The Tyranny of Passion in Aeneas | Aeneid | Aeneas

Brodeur 1 John P. Brodeur Dr.

Smith Honors 102 28 April 2009 The Tyranny of Passion in Aeneas There are very few instances in the Aeneid when Aeneas‟ piety does not blaze brilliantly before him. Throughout the poem, Aeneas is the very exemplar of gentleness, understanding, and forgiveness, and it warrants him much respect from the reader; the empathy he expresses in no way belittles his masculinity or cripples his physical abilities. He is a captivating figure, much different from those of the Iliad or the Odyssey, or the protagonists of most foregoing literature. He is not merely a god-like man; he is not merely invincible; he is not merely a respectable man, nor a great one. He is a hero who inspires the reader by maintaining consistent piety throughout the entire work – that is, until the very end. In the final lines of Book XII, something devastating happens to Aeneas: he becomes so overrun with passion that he kills Turnus, not out of pious duty as one would expect, but out of a frenzied anger. In this same irascible act of killing Turnus, Aeneas‟ character undergoes a final and seemingly definitive corruption; the pious monarchy of reason in his soul degenerates into a tyranny of passion, and this decisive event becomes the archetype for the decline of Rome itself. The reality that Aeneas‟ final action is one of passion is clear enough from the text: “As his eyes drink in these mementoes of savage / Pain, these so bitter spoils, Aeneas grows fearsome in anger, / Burning with the fire of the Furies… / And, as he speaks, he buries the steel in the heart that confronts him, / Boiling with rage” (Virgil, XII 945-51). Virgil does a wonderful job articulating the vivid imagery of Aeneas‟ infatuation: “burning,” “boiling,” “rage, and “anger” sharply contrast his hesitation just moments before (941). As if this imagery were not enough, Virgil draws clear parallels between Turnus‟ murder in Book XII and Dido‟s suicide in Book IV: in Book XII, “as he speaks, he buries the steel in the heart

Brodeur 2 that confronts him” (951); in Book IV, “attendants observed her / Slumped on the sword, saw the blade foam streaming blood from her body, / Saw that her hands were drenched” (663-5); again, in Book XII, “Cold shivers send Turnus‟ limbs into spasm. / Life flutters off on a groan, under protest, down among shadows” (951-2); and in Book IV, “all warmth escaped Dido; / And as it did, life fluttered away from her into the breezes” (704-5). As a crime of passion, Dido‟s suicide bears striking resemblance to the last moments of the poem. Both Dido and Turnus are driven through the heart with steel, and both souls “flutter away” and leave the bodies without warmth. The greatest difference between these two situations is that, on the one hand, Dido‟s blood is on her own hands while Turnus‟ blood is on Aeneas‟. A last proof that Turnus‟ murder has been committed out of passion is given in Book XI when the body of Pallas is wrapped in one of Dido‟s capes (72-5). Arbitration is not enough to account for why it was Dido‟s robe, nor is it fair to believe Virgil meant nothing by it. Pallas, enfolded in Dido‟s robe, has become an iconic object of passion for Aeneas. By associating Pallas‟ body with Dido‟s passion, Virgil introduces an important subtlety that gives further credence to the Dido-like passion which Aeneas is overwhelmed with when he kills Turnus. This passion which is characteristic to both Dido in Book IV and Aeneas in Book XII does indeed appear overwhelming and even, to a certain degree, controlling. The idea is expressed beautifully in the words of Nisus, “Is it, Euryalus, gods who implant these obsessions,‟ said Nisus, / „Deep in our minds? Or do each individual‟s passions become god” (IX 184-5)? This reflection, as expressed by Virgil, is a significant breaking point from the absolute unquestioned power of the gods in Homer. Virgil allows that what drives his characters to do evil might not be compelled by the gods at all, but by their own passions – a remarkably more modern idea. But even if this is the case, even if an individual is overwhelmed with passion, does it ever become like a god to him? Does it ever dictate his actions so completely as to make the act involuntary? Aristotle thought not: “Presumably acts done by reason of anger… are not rightly called involuntary…. [T]he irrational

