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Does Aeneas’ weakness and misery at the end of Aeneid Book four undermine his character as a hero?

Does Aeneas’ weakness and misery at the end of Aeneid Book four undermine his character as a hero?

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An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Sean Donnelly. Originally submitted for Virgil's Aeneid (GRC20080) at None, with lecturer Helen Dixon in the category of Ancient & Classical Studies
An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Sean Donnelly. Originally submitted for Virgil's Aeneid (GRC20080) at None, with lecturer Helen Dixon in the category of Ancient & Classical Studies

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 30, 2012
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05/13/2014

 
Does Aeneas’ weakness and misery at the end of Aeneid Book four
undermine his character as a hero?
Abstract:
Homer’s
Iliad
and
Odyssey
can be seen as the antecedents of western literature. Thegreat epics of archaic Greece laid the foundations of tragedy and romance, narrativeforms that have influenced all art in the following three thousand years. In Homer,however, these literary structures are nascent; they are not yet fully formed. It is notuntil the
 Aeneid
 , composed some eight hundred years later, that the emotiveintensity of the human experience that Homer gave us in fragments is fullyexpressed. Freed of the limitations of oral poetry, the epic form could finally flourishunder the pen of Virgil in Augustan Rome, in what would come to be regarded asthe "Golden Age" of Latin literature.
Dido’s anguish at losing Aeneas in book IV, for example, offers us a truer
representation of the anguish that
Andromache felt at Hektor’s death in Iliad XXII.Evander’s lament
for Pallas in
 Aeneid
XI meanwhile gives fuller voice to the extent of
Priam’s pain at the close of the
Iliad
.
 
Indeed, the whole second half of the
 Aeneid
offers us a depiction of battle far closer to our contemporary understanding of thetoils of warfare. Far from the often glorified duels of the
Iliad,
where a heroic death is
the ultimate ambition of the fighters, Virgil’s battle narrative gives us an account of
war laced in the pathos and
lacrimae rerum
of the living human experience. One
needs to look only at Virgil’s account of the deaths
of the two young Trojans, Nissusand Eurylaus, in
 Aeneid
IX, to glean the extent to which the poet sought to stripwarfare of its Iliadic romance. It is in the figure of the
 Aeneid’s
protagonist, however,that Virgil most ingeniously enriches the Homeric epic form. For in Aeneas, we areoffered an epic hero who fits comfortably into the contemporary understanding of
 
human nature, and it is his development as a character that provides the
 Aeneid
withone of its most compelling dynamics.This paper examines how the conception of heroism evolved through the epictradition of antiquity, from the strong, individualistic motivation of the Iliadicwarriors, who fought in the pursuit of a heroic legacy, to the stoically disciplinedRoman hero, embodied in Aeneas, a hero who sacrifices personal ambition in theinterests of the civic well being. This is a transition crystallized in
Aeneas’
decision toleave Dido against his wishes, and I examine how the emotional suffering thatAeneas endures following his departure from Carthage, far from diminishing hisheroic status, serves only to further enhance the greatness of his ultimate victory inLatium. It also offers us a fascinating insight into the new form of heroism that was
required by the political order of Virgil’s
 
Rome. Furthermore, I look at how Virgil’srepresentation of Aeneas’ psychological struggle marks a seminal departure from
the Homeric conception of character and inaugurates a new and lasting era ofliterary realism that looks forward to the rich exploration of the human condition inlater literature.Essay:
Does Aeneas’ weakness and misery at the end of Aeneid Book four undermine his
character as a hero?
Virgil’s
 Aeneid
is a work replete with Homeric parallels and follows in many respectsprecisely the epic conventions established by the great poems of archaic Greece. The
 Aeneid’s
whole structure is conventionally viewed as bipartite representation of theHomeric epics; its
Odyssean
opening six books are followed by an
Iliadic
conclusion,and one can identify many characters and scenes that closely mirror passages from
the works of his epic predecessor. Virgil’s greatest break from Homeric tradition,however, is in the figure of his protagonist. As RD Williams observed, ‘Virgil’s
problem was how to create an epic hero in an age that was very different from
 
Homer’s. Aeneas had to step out of the heroic world in order to found a proto –
 
Roman world.’
1
In Aeneas, we are given a truly human figure, a person capable ofself doubt, regret, and loss of hope. This is a level of characterization alien to
Homeric heroes who, as Eric Auerbach remarked, operate only in a ‘foreground,only a uniformly illuminated, uniformly objective present,’ and who ‘wake everymorning as if it were the first day of their lives.’
2
Aen
eas’ complex and occasionally
contradictory levels of motivation are elevated far above the archaic simplicity of the
Homeric heroes who are driven only by the need for ‘social validation’ and
 ,ultimately, by a desire to ensure that the prestige they enjoyed during their lives
persist ‘among future generations,’ as fame becomes ‘surrogate immortality.’
3
 Aeneas in contrast is separated from Achilleus and Odysseus alike because he isdriven, not by any personal motive, but by the imperative that has been placed onhim to fulfil a mission for the gods and for his people. It is his psychological struggle
to come to terms with this new role that provides Virgil’s poem with one of
its mostfascinating dynamics, and the episode in Carthage marks
Aeneas’
initial moment ofrealization of the level of self sacrifice that his mission will entail.
Aeneid IV marks a critical juncture in the course of Aeneas’ mission. It is the
moment in which he is forced to choose between personal wishes and his duty to the
gods, to his family and to his people, as Richard C. Monti put it, he is faced with ‘therift between private desires and public obligations.’
4
It is the latter that wins out in acourse of action
that embodies Virgil’s oft repeated epithet for the hero: ‘piousAeneas’. Book
IV
marks a moment of realization for Virgil’s protagonist; Aeneas has
 begun to understand his new role as a leader of men, not just in battle, but in thepolitical sphere too. As D.J. Stewart observ
ed, ‘the Dido story is a metaphor for what
1
RD Williams,
The Aeneid 
(London, 1987), P. 78.
2
Eric Auerbach,
Mimesis,
trans. William R. Trask
 
(New Jersey, 1991), pp. 7
 –
12.
3
 
Michael Clarke, ‘Manhood and Heroism’, in
The Cambridge Companion to Homer,
ed. Robert Fowler(Cambridge, 2004) pp. 77
 –
78.
4
Richard C. Monti,
The Dido Episode and The Aeneid 
(Netherlands, 1981), P.75.

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