Aeneas as Fated Hero


Essay # 3


Virgil’s The Aeneid is a story of true heroism in the face of war. A hero often proves himself through war. Many of the characters in the Aeneid throw themselves into warfare enthusiastically for the glory and honor of their names. Aeneas, however, has a sense of responsibility toward his people and their destiny rather than a wish for his name to be honored after his death, which makes him more of a modern epic hero, unlike the earlier Greek heroes such as Homers Odysseus. The duty-bound Aeneas is determined to follow his fate wherever it leads even if he must suffer unbearable losses and receive no reward or glory on Earth. His ability to accept his destined path despite his unhappiness in doing so is the defining attribute of Aeneas’s heroism.


Aeneas was destined, even before his own birth, to lay the foundations in Italy for the glory of the Roman Empire. The direction and destination of Aeneas’s journey are predetermined, and his various sufferings and glories in battle and at sea over the course of the story merely postpone this unchangeable destiny. As the son of Venus, the goddess of beauty and love, he enjoys a special divine protection which, at certain points throughout his voyage, helps guide him to his destiny. Although Aeneas is fortunate enough to have a goddess as a mother, even the workings of the gods cannot tamper with fate. There are some instances on this voyage in which a few of the gods try to interfere with Aeneass life in order to advance their own personal interests. However, none of these gods attempts to manipulate Aeneas has any


effect on the overall outcome of events. For example, in Book IV Juno plans a marriage between Dido and Aeneas in hopes that Carthage will prosper from the union. Juno exclaims, Dido consumed with passion to her core. Why not then, rule this people side by side with equal authority? ...Now Venus knew this talk was all pretence, all to divert the future power from Italy to Libya. (99) Even though Junos plot for the union of Aeneas and Dido was successfully carried out, and Aeneas bore a deep love for Dido, he would not steer away from his destiny. As soon as Mercury came to him to remind him to leave Dido, he did so, ignoring his hearts strongest desires knowing that Dido would suffer greatly.


While other powerful characters in the epic (especially those opposed to Aeneas’s founding of Rome in Italy) try to fight against fate, Aeneas stays true to his calling. Turnus and Juno both resist destiny every step of the way until the very end in Book XII in which they finally accept their inability to control destiny, allowing fate to triumph. Even Dido denies fate when she attempts to lure Aeneas into staying and building his city in her homeland. Aeneas is stronger than these figures because he is so pius and bound by his duty to Troy and to the wishes of fate.


Another aspect of Aeneas’s graceful heroism is his compassion for the sufferings of others, even as he is determined to always put his duty first. He constantly delivers encouraging speeches to his fellow Trojans during times of great suffering in order to keep their spirits high. Also, in Book V, Aeneas shows sympathy for the weak as he allows the crippled and unwilling to stay behind. He also is compassionate towards the souls of the underworld when he visits his father, Anchises in Book VI. He has feels especially for the unburied dead, whose sufferings he witnesses. He carries this compassion with him throughout his battles, and later tries to make


sure that all the dead are buried properly, including enemies.


Aeneas places a particularly high value on family. This is certainly evident near the end of Book II as he is journeying back home. Aeneas carries his frail father upon his back, and takes his sons hand to guide them. When Creusus, his wife, falls behind, he goes back in an attempt to look for her. He values his divine mother equally. He respects her greatly, and obeys every word of her advise. Aeneas’s love for his family both aids him