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The Aeneid

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The Aeneid is a famous epic poem written by Virgil. The original was written in Latin, but there are many translations. It is considered by many to be a "classic". Reading The Aeneid was once considered a necessary component of a good education in some "Western" cultures.

Note: In general this wiki is about symbolism, not for summaries of characters, plot or literature reviews. Those belong on the Literature wikia. However, since this work influenced many others and references to the characters in those other works may be symbolic, this other content will remain here for now.

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CharactersEdit

  • Aeneas - The protagonist of the Aeneid. Aeneas is a survivor of the siege of Troy, a city on the coast of Asia Minor. His defining characteristic is piety, a respect for the will of the gods. He is a fearsome warrior and a leader able to motivate his men in the face of adversity, but also a man capable of great compassion and sorrow. His destiny is to found the Roman race in Italy and he subordinates all other concerns to this mission. The Aeneid is about his journey from Troy to Italy, which enables him to fulfill his fate.
  • Dido - The queena of Carthage, a city in northern Africa, in what is now Libya, and lover of Aeneas. Dido left the land of Tyre when her husband was murdered by Pygmalion, her brother. She and her city are strong, but she becomes an unfortunate of the gods in their struggle for Aeneas's destiny. Her love for Aeneas, provoked by Venus, proves to be her downfall. After he abandons her, she constructs a funeral pyre and stabs herself upon it with Aeneas's sword.
  • Turnus - The ruler of the Rutulians in Italy. Turnus is Aeneas's major antagonist among mortals. He is Lavinia's leading suitor until Aeneas arrives. This rivalry incites him to wage war against the Trojans, despite Latinus's willingness to allow the Trojans to settle in Latium and Turnus's understanding that he cannot successfully defy fate. He is brash and fearless, a capable soldier who values his honor over his life.
  • Ascanius - Aeneas's young son by his first wife, Creusa. Ascanius (also called Iulus) is most important as a symbol of Aeneas's destiny—his future founding of the Roman race. Though still a child, Ascanius has several opportunities over the course of the epic to display his bravery and leadership. He leads a procession of boys on horseback during the games of Book V and he helps to defend the Trojan camp from Turnus's attack while his father is away.
  • Anchises - Aeneas's father, and a symbol of Aeneas's Trojan heritage. Although Anchises dies during the journey from Troy to Italy, he continues in spirit to help his son fulfill fate's decrees, especially by guiding Aeneas through the underworld and showing him what fate has in store for his descendants.
  • Creusa - Aeneas's wife at Troy, and the mother of Ascanius. Creusa is lost and killed as her family attempts to flee the city, but tells Aeneas he will find a new wife at his new home.
  • Sinon - The Greek youth who pretends to have been left behind at the end of the Trojan War. Sinon persuades the Trojans to take in the wooden horse as an offering to Minerva, then lets out the warriors trapped inside the horse's belly.
  • Latinus - The king of the Latins, the people of what is now central Italy, around the Tiber River. Latinus allows Aeneas into his kingdom and encourages him to become a suitor of Lavinia, his daughter, causing resentment and eventually war among his subjects. He respects the gods and fate, but does not hold strict command over his people.
  • Lavinia - Latinus's daughter and a symbol of Latium in general. Lavinia's character is not developed in the poem; she is important only as the object of the Trojan-Latin struggle. The question of who will marry Lavinia—Turnus or Aeneas—becomes key to future relations between the Latins and the Trojans and therefore the Aeneid's entire historical scheme.
  • Amata - Queen of Laurentum (a region of Latium, in Italy) and wife of Latinus. Amata opposes the marriage of Lavinia, her daughter, to Aeneas and remains loyal throughout to Turnus, Lavinia's original suitor. Amata kills herself once it is clear that Aeneas is destined to win.
  • Evander - King of Pallanteum (a region of Arcadia, in Italy) and father of Pallas. Evander is a sworn enemy of the Latins, and Aeneas befriends him and secures his assistance in the battles against Turnus.
  • Pallas - Son of Evander, whom Evander entrusts to Aeneas's care and tutelage. Pallas eventually dies in battle at the hands of Turnus, causing Aeneas and Evander great grief. To avenge Pallas's death, Aeneas finally slays Turnus, dismissing an initial impulse to spare him.
  • Drancës - A Latin leader who desires an end to the Trojan-Latin struggle. Drancës questions the validity of Turnus's motives at the council of the Latins, infuriating Turnus.
  • Camilla - The leader of the Volscians, a race of warrior maidens. Camilla is perhaps the only strong mortal female character in the epic.
