Many argue that throughout Aenied, Virgil develops Aeneas to be a boring and unheroic character; always acting as he should with apparently no power to act in any other way. Occasionally sidetracked, Aeneas is prodded and redirected by the gods toward his destiny. Aeneas’ mother, Venus, constantly interjects to lead Aeneas toward his fate. It is she who leads him away from the fallen city of Troy “ I had twice-ten ships, and my goddess-mother showed me the way.”(I, 541-542) Mercury also sets Aeneas straight from his deviating course by telling him to leave his love Dido “What are you pondering or hoping for while squandering your ease in Libyan lands.” (IV, 362-363) Mercury criticizes Aeneas for ignoring the importance of his empire, and again Aeneas obeys. It is further argued that Aeneas’ makes no significant effort to advance his empire’s fate. He is “handed” all that is needed such as immortal vessels as well as weapons and armor provided by Vulcan and other gods. At first glance this would seemingly prove that Aeneas is in fact a boring character.
Upon deeper investigation of the text the true value of Aeneas’ character can be revealed. Not all of what Aeneas does is driven by the gods. There is in fact a humanistic aspect of Aeneas creating physical and emotional strife which he must endure by himself “I sing of arms and of a man: his fate had made him fugitive.” Virgil is quick to show that Aeneas is but a mortal man with human qualities. It is these human aspects of Aeneas: his leadership, his emotional strengths, and his heroism that make him a crucial and interesting character in the Aeneid.
Leadership is one of the first humanistic qualities that Aeneas is given to create a sense of realism and excitement within his character. Leadership often arises in times of total anarchy and chaos, as was the case in the Aeneid when Trojan forces siege Troy. In the confusion of war, Aeneas naturally rises to a role of leadership. Aeneas had a dream in which Hector spoke to him, telling him that the city has been infiltrated. Climbing to his roof, Aeneas saw Troy in flames, and fighting everywhere. Aeneas immediately prepares himself for battle. “Insane, I seize my weapons. There’s no sense in weapons, yet my spirit burns to gather a band for battle, to rush out against the citadel with my companions.” (II, 428 – 431). Aeneas’ words show a natural passion for leadership in order to defend the city and his companions. But Aeneas’ leadership is not limited to times of warfare.
Once Aeneas had escaped to safety it becomes clear that the people of Troy also recognized his leadership qualities. They look to Aeneas for strength and for guidance, putting their lives in his hands willing to be lead with blind devotion. “Here I find, to my surprise, new comrades come together, vast numbers, men and women, joined for exile, with courage and with riches they are ready for any lands across the seas where I may lead them.”(II, 1072-1078) With such open devotion from the people of Troy, Virgil is illustrating the importance of Aeneas.
Virgil also develops the reader’s interest in his character of Aeneas, by showing the mortal side of the valiant leader. In order to instill confidence in his followers Aeneas must maintain coolness, showing no fear. What makes his character more interesting is that Virgil reveals to the reader that Aeneas does doubt himself, that he is in fact weary of his future despite what the gods have told him. “These are his words; though sick with heavy cares, he counterfeits hope in his face; his pain is held within, hidden.”(I, 290-292) Though quite effective, the humanistic quality of leadership is not the only stratagem that Virgil uses to give Aeneas the quality of an interesting character.
The next tactic that Virgil uses to create an interesting character is by revealing Aeneas’ emotional strength as he is forced to disregard his love and leave Dido behind. Juno sees an opportunity to keep Aeneas from going to Italy, and takes advantage, sending Cupid to kindle Dido’s love for Aeneas. “I shall unite the two in certain marriage and seal her as Aeneas’ very own; and this shall be there wedding”. (IV, 167- 169) Virgil has the gods stall destiny in order to reflect Aeneas’ “uncertain” fate to the reader; his future may very well be undecided and not set in stone as previously inferred.
Virgil adds interest to Aeneas’ character when Mercury came to Aeneas warning him he must continue his destiny. Dido finds out the Aeneas is leaving she is infuriated, scolding Aeneas “Deceiver, did you even hope to hide so harsh a crime, to leave this land of mine without a word.”(IV, 410-412) But Aeneas holds strong with little compassion toward the distraught Dido. “I have never held the wedding torches as a husband; I have never entered into such agreement.”(IV, 457-459) Virgil depicts Aeneas to be unaffected by his decision to leave. However, he manages to give the reader a glimpse of Aeneas’ true emotions in order to further develop interest in Aeneas’ character. “But Aeneas, warned by Jove, held still his eyes: he struggled, pressed care back within his breasts. With halting words he answers her at last.” (IV, 446-449) The true struggle of what Aeneas puts behind him for the will of the gods is show just before he leaves.
“But though he longs to soften, soothe her sorrow and turn aside her trouble with sweet word, though groaning long and shaken in his mind because of great love, nevertheless pious Aeneas carries out the gods instructions.” (IV, 540-550)
Virgil shows an emotional struggle between what Aeneas is destined for and what he desires, to draw the reader into the complexity of his character. Virgil furthers the reader’s interest in his character of Aeneas by making him the heroin in the climax of the novel.
Juno, unable to prevent Aeneas from reaching the Promised Land, vows to delay the founding of their city and cause them further pain. To do this she turns Amata, the wife of Latimus, against the arranged marriage to Aeneas. “The goddess cast a snake deep in Amata’s secret breast … its first infection, penetrating with damn poison, has gripped her senses and entwined her bones in fire. (VI.458-470) Turnus furious at the idea of losing Lavinia and having to bow down to a Trojan king, gathers together his army for war. Virgil uses Turnus because he is very much like Aeneas in the sense that they are both respected leaders and heroes. Virgil is creating one of the greatest tests Aeneas has had to face in order to prove to the reader, if he succeeds, that he is an outstanding and interesting character.
Heroism is one last point that Virgil uses to show the how crucial and interesting Aeneas is in the novel. Jupiter is angered by the fighting between Aeneas and Turnus’ forces and calls for a counsel of the gods to discuss the problem of war. He is disappointed in the other gods, particularly Juno for going against his wishes of peace and for quarrelling amongst each other. In the conclusion of the counsel Jupiter decides that no god shall help either side What each man does will shape his trial and fortune. For Jupiter is King of all alike; the Fates will find their way. (X, 160-162) Virgil clearly shows that the gods will play no further role in the outcome of the battle to prove the human heroics of Aeneas. Without the help of the gods, Virgil illustrates Aeneas’ true passion and will to succeed using his own natural strengths. Virgil gives Aeneas god like power in battle bringing enemies to there knees begging to be spared, to show that Aeneas has the power of a god, thus defeating any doubts that the reader has of a boring character.
When it is argued that Aeneas was just “handed” everything by the gods, the fact that not all of the gods were in support of him is often overlooked. Although many gods steer Aeneas toward his destiny, Virgil adds complexity to his character by introducing gods who wish not to see Aeneas succeed along with a slew of obstacles. He does this in order to spark the reader’s interest in his hero’s successes, which may not necessarily be set in stone. The dangers that Aeneas and his crew face are real, even if it is know that he will survive them. There is in fact a humanistic aspect of Aeneas that is revealed by creating physical and emotional strife, which he must endure by himself. It is these human aspects of Aeneas: his leadership, his emotional strengths, and his heroism that make him a crucial and interesting character in the Aeneid.