The Aeneid | Study Guide


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The Aeneid | Character Analysis



Aeneas is famously pious, mindful of his duty to honor the gods, his family, and his country. This makes him awfully good most of the time: measured, generous, and responsible. Like many heroes, he carries divine blood—his mother is the goddess Venus—which makes him large, handsome, and supernaturally strong. However, Virgil gives him lowly human faults as well. Aeneas is at times unsure and conflicted and can get carried away by his feelings. In particular, he handles the situation in Carthage badly and behaves callously toward Dido. Aeneas has an important fate awaiting him. Already a hero of the Trojan War, he is destined to found the line of leaders in Italy that develops into Romans. Aeneas is a legendary rather than historical figure, but Virgil places him into Italy's geography and history, making him seem historical. As the father of Rome, he represents Romans, including good and bad attributes, and the greatness of their destiny through Virgil's time and beyond.


Juno is Aeneas's main antagonist, opposing him from start to finish. She never stops scheming to try to prevent Aeneas's fate. Her enmity for the Trojans springs from the cause of the Trojan War—a contest between goddesses in which she was not chosen as the most beautiful. She repeatedly uses her powers as queen of the gods and the goddess of marriage to try to destroy the wandering remnants of Troy. Frustrated in her own marriage to Jupiter, her brother-god and fellow child of Saturn, she is jealous, vengeful, and holds a grudge. But even her powers cannot change Aeneas's destiny, which has been set by the Fates. She is also subject to Jupiter's oversight. She displays both the reckless whims and the limits of the powers of the gods—even they cannot change Fate.


Turnus is the primary hero for the Latin forces that fight Aeneas in Italy. Like Aeneas, he is large, attractive, unusually strong, and the son of a goddess (a more minor one). He fights bravely, even heroically, in battle. Unlike Aeneas, he is impulsive and arrogant with an exaggerated sense of his own importance. He is unable to accept that Aeneas's fate might override his "right" to marry Lavinia, despite signs and prophecies to the contrary. He is defined by anger, in large part because of the rage that the Fury Allecto instills in him to start the war with Aeneas. As Aeneas's opponent, Turnus represents the destiny of those who arrogantly oppose the power of Rome: they will be defeated.


Dido's backstory demonstrates her bravery and strength. She has escaped the treachery of her brother, who killed her beloved first husband, Sychaeus; sailed halfway across the known world; and founded a great city in a strange land. However, none of her virtues or accomplishments save her when she crosses Aeneas's path. First Venus and then Juno, Carthage's own patron goddess, push her into a love for Aeneas that is very close to madness. Aeneas's fate inevitably takes him away, and the madness drives Dido to an ending she never would have reached on her own. Virgil also gives her death historical consequences, attributing it as the root of the long conflict between Carthage and Rome. Dido is a memorable symbol of the tragic consequence when the careless will of the gods conflicts with the inevitability of Fate.


Anchises is the "best of fathers" to Aeneas, wise and strong in character, always doing what he thinks is best for his son. He isn't always right—he, too, displays human failings—but he is clearly the source of Aeneas's values. He exemplifies the Roman ideal of respect and honor for family in the all-important relationship between a father and a son. Anchises is a legendary figure in his own right. In Greek stories, he was seduced by Venus and then struck by Jupiter's lightning for bragging about it. The liaison produces a child, Aeneas, whom Venus gives to Anchises to raise. In The Aeneid, Anchises still bears the scars from Jupiter's bolt.


As the king of the gods, Jupiter manages the other gods and mediates between them when there are conflicts. He is responsible for ensuring that what the Fates have predicted comes to pass, sooner or later. He indulges his wife, Juno, and his daughter, Venus, in their efforts—up to a point. Virgil portrays him as mostly calm and measured, in contrast to Juno's vengeful anger, but he is not perfect either. Jupiter tends to ravish any woman who catches his eye, willing or not. As the enforcer of Aeneas's fate, Jupiter supports its inevitability.


As Aeneas's mother, Venus is his most ardent supporter. She repeatedly advocates on behalf of her son to Jupiter, checking and rechecking that his fate is still on track. She intervenes in events to protect Aeneas as much as or more than Juno intervenes to obstruct him. Like all the gods, she doesn't think about how her meddling affects other mortals. She is the chief architect of Dido's tragedy, making her fall in love with Aeneas to give him a safe harbor that can only be temporary. However, there is nothing temporary about the consequences for poor Dido. Venus represents the spectrum of love, from parental to passionate.

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