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The Aeneid

14 Apr 2017Literature Essays

The Aeneid, an epic written by Virgil, tells the inspiring tale of the voyage of Aeneas as he searches for the land that he was ordained to build a great city upon, which would later be known as the Roman Empire. This epic story which can be argued to have changed the course of history and given birth to the rise and eventual dominance of the Roman Empire is based on many different attributes that are shown in the relationship between the city and the soul. As such, this short discourse will attempt to discuss these attributes that were essential in order “to build the eternal city and the walls that will not fall.” One of the primary goals of this paper is to show the role that Gods and Goddesses play in the epic and how they mirror mortals in the context of determining if Aeneas ultimately needs their intercession to found Rome.

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In understanding this theme and how it plays out in the epic, it is first important to discuss the different characters of the story and how their interplay reinforces this theme. Aeneas, the offspring of the goddess of love and beauty, Venus, was a mortal. Sired by Anchises, a half human and half deity, Aeneas was meant to endure the destruction and siege of Troy in order to set the building blocks in Italy for the glory of the Roman Empire. This lineage is what shapes the destiny of Aeneas as the founder of the Roman Empire; possessing the traits of heroism and bravery that allowed him to succeed where no other mortal could. The strength of Aeneas’ personal character is crucial to the development of the theme because it makes him worthy to be the founder of a new city and as such is probably the reason why he was destined by fate to build the Roman Empire.

As a leader among the Trojans, Aeneas was greatly influenced by the prophecies. As shown in the epic, he would always take into account these prophecies, making effort to include his own fate with his deeds. He does all of these even though there are times when personal emotional urges go in contrast with his destiny and duty. His acceptance of his own destiny with grace in spite of the fact that sometimes his destiny is the cause of his own pain and suffering mirrors the character of man destined to build an eternal city with walls that will not fall. This shows how the destiny that he was meant for was not so much determined by the influence of the Gods but by prophecy.

A man of determination and great leadership, Aeneas is also depicted in this epic tale as a compassionate man who always shows concern for the suffering and pain of those around him. He was not only shown as a man of compassion and strength but also had the charisma that could liven up his tired and bone weary men. This weakness and human character in the face of his godly lineage shows the minute influence that Gods have on him and deeply emphasizes how mortal these deities seem to be.

Roman gods and goddesses are not perfect in that they are capable of injustice and other vile deeds thus there is no way to assume that a mere human no matter how honorable and noble he is would be perfect. This is also the same case with Aeneas. There are also those times when Aeneas is not so concentrated on his goal and fate and this is very much evident during his affair with the queen of Carthage, Dido. Aeneas passion towards the fulfillment of his duty returns only after Jupiter reminds him of his responsibility towards his son Ascanius, to whom the protagonist is very much dedicated. However, in spite of this particular weakness Aeneas is still a very honorable, just, compassionate and great leader – qualities needed in building a great city. This fact is evident in that even before Virgil’s treatment of the Trojan War; Aeneas was already viewed as a man of eminent goodness and piousness.

In order to fulfill the prophecy and be the man who would “build the eternal city and the walls that will not fall” Aeneas needed to be more than just the son of a Goddess. He needed to be a great man in himself and as was previously mentioned, this was firmly established in the epic. Given this, the strong character of Aeneas made him a worthy founder of one of the greatest cities in all history.

Perhaps one of the more important events that show the character and the qualities needed to build the great city is shown during the visit of Aeneas to his father. While visiting his father in the underworld, Aeneas receives from Anchises a tableau of the happenings which would result in Rome’s summit. It was during this time that Aeneas realized his historical responsibility clearly as well as realizing the importance of fulfilling that prophecy immediately. The scenarios portrayed on the shield completed by Vulcan also helped in focusing Aeneas’ attitudes and motivated his deeds in his quest for his destiny and his role as a founder. This image sets in motion the events that would eventually lead up to the creation of Rome.

Aeneas good qualities qualify him as a good leader as well as a worthy founder of a great city. Aeneas’ efforts to ensure that Rome would be built in all its glory is highly evident all throughout the epic. The events that take place in Book V, when the Trojans leave Carthage (Aeneas left Dido) for Italy and in Book VI wherein Aeneas visits his father in the world of the departed, all points out the maturity of Aeneas and how he grew to be thus making him a better leader and founder of a city.

Another example would be in Book V, when Aeneas shows great mercy, understanding and compassion for the sufferings of other people by giving permission to the injured unwilling men to be left behind. This clearly shows that Aeneas is not a selfish man and that he possesses a great deal of intelligence. He may have realized the folly of bringing along men who refuse to accompany him as well as men who are crippled but he also realizes that bringing them along would only hinder their journey and may result to the failure of his cause. This maturity is also evident during his visit to the underworld and seeing the circumstances the unburied dead have to endure with during which Aeneas then on makes sure that enemies and allies alike would have a proper burial.

Founding a new city is one of the primary motifs of the Aeneid on which the task to build a new city, that of Rome, is a fixation for Aeneas and his fellow Trojans. In Book II Aeneas told Dido the things which transpired which resulted to the annihilation of Troy and the defeat of the Trojans. Dido who had experienced the very same thing and is in the process of building her own Carthage felt greatly and sympathized with Aeneas. In Book III it is seen that the numerous endeavors made by the Trojans in order to lay the foundation for their city, all of which did not succeed and was hindered by ill omens or plague. Aeneas could be seen making use of the images of the city they would build in order to hearten and raise his people’s spirit. Through this, one can see that the walls, the foundations, or towers of a city all symbolizes for order and civilization and this in turn would be the cure for the doubt, ambiguities, illogicalities, and disorders which resulted from their long journey away from home. This shows that the intervention of these Gods was not totally necessary as there was a higher force that dictated even the actions of the Gods and this was prophecy.

The glory of the Roman Empire exists today not only in epics such as the Aeneid but it is also reflected in the mighty buildings that adorn Italy. The beauty of the Aeneid lies in how it bridged the mythical with reality and eventually led to the pinnacle of the Roman Empire for centuries to come. Yet it is the strength in character of Aeneas that makes everything possible. The glory of the Roman Empire was based on the qualities and characteristics of Aeneas and how he proved to be adequate as the one “to build the eternal city and the walls that will not fall”.

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