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The Aeneid | Study Guide


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Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe explains the symbols in Virgil's epic poem The Aeneid.

The Aeneid | Symbols


Virgil uses symbolism to evoke a range of mythological, historical, and emotional associations in The Aeneid.


Fire is an uncontrollable force in the poem, symbolizing both destruction and inspiration. It physically destroys Troy and damages the Trojan ships in Sicily, and it is figuratively used to describe the fury of battle that obscures even Aeneas's rational thinking and mercy. Dido is driven to suicide by her love for Aeneas. Pallanteum's grief over Pallas's death is also symbolized by fire.

On the positive side, fire is a symbol of destiny and inspiration. The flame of passion the goddess Venus inspires in her husband, Vulcan, figuratively and physically results in the creation of the shield and weapons she gives to Aeneas. Fire appears on both Ascanius's and Lavinia's heads as a sign of their destinies. The sight of Aeneas's great descendants waiting in the Underworld "fired his soul with a love of glory still to come."

Golden Bough

The golden bough is a symbol of Aeneas's extraordinary and inevitable fate. To enter the Underworld, he must find and pluck the bough, and he will only be able to do so if Fate allows it. Like his fate, his access to the bough has already been determined. The golden bough grants him access to the world of the dead that is usually forbidden to those not dead, making him one of only a few extraordinary people who have entered it while still living.

Shield of Aeneas

The great shield that the fire god Vulcan makes for Aeneas is engraved with images of Roman history, which have not happened yet in the epic's time frame. Because these events have happened in Virgil's time, they are inevitable as Aeneas's future. The shield functions as a symbol of the destiny of Rome and Aeneas's fate. It also ensures Aeneas's inevitable fate by protecting him in battle. Other people's shields, including Pallas's and Turnus's, fail, allowing them to be injured or killed, but Aeneas's shield protects him without taking damage.

Gates of War

The Gates of War were the entrances to the temple of Janus (god of doorways) in Rome. They were symbolically opened during wartime and closed in times of peace. In Book 7 Virgil places an early version of the Gates of War in Latium. King Latinus, waffling between Queen Amata, Turnus, and the people who are clamoring for war and his pledge of peace to Aeneas, hesitates to open the Gates of War and start the conflict. When Juno takes the decision out of his hands and flings open the gates, "all Italy blazed." Jupiter predicts in Book 1 that the Gates of War are destined to be bolted shut, symbolizing the long and peaceful rule that Virgil envisions for Caesar Augustus and successors.

Questions for Symbols

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Oates has specifically mentioned the "Death and the Maiden" folktales as one inspiration for this story (see "Death and the Maiden" under " Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory "). Some literary critics have
Read the following passage and identify at least 3 elements of figurative language; explain how each element brings out the theme of the passage. "The Wrong Place" by Susan Michalski Lana woke up, cur
Write a one-page essay on how culture influences peoples’ attitudes toward fire and fire prevention. For instance, in some cultures having a fire in your home is looked at as a shameful event. In othe
Write a creative story about Halloween. You, or a character you create, is getting ready for a Halloween party. Unfortunately, strange things start to happen. (Is it vampires, zombies, aliens, or some
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