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Who Was the Roman Hero Aeneas? Part 2

Updated on March 23, 2015

How Does Juno Affect Aeneas?

Juno’s first actions in the Aeneid recall her behavior in the Iliad. She travels to Aeolia to direct Aeolus to release the winds on Aeneas and his men. This scheme calls to mind her seduction of Zeus in the fourteenth book of the Iliad. By The nymph Pasithea promises Juno (Hera) that she will be able to persuade Hypnos to put Zeus to sleep (Iliad 14.231-75). Juno (Hera) swears to Hypnos: ἀλλ’ ἴθ’, ἐγὼ δέ κέ τοι Χαρίτων μίαν ὁπλοτεράων/ δώσω ὀπυιέμεναι καὶ σὴν κεκλῆσθαι ἄκοιτιν (14.267-8). Vergil connects Juno’s deceit in the Aeneid to her previous actions in the Iliad by depicting her proposing a similar offer to Aeolus: she will give him the most beautiful nymph as a wife, who will produce lovely children and share his home happily for many years (1.71-5).

Juno fashions her promise in nearly the same manner as Hera of the Iliad. Vergil borrows the idea from Homer that the queen of the gods tricks her husband by bribing another god. He also raises a question about divine government. It is unclear who really rules the gods of the world. The female goddess who is married to the male ruler appears to have control over him, and thus potentially over all gods.

Juno and Jupiter


How Does Anger Play a Role?

Vergil also connects the Aeolus scene of the Aeneid to another episode described by Homer—Vergil alludes to the Aeolus scene of the Odyssey. Homer’s Aeolus is a mortal king who is dear to the gods, and whom Zeus has set in charge of the winds: κεῖνον γὰρ ταμίην ἀνέμων ποίησε Κρονίων,/ ἠμὲν παυέμεναι ἠδ’ ὀρνύμεν, ὅν κ’ ἐθέλῃσι (10.21-2). This Aeolus, although mortal, is an obvious base for Vergil’s Aeolus. Much like the Aeolus of the Odyssey, Vergil’s Aeolus has been made responsible for the winds: hoc metuens, molemque et montis insuper altos/ imposuit, regemque dedit, qui foedere certo/ et premere et laxas sciret dare iussus habenas (1.61-3). The reader naturally makes the connection between the two Aeoluses and Hypnos, as Vergil has purposefully connected the Homeric scenes to introduce the issues of divine rule and anger.

The topic of anger recurs from the proem to the second half of the Aeneid. If books seven through twelve of the Aeneid constitute a second Iliad, their proem also corresponds the proem of the Iliad. Circe, like Juno, is a dea saeva (savage goddess) (7.19, cf. 1.4). Vergil once more connects the two Homeric epics by including an Odyssean goddess. Circe, like Aeolus, is in charge of the restraint of furor. By alluding to a character in control of wild beasts, Vergil connects Circe with the two Aeoluses who control wild winds. Vergil begins the second half of the Aeneid with a connection to the Homeric poems and a reminder of the latent furor that Aeneas must control.

Along with the task of controlling his furor, Aeneas must also repress his desire for immortality. He rejects the heroism of immortal glory, which Achilles placed above all, in the second book of the Aeneid. Aeneas tells Dido how he raved when he saw Helen hiding near Vesta’s altar: Talia iactabam, et furiata mente ferebar (2.588). His mother, Venus, must instruct him to give up on the war: Eripe, nate, fugam, finemque impone labori./ Nusquam abero, et tutum patrio the limine sistam (2.619-20). Aeneas dutifully departs from the fight, but is distraught to find his father refusing to run with him. Aeneas realizes that he will have disgraced Troy if he does not return to battle to avenge the dead: Arma, viri, ferte arma; vocat lux ultima victos./ Reddite me Danais; sinite instaurata revisamproelia:/ Numquam omnes hodie moriemur inulti (2.668-70).

Dido and Aeneas


Does Aeneas Want to Leave Carthage?

Throughout the second book Aeneas retells his story of fight versus flight; he wavers repeatedly between fighting the Greeks and obeying the will of the gods. Ultimately understanding that it was divinely professed that he found a new Troy, Aeneas extinguishes his desire to avenge his kinsmen and attain κλέος (glory). He explains to Dido how a portent appeared above his son's head (2.801-4).

Aeneas’ rejection of immortal glory is followed by his rejection of love in book four. As his refusal of undying fame places him above Achilles, so does Aeneas’ ability to desert Dido for his greater purpose and rank him above Odysseus. Aeneas must depart Carthage and leave behind Dido if he is to fulfill the plan of the gods. Mercury announces Jupiter’s order to Aeneas that he to get on his way (4.223-6).

Just as Mercury tells Aeneas of Jupiter’s directions, so does Hermes share the order of Zeus with Calypso. Unlike in the Odyssey, however, Mercury is not sent to the woman, but to the male hero. Here Vergil sets Aeneas above Odysseus. Whereas Hermes must convince the female goddess who restrains the hero, Mercury directly addresses Aeneas, not Dido. Aeneas is superior to Odysseus as he has remained in Carthage by his own volition, and leaves—not cheerfully—at least by his own resolve. Mercury discovers Aeneas dressed in Tyrian purple and wearing a decorative sword. Palpably upset, the messenger god rebukes Aeneas and with a short harangue sends him in motion (4.272-6a).

