Good The Aeneid: Aeneas As The Model Roman Hero Essay Example
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The Aeneid, written by the great poet Virgil, tells the story of the Trojan hero Aeneas in the years after the events of The Odyssey. Aeneas and his wanderings were incredibly important to the Romans of the Augustan era of Rome; Rome was, at this point, in a time of turmoil, and Virgil wrote The Aeneid as a show of solidarity for Rome, and to encourage Romans to stay bound together by their common identity (Fagles). The Greek poet Homer discussed Aeneas in his famous epic poems The Iliad and The Odyssey; however, in these books, the focus certainly remained on the Greek heroes. However, Homer does mention Aeneas in The Iliad, and Aeneas is revealed during the course of that text to be much beloved by the gods and goddesses for his piety. Indeed, Aeneas is half god, having been the son of a Trojan prince and the goddess of love, Venus. It is a combination of birthright and character that allowed Virgil to turn Aeneas into the perfect Trojan hero, although Aeneas’ faults were eventually his downfall.
Aeneas is complex as a character, especially because he was not a character that Virgil invented. In The Aeneid, Virgil contends that Rome descended from Troy, so that the people of Rome are forever linked with this traditional hero that is described across different ancient historical texts. Although the stories surrounding Aeneas and his travels vary, there are a number of features of Aeneas’ personality that are important to his status as a Roman hero, and the first feature of his personality that is important is his parentage. In ancient Greek and Roman literature, the gods and goddesses often had trysts with mortals, and the children of these hybrid couplings often became great heroes. Hercules, for instance, was the son of Zeus and a mortal woman; there were many other famous examples of heroes born of the gods as well. Aeneas’ father was a Trojan prince, and his mother was the goddess Venus—Aeneas has the history and the bloodline to be a hero, which made him perfect for Virgil to build into an epic poem.
In the second book of the epic poem, Aeneas’ character and filial piety is first revealed to the audience. Virgil writes, “Did you suppose, my father,/That I could tear myself away and leave you?/Unthinkable; how could a father say it?/Now if it pleases the powers about that nothing/Stand of this great city; if your heart/Is set on adding your own death and ours/To that of Troy, the door’s wide open for it” (Virgil & Fagles). In this part of the text, Aeneas is standing before the burning ruins of Troy and considering the long journey he has ahead of him with his father on his back. It is his clear adoration for his father and the fact that he has survived the burning of Troy that is designed to remind the audience that he is favored by the gods and has an excellent character.
Aeneas is portrayed differently from the Greek heroes of a similar time period because the Greeks and the Romans had vastly different priorities insofar as their heroes were concerned. The Greeks were masters of tragedy, and the tragic, fated hero is a trope that reoccurs over and over again in Greek texts. The Greeks had different values for their heroes as well; strength and wit were among those skills that were valued heavily by the Greek people in ancient times.
However, the Romans tended to favor other traits, and one of the traits that sets Aeneas apart from other heroes is his devotion to both his father, his son, the people, and the gods, despite the fact that his city is burning to the ground and the war with the Greeks has been lost (Virgil & Fagles). Aeneas exhibits devotion in all things that he does, particularly in his devotion to the gods. When Aeneas meets his mother Venus in disguise, he describes his quest to her: I am Aeneas, duty-bound, and known/Above high air of heaven by my fame,/Carrying with me in my ships our gods/Of hearth and home, saved from the enemy./I look for Italy to be my fatherland,/And my descent is from all-highest Jove” (Virgil & Fagles). Aeneas describes himself and his mission as though they are duty; he sees himself as duty-bound insofar as completing these missions is concerned.
When Aeneas acts in a way that demonstrates that he values his family above most else, he is demonstrating a value that Roman society held in particularly high esteem. Aeneas’ sense of duty and his persistence in pursuing this duty regardless of the obstacles that stood in his way makes him a hero in the eyes of the Roman people; when the Romans associated these qualities with Aeneas, they would begin to feel more united and passionate about being Roman, because Aeneas is ostensibly the founding father of the Roman Empire and the Roman people—he helped build Rome into the powerful entity it was during this time period, according to Roman historical tradition. Aeneas never strays from his path, even when he is tempted by lifelong happiness when he is with Dido: he leaves Dido and continues the dangerous journey towards Rome, because the gods and goddesses told him he must.
It is Aeneas’ sense of duty that makes him a quite compelling character. There is no doubt that Aeneas could have stopped his journey at any point and lived the remainder of his life in happiness, but he feels honor-bound to continue his quest to Rome, because of his pious nature. Aeneas is not only pious insofar as the gods and goddesses were concerned, but also towards his family; this is a character trait that the Romans of Virgil’s day took very seriously in the characters of their epic heroes. Aeneas is driven onward through temptation by his own will and his desire to please the gods.
Aeneas is not only a Roman hero, he is the quintessential Roman hero, because he is so driven to move forward and pick up the pieces of a broken civilization and put them back together again. He demonstrates all the characteristics that are often associated with Roman heroes, such as familial piety and religious piety—he even leaves a happy life to continue on his quest for something better because of an order from the gods. Aeneas, in the way he was crafted by Virgil, represents the ideal for the Roman people; he is meant to be a rallying point for the Roman people, a common hero that can be liked by anyone, regardless of their social class or stature.
Virgil, and Robert Fagles. The Aeneid. New York: Viking, 2006. Print.
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