the Dardan captain where he tarries
Rapt in Tyrian Carthage, losing sight
Of future towns the fates ordain. Correct him,
Carry my speech to him on the running winds:
What has he in mind? What hope, to make him stay
Amid a hostile race, and lose from view
Ausonian progeny, Lavinian lands?
The man should sail: that is the whole point.
Aeneas is in love with Dido and would gladly stay with her, building up Carthage, but the gods know that there is more important business to which he must tend. Jupiter has to intervene to get Aeneas to do what his destiny dictates him to do in the first place. He would not have done his duty as a hero.
Naturally, Aeneas own mother would don the role of his protector, but not all the gods deemed his plight worth of support. Juno, specifically, did nearly all she could to hinder him. From the start of his journey, Juno makes things difficult for Aeneas; as is previously mentioned, Juno has Aeolus nearly sink all of the Trojans ships. The survival of the storm and the leading of his followers to safety are good examples of Aeneas heroism, but he would not even have had this opportunity to be a hero without Juno. In addition, if it was not for Neptunes help, he would not have survived the incident.
In book seven, Juno realizes that she cannot change the fate of Aeneas and the Trojans, but is still so bitter that she decides to make things as difficult as possible for them. She summons Allecto to incite hatred and hostility within the residents of Italy, resulting in a desire for war against the Trojans.
Here is a service all your own
That you can do for me, Daughter of Night,
Here is a way to help me, to make sure
My status and renown will not give way
Or be impaired, and that Aeneas people
Cannot by marriage win Latinus over,
Break up this peace-pact, scatter acts of war,
All in a flash let men desire, demand,
And take up arms.
Allecto arouses Queen Amatas animosity toward Aeneas. She also spurs Turnus to believe that Aeneas is the enemy, and to fuel the flame that is Turnus jealousy toward Aeneas. Allectos work is successful; it helps give rise to the war between the Italians and the Trojans. Juno also directly helps the war happen when she personally descends from the heavens and bursts open the doors of the temple of Janus:
At this dropped from the sky. She gave a push
To stubborn-yielding doors, then burst the iron-bound
Gates of war apart on turning hinges.
All Ausonian lands as yet unroused,
Unawakened, now took fire.
The Italians look at this as a good sign and many people rally for the war. Juno has almost turned all of Italy against Aeneas, and single-handedly starts the war against the Trojans. This war, and the fact that the Trojans prevail is a large part of what makes Aeneas a hero. Despite the fact that she was not trying to help him become a hero, Juno does help him achieve this status by starting the war and giving him this opportunity to use the help of the other gods to come out and shine.
Aeneas accomplishes much and earns immense glory throughout the Aeneid. Nevertheless, this achievement of hero status relies on the assistance of the gods, and this assistance does not necessarily come in a positive form. Juno causes storms, hate, and war, either to stop Aeneas or at least make things more difficult for him. Venus, the divine mother, does everything she can to counteract the obstacles that Juno makes. Other gods and supernatural beings all play a part in affecting Aeneas life. Without all this divine intervention, Aeneas would have been an uninteresting, average Joe.