Just as Odysseus is motivated to return home to see his father, wife, and son, so is Aeneas driven by the mention of his son. Aeneas must continue his journey so that his son may have reign over Roman lands. Although Aeneas has been busy building the citadel for Dido, he immediately obeys and finds a way to break the news that he is leaving. Vergil is ambiguous about whether Aeneas truly loves Dido; however, she is plainly infatuated with him. He wonders how to deceive her: At regina dolos—quis fallere possit amantem? (4.296). While the hero of the Odyssey is allowed to leave by a reluctant Calypso (5.263-4), Dido rages when she learns Aeneas will leave her (4.300), even though she should know that she is not supposed to keep Aeneas. He had warned her in the beginning that he had a goal beyond Carthage: quae me cumque vocant terrae (1.610).

Odysseus' Story

Aeneas versus Odysseus

Whereas Mercury finds Aeneas helping build Carthage, Hermes discovered Odysseus crying on the shore of Ogygia. Athena has begged Zeus to allow Odysseus to escape his captivity, where he suffers, wishing to leave: ἀλλ’ ὁ μὲν ἐν νήσῳ κεῖται κρατέρ’ ἄλγεα πάσχων/ νύμφης ἐν μεγάροισι Καλυψοῦς, ἥ μιν ἀνάγκῃ/ ἴσχει· ὁ δ’ οὐ δύναται ἣν πατρίδα γαῖαν ἱκέσθαι· (5.13-5). The first few books of the Odyssey center on Telemachus, and are in reality a Telemachian odyssey, the audience does not truly meet Odysseus until he is found sitting on the shore weeping (5.81-4).

Homer describes Odysseus as looking out over the sea, shedding tears, wishing for his νόστος (homecoming) Odysseus’ values are most often considered feminine as he is concerned with home and family. He wishes to see the smoke from his roof, his wife, and his son. Thus, when he is offered by Calypso the chance to return home, he gladly accepts. Calypso’s submission is the direct result of Hermes’ message. Hermes has come from Zeus to communicate the will of the gods: Ζεὺς ἐμέ γ’ ἠνώγει δεῦρ’ ἐλθέμεν οὐκ ἐθέλοντα· (5.99). The messenger is the god to explain the divine decree that Odysseus has an ultimate destination, which is not where he currently resides with Calypso:

φησί τοι ἄνδρα παρεῖναι ὀιζυρώτατον ἄλλων,
τῶν ἀνδρῶν, οἳ ἄστυ πέρι Πριάμοιο μάχοντο
εἰνάετες, δεκάτῳ δὲ πόλιν πέρσαντες ἔβησαν
οἴκαδ’· (5.105-8).

Odysseus shows that he, like Aeneas, rejects the Achillean desire for immortality (Odyssey 5.215-20). He loves his wife, even if she is mortal, and wishes to leave the Ogygian land where he could live forever with an immortal goddess. When Calypso releases Odysseus, he is again nearly killed. While Odysseus is most often portrayed as wishing for his family on Ithaca, he is now so depressed as to wish instead to have died long ago. Much like Achilles, who desires eternal glory instead of a long life at home, Odysseus laments (5.306-11).

Odysseus and Calypso


How is Aeneas Different?

Here Odysseus wishes that he had died at Troy, where he could have at least gained glory. Instead, he fears that he will die at sea, far from his family and without κλέος. In a similar fashion, when Aeneas thinks all hope is lost he also cries out that those who died at Troy were more fortunate. He raises his arms to the heavens and exclaims this complaint, calling those who perished at Troy thrice and four times more blessed (1.94-9).

On the surface, Aeneas recalls Odysseus, who spoke the same words in his lament. Even more, Aeneas brings to mind the character of Achilles, who wished for glory. Aeneas speaks nearly the same words as Odyssues. Although Odysseus and Aeneas have been shown to reject the desire for immortality, in the face of death they would have immortal glory over death at sea. Later, during their Underworld journeys, both heroes learn that they were correct to fear marine—thus unburied—death.

When Odysseus approaches the Underworld does not actually enter it; he seems to conjure the shades up to meet him. He speaks with his mother and attempts to embrace her: τρὶς μὲν ἐφωρμήθην, ἑλέειν τέ με θυμὸς ἀνώγει,/ τρὶς δέ μοι ἐκ χειρῶν σκιῇ εἴκελον ἢ καὶ ὀνείρῳ/ ἔπτατ’ (11.206-8a). Similarly, Aeneas attempts to embrace his father: Ter conatus ibi collo dare brachia circum,/ ter frustra comprensa manus effugit imago,/ par levibus ventis volucrique simillima somno(6.700-2). Just as Odysseus tries to hug his mother, and she withdraws like a dream, so does the shade of Anchises flee from Aeneas’ grasp. What Odysseus learns from Antikleia is that the fate of the dead is gloomy. She tells him that bodies disintegrate and souls flit away like dreams (11.219-22).