  • Juturna - Turnus's sister. Juno provokes Juturna into inducing a full-scale battle between the Latins and the Trojans by disguising herself as an officer and goading the Latins after a treaty has already been reached.
  • Achates - A Trojan and a personal friend of Aeneas.
  • Juno - The queen of the gods, the wife and sister of Jupiter, and the daughter of Saturn. Juno (Hera in Greek mythology) hates the Trojans because of the Trojan Paris's judgment against her in a beauty contest. She is also a patron of Carthage and knows that Aeneas's Roman descendants are destined to destroy Carthage. She takes out her anger on Aeneas throughout the epic, and in her wrath acts as his primary divine antagonist.
  • Venus - The goddess of love and the mother of Aeneas. Venus (Aphrodite in Greek mythology) is a benefactor of the Trojans. She helps her son whenever Juno tries to hurt him, causing conflict among the gods. She is also referred to as Cytherea, after Cythera, the island where she was born and where her shrine is located.
  • Jupiter - The king of the gods, and the son of Saturn. While the gods often struggle against one another in battles of will, Jupiter's will reigns supreme and becomes identified with the more impersonal force of fate. Therefore, Jupiter (also known as Jove, and called Zeus in Greek mythology) directs the general progress of Aeneas's destiny, ensuring that Aeneas is never permanently thrown off his course toward Italy. Jupiter's demeanor is controlled and levelheaded compared to the volatility of Juno and Venus.
  • Neptune - God of the sea, and generally an ally of Venus and Aeneas. Neptune (Poseidon in Greek mythology) calms the storm that opens the epic and conducts Aeneas safely on the last leg of his voyage.
  • Mercury - The messenger god. The other gods often send Mercury (Hermes in Greek mythology) on errands to Aeneas.
  • Aeolus - The god of the winds, enlisted to aid Juno in creating bad weather for the Trojans in Book I.
  • Cupid - A son of Venus and the god of erotic desire. In Book I, Cupid (Eros in Greek mythology) disguises himself as Ascanius, Aeneas's son, and causes Dido to fall in love with Aeneas.
  • Allecto - One of the Furies, or deities who avenge sins, sent by Juno in Book IV to incite the Latin people to war against the Trojans.
  • Vulcan - God of fire and the forge, and husband of Venus. Venus urges Vulcan (Hephaestus in Greek mythology) to craft a superior set of arms for Aeneas, and the gift serves Aeneas well in his battle with Turnus.
  • Tiberinus - The river god associated with the Tiber River, where Rome will eventually be built. At Tiberinus's suggestion, Aeneas travels upriver to make allies of the Arcadians.
  • Saturn - The father of the gods. Saturn (Chronos in Greek mythology) was king of Olympus until his son Jupiter overthrew him.
  • Minerva - The goddess who protects the Greeks during the Trojan War and helps them conquer Troy. Like Juno, Minerva (Pallas Athena in Greek mythology) is motivated against the Trojans by the Trojan Paris's judgment that Venus was the most beautiful among goddesses.
  • Apollo - A son of Jupiter and god of the sun. Apollo was born at Delos and helps the Trojans in their voyage when they stop there. Because he is often portrayed as an archer, many characters invoke his name before they fire a shaft in battle.
  • Ulysses - The hero of Homer's Odyssey, and one of the captains of the Greek army that takes Troy. Ulysses (Odysseus in Greek lore), like Aeneas, must make a long and treacherous voyage before he finds home again, and references to his whereabouts in the Aeneid help situate Aeneas's wanderings in relation to Ulysses'.
  • Achilles - The greatest of the Greek warriors. Achilles slew the Trojan hero Hector during the war and is the tragic hero of the Iliad.
  • Hector - The greatest of the Trojan warriors, killed at Troy. Hector is in some ways a parallel figure to Turnus, who also defends his native city to the death.
  • Andromachë - Hector's wife, who survives the siege of Troy. Andromachë meets Aeneas in his wanderings, tells him her story, and advises his course to Italy.
  • Paris - A Trojan prince, son of Priam and Hecuba, and brother of Hector. The handsomest of men, Paris is asked to judge which goddess is most beautiful: Venus, Juno, or Minerva. Venus promises him Helen as his wife in exchange for his judgment, so Paris selects Venus. This selection inspires the permanent wrath of Juno against the Trojans. Stealing Helen from her Greek husband, Menelaus, Paris provokes the Trojan War.
  • Helen - The most beautiful of mortal women and wife of Menelaus. Helen's abduction to Troy by Paris sparks the Trojan War.
  • Menelaus - A Greek king who wed Helen and made a pact with her other suitors to fight anyone who tried to steal her. When Paris took Helen, the pact was invoked and the Trojan War began.
  • Agamemnon - The leader of the Greek army at Troy, and the king of Argos, a city in Greece. Upon his return from the war, Agamemnon is killed by his adulterous wife, Clytemnestra.
  • Priam - The king of Troy. Priam is slain before Aeneas's eyes during the Greeks' sacking of Troy.
  • Pyrrhus - The son of Achilles. Pyrrhus, also called Neoptolemus, appears in Aeneas's account of the siege of Troy as the brutal murderer of Priam and Priam's sons.

