Role Of The Gods In Virgil's The Aeneid

1360 words - 5 pages

There are many gods that play a role in the Aeneid. The main ones are Jupiter, king of all deities, Juno the divine antagonist of Aeneas’ destiny and Venus, his mother and his main protector. There are also the lesser gods such as Neptune, Aeolus, and Mercury, who serve as instruments for the main gods to meddle in the events of the story.

The interactions between these is clear from book 1 where Juno is fuming because her favoured city Carthage has been prophesized to be destroyed by Trojans, who she already holds hatred for. She calls on Aeolus to let free the ‘brawling winds and howling storms’ [1.54] to keep Aeneas and his men from reaching their destiny in return for the most beautiful nymph. Aelous gives his consent to this and the Trojans face a sudden and violent storm. However, Neptune, god of the ocean, does not appreciate this and calms the storm down, saying of Aeolus
‘he is not the one who has jurisdiction over the sea or holds the trident that knows no pity. That is my responsibility, given to me by my lot.’ [1.137-140]
This indicates that even if one god is higher than another, as with Juno and Aeolus, they cannot just order them about but treat them favourably and on a same level. Neptune’s reaction also shows that the gods are territorial and can cancel out orders from even the queen of the gods.

The interaction between gods and mortals, is shown from the first paragraph. Virgil lets us know that Aeneas is not even at fault but Juno despises him.
‘Why did she drive a man famous for his piety to such endless hardship and such suffering? Can there be so much anger in the hearts of the heavenly gods’ [1.10-12]
Aeneas is often referred to as 'pious Aeneas', and this is also how even he describes himself ’I am Aeneas, known for my devotion’ [1.377]. The word for pious in Latin is ‘pietas’ which has many meanings ‘piety, dutifulness, loyalty, affection, love, gratitude’. It is chiefly the duty to the gods, as well as to country and family, all of which Aeneas is shown to display throughout the story. As the purpose of writing the Aeneid was to give the roman empire an illustrious founding, it would make sense for the hero to be of a pious and dutiful nature, which all Romans should aspire to. Yet there are moments when Aeneas strays from this depiction, for example, when he sees Helen and longs to get revenge for the fall of his country despite knowing there is no honour or fame in punishing a woman [2.568-589]. There is divine intervention here when his mother appears to show him that there are more important things he needs to do than kill a woman. Nonetheless, a short while later, when he learns of his wife Creusa’s death, Aeneas says he ‘stormed and raged and blamed every god and man that ever was’ [746-7], which goes directly against the notion of pietas. And yet he displays it again when he has to give up Dido in book 4 to carry on his journey.

The tragic love story between Dido and...

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