The Aeneid

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,