PlotEdit

On the Mediterranean Sea, Aeneas and his fellow Trojans flee from their home city of Troy, which has been destroyed by the Greeks. They sail for Italy, where Aeneas is destined to found Rome. As they near their destination, a fierce storm throws them off course and lands them in Carthage. Dido, Carthage's founder and queen, welcomes them. Aeneas relates to Dido the long and painful story of his group's travels thus far.

Aeneas tells of the sack of Troy that ended the Trojan War after ten years of Greek siege. In the final campaign, the Trojans were tricked when they accepted into their city walls a wooden horse that, unbeknownst to them, harbored several Greek soldiers in its hollow belly. He tells how he escaped the burning city with his father, Anchises, his son, Ascanius, and the hearth gods that represent their fallen city. Assured by the gods that a glorious future awaited him in Italy, he set sail with a fleet containing the surviving citizens of Troy. Aeneas relates the ordeals they faced on their journey. Twice they attempted to build a new city, only to be driven away by bad omens and plagues. Harpies, creatures that are part woman and part bird, cursed them, but they also encountered friendly countrymen unexpectedly. Finally, after the loss of Anchises and a bout of terrible weather, they made their way to Carthage.

Impressed by Aeneas's exploits and sympathetic to his suffering, Dido, a Phoenician princess who fled her home and founded Carthage after her brother murdered her husband, falls in love with Aeneas. They live together as lovers for a period, until the gods remind Aeneas of his duty to found a new city. He determines to set sail once again. Dido is devastated by his departure, and kills herself by ordering a huge pyre to be built with Aeneas's castaway possessions, climbing upon it, and stabbing herself with the sword Aeneas leaves behind.

As the Trojans make for Italy, bad weather blows them to Sicily, where they hold funeral games for the dead Anchises. The women, tired of the voyage, begin to burn the ships, but a downpour puts the fires out. Some of the travel-weary stay behind, while Aeneas, reinvigorated after his father visits him in a dream, takes the rest on toward Italy. Once there, Aeneas descends into the underworld, guided by the Sibyl of Cumae, to visit his father. He is shown a pageant of the future history and heroes of Rome, which helps him to understand the importance of his mission. Aeneas returns from the underworld, and the Trojans continue up the coast to the region of Latium.