Odysseus is told to hurry back to the light, where his home and wife exist, and Aeneas worries about the fate of the dead. Upon his entrance to the Underworld Aeneas sees that souls survive, but that unburied men are denied passage across the Cocytus (6.325-30). Thus Aeneas pities their unfair doom: multa putans, sortemque animo miseratus iniquam (6.332). Because he has not yet learned that the fate of souls is just, Aeneas believes that men’s happiness depends on their burial, even though they cannot bury themselves.

As Aeneas and Odysseus each met a parent, so do they both encounter a betrayed companion. Odysseus, upon seeing Ajax, attempts to speak to him, but is denied: ὣς ἐφάμην, ὁ δέ μ’ οὐδὲν ἀμείβετο, βῆ δὲ μετ’ ἄλλας/ ψυχὰς εἰς Ἔρεβος νεκύων κατατεθνηώτων./ ἔνθα χ’ ὅμως προσέφη κεχολωμένος, ἤ κεν ἐγὼ τόν· (11.563-5). Likewise, Aeneas endeavors to speak with Dido, encouraging her to remain and listen. Just as Ajax shunned Odysseus, so does Dido ignore Aeneas (6.467-476).

Both heroes seek pardon for their previous wrongs but are denied. The poets portray Odysseus and Aeneas as refused by those they hurt in life. While these experiences are similar, the ultimate reason for—and outcome of—the heroic journeys differ. The semi-Underworld journey of Odysseus occurs nearly in the middle of the Odyssey, much like Aeneas’ passage to meet with his father splits the Aeneid in twain. However, Aeneas emerges from the Underworld as a different type of hero. Aeneas learns that the gods are just and that he will enjoy “the eternal bliss of those who have merited the remembrance of others.” Aeneas sees shades whose deeds merit commemoration: quique sui memores alios fecere merendo/ omnibus his nivea cinguntur tempora vitta (6.664-5). He learns that the heroic values of Achilles and Odysseus are less worthy than piety. Vergil depicts Aeneas as discovering that the souls of men can delight in eternal happiness as the gods do.

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What Happens in the Underworld?

While Aeneas sees his future descendants and realizes his life’s plan, Odysseus learns from Achilles that the Underworld is a terrible place to dwell. In some of the most powerful lines of the Odyssey Achilles tells Odysseus that he would rather be a slave to the poorest man on earth than lord of all the dead (11.488-91).

Achilles next desires to hear of his son, confirming the theme of the Odyssey: home and family. The shade of the hero Achilles proves Odysseus’ hope for νόστος; even the man who once wanted glory above all else now wishes to learn about his son. Much like this Achilles, Aeneas wants to acquire knowledge of his family. Although the embrace with Anchises is unsuccessful, Aeneas still hears his fatherly words and is comforted: datur ora tueri, nate, tua et notas audire et reddere voces (6.688-9). The purpose of the meeting with Anchises follows; Aeneas is to learn of the Roman heroes to come, but he remains troubled by the fate of men’s souls: O pater, anne aliquas ad caelum hinc ire putandum est/ sublimis animas, iterumque ad tarda reverti
corpora?/ Quae lucis miseris tam dira cupido?

Before showing Aeneas his progeny, Anchises heartens his son’s spirit about returning to the world of the living by answering Aeneas’ question about the fate of souls: (6.724-51). Anchises tells Aeneas that the purified souls are enticed to return to bodies through forgetfulness. Through his account of the nature of things Anchises replaces his son’s despair with confidence, and he proceeds to his revelation of future heroes (6.756-9).

Aeneas is told of his heroic duty and Anchises advises him to rule his nations properly (6.852-3). Anchises shows his son the future fame that will be his and sends him out of the Underworld: incenditque animum famae venientis amore (6.889). Having learned of the fate of men’s souls, Aeneas is shown that his piety is not weak nor cowardly; rather, his piety is based on the “renunciation of the conventional or traditional human aspirations to glory, love, and science in favor of a higher end accessible only through divine revelation.”Aeneas now understands that the fate of men’s souls is just and that men are punished and rewarded fairly; thus he does not need to fear the gods. Achilles’ refusal to accept the lot imposed on him by unjust gods is no longer deemed heroic, and Odysseus’ longing for home and concern with his mortal traits is not either. Rather, respecting the gods who determine the fate of souls with fairness is most noble.

What Aeneas learns from his father is the objective of his founding assignment. This part of the epic is distinctly Roman—Homer did not include such an enlightenment for either of his heroes. Aeneas discovers that there is a providential plan for the future which involves his destined progeny. From the Underworld Aeneas emerges an enlightened man; he is a new hero who understands that the shades are not—as Achilles—infinitely and unfairly suffering. While the souls of men are punished when it is deserved (i.e. Tityos, Phlegyas), not all endure this fate. Aeneas enters the Underworld as a Trojan with the Homeric fear that men are punished unfairly, and resurfaces with the Roman confidence needed to continue his journey.

Stay Tuned

Check back for the third installment in Who is the Roman Hero Aeneas?


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