The arrival of the Trojans in Italy begins peacefully. King Latinus, the Italian ruler, extends his hospitality, hoping that Aeneas will prove to be the foreigner whom, according to a prophecy, his daughter Lavinia is supposed to marry. But Latinus's wife, Amata, has other ideas. She means for Lavinia to marry Turnus, a local suitor. Amata and Turnus cultivate enmity toward the newly arrived Trojans. Meanwhile, Ascanius hunts a stag that was a pet of the local herdsmen. A fight breaks out, and several people are killed. Turnus, riding this current of anger, begins a war.

Aeneas, at the suggestion of the river god Tiberinus, sails north up the Tiber to seek military support among the neighboring tribes. During this voyage, his mother, Venus, descends to give him a new set of weapons, wrought by Vulcan. While the Trojan leader is away, Turnus attacks. Aeneas returns to find his countrymen embroiled in battle. Pallas, the son of Aeneas's new ally Evander, is killed by Turnus. Aeneas flies into a violent fury, and many more are slain by the day's end.

The two sides agree to a truce so that they can bury the dead, and the Latin leaders discuss whether to continue the battle. They decide to spare any further unnecessary carnage by proposing a hand-to-hand duel between Aeneas and Turnus. When the two leaders face off, however, the other men begin to quarrel, and full-scale battle resumes. Aeneas is wounded in the thigh, but eventually the Trojans threaten the enemy city. Turnus rushes out to meet Aeneas, who wounds Turnus badly. Aeneas nearly spares Turnus but, remembering the slain Pallas, slays him instead.

SymbolismEdit

FlamesEdit

Fire symbolizes fears. With images of flames, Virgil connects the two. Paris's desire for Helen eventually leads to the fires of the siege of Troy. When Dido confesses her love for Aeneas to Anna, her sister, she begins, “I recognize / the signs of the old flame, of old desire” (IV.31–32). Dido also recalls her previous marriage in “the thought of the torch and the bridal bed” (IV.25). Torches limit the power of flames by controlling them, but the new love ignited in Dido's heart is never regulated by the institution of marriage, “the bridal bed.” The flames she feels do not keep her warm but rather consume her mind. Virgil describes the way she dies in the synonymous terms “enflamed and driven mad” (IV.965).

The Golden BoughEdit

According to the Sibyl, the priestess of Apollo, the golden bough is the symbol Aeneas must carry in order to gain access to the underworld. It is unusual for mortals to be allowed to visit the realm of the dead and then return to life. The golden bough is therefore the sign of Aeneas's special privilege.

The Gates of WarEdit

The opening of these gates indicates a declaration of war in a tradition that was still recognized even in Virgil's own day. That it is Juno rather than a king or even Turnus who opens the gates emphasizes the way immortal beings use mortals to settle scores. The Gates of War thus symbolize the chaos of a world in which divine force, often antagonistic to the health and welfare of mortals, overpowers human will and desire.

The Trojan Hearth GodsEdit

The hearth gods of Troy, or penates as they are called in Latin, are mentioned repeatedly throughout the epic. They are symbols of locality and ancestry, tribal gods associated specifically with the city of Troy, who reside in the household hearth. Aeneas gathers them up along with his family when he departs from his devastated home, and they symbolize the continuity of Troy as it is transplanted to a new physical location.

WeatherEdit

The gods use weather as a force to express their will. The storm that Juno sends at the beginning of the epic symbolizes her rage. Venus, on the other hand, shows her affection for the Trojans by bidding the sea god, Neptune, to protect them. In Book IV, Venus and Juno conspire to isolate Dido and Aeneas in a cave by sending a storm to disrupt their hunting trip, symbolizing the rupture of normal social codes as well. Greek and Roman mythology has a tendency to make its symbols literal in this way—to connect the seen (a storm, for example) with the unseen (divine will) causally and dramatically.

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