Brodeur 3 passions are thought not less human than reason is, and therefore also the also the actions which proceed from anger or appetite are the man‟s actions” (McKeon, 1111a 24-5, b 1-2). According to Aristotle, man is just as responsible for actions committed out of passion as he is for actions performed with reason. Furthermore, Aristotle asserts that men of virtue, men like Aeneas, would never be led to do anything out of passion alone: “the good-tempered man tends to be unperturbed and not to be led by passion, but to be angry in the manner, at the things, and for the length of time, that the rule dictates; but he is thought to err rather in the deficiency; for the good-tempered man is not revengeful, but rather tends to make allowances” (1125b 34 – 1126a 2). Surely this is true of Aeneas throughout most of the poem. Even after witnessing the sack of Troy, he is still willing to listen to and care for the Greek from Ithaca (III 612-3). When the Latins request a special concession, he grants it (XI 106). He even spares Lausus his life on the battlefield: “Yet when he sees the expression that spreads on the face of the dying / Youth, on that face growing stunningly pallid, the son of Anchises / Pities him, utters a grown from his heart, reaches out with his right hand. / Here, mirrored sharp in his thoughts, is his own righteous love for his father” (X 821-4). This last allowance of Aeneas is eerily echoed in Turnus‟ final entreaty before Aeneas: “But if the love of a parent can touch you at all (for you once had / Just a father, Anchises), I beg you to pity the aged / Daunus….‟ Aeneas, relentless in combat, / Stops; and though rolling his eyes, he holds back his hand from the death-stroke. / Slowly but surely, the words take effect. He‟s begun hesitating” (XII 930-41), but the hesitation lasts but a moment and vengeance runs its course. According to Aristotle, this hesitation on the part of Aeneas does not make the unreasonable act pitiable, although it does provoke sympathy in his failure to act reasonably: “if it is not a strong conviction that resists but a weak one, as in men who hesitate, we sympathize with their failure to stand by such convictions against strong appetites; but we do not sympathize with wickedness, nor with other blame-worthy states” (1145b 35 – 1146a 4). Aeneas‟ act of murdering Turnus is blame-

Brodeur 4 worthy because it was done out of vengeance; an extreme of anger inconsistent with his pious goodtemperament. This disparity between Aeneas‟ character throughout the poem and his character at the end supports the notion that in his last action, Aeneas has become incontinent: “the incontinent man, knowing that what he does is bad, does it as a result of passion, while the continent man, knowing that what his appetites are bad, refuses on account of his rational principle to follow them” (McKeon, 1145b 11-4). This analysis both testifies to Aeneas‟ continence throughout the work and convicts him of a final incontinence at the end. This stark contrast between Aeneas‟ continence and final incontinence bears striking similarities to Dido‟s own sudden incontinence. The queen, who upon Aeneas‟ arrival was “intent on her tasks, on the kingdom that must rise” (II 503-4) soon abandoned her work in “raving obsession” (IV 68-9), and left the “cranes that reach high to the skies… dangling in idle suspension” (IV 86-9). In both characters, the reader observes how well-ordered the character is at the outset. Things are accomplished well and with great virtue, yet once passion overtakes the reasonable faculties of both individuals, virtue is crushed. The passions effectively enslave reason in such a way that it is not free to act, as if a tyrant were suppressing it: “[T]here must be the same arrangement in [the tyrannical man]; his soul must be laden full of slavery and ungenerousness, and those parts of the soul which were most decent are enslaved, but the small part most mad and abominable is master” (Plato, 578A). Insofar as Aeneas, in his final incontinence is “maddened by desires and passions” (Plato, 578B), he acts in such a way that he truly becomes a “man of tyranny.” Where formerly Aeneas had within himself a monarchy of reason over his passions which allowed both faculties the freedom to perform as they ought, now his reason has been usurped by his passions, and tyranny is the character of governance in his soul. Monarchy has degenerated into tyranny in much the same way Aristotle believed was natural if left unchecked (1160a 35 – b 1): the best form of governance to the worst (1160b 8-9).

Brodeur 5 As the forerunner and archetype of Rome in the Aeneid, it is fitting that Aeneas experience this corruption from continence to incontinence, from monarchy to tyranny, within himself, for Rome would similarly degenerate in a like manner; its monarchs would fail to seek the common good and become self-interested, absorbed in passion. Tacitus would one day recall the oppression of that era: “We have indeed provided a grand specimen of submissiveness. Just as the former age witnessed an extreme in freedom, so we have experienced the depths of servitude…” (Tacitus, Agricola 4). It is just as Plato said, “the tyrannical man would be in one likeness with the city under a tyrant…” (576C). The incontinence and inner-tyranny of Aeneas‟ last moments in the Aeneid parallel the eventual corruption of Rome itself. Despite this grim truth, there is more to be said, and while it might not be said in the Aeneid, the reader can still look to the consistent piety of Aeneas‟ character with hope. Had there been more written, might Aeneas not have given Turnus‟ body back to his father? Would he not have reestablished his reason as the rightful monarch of his soul and continued to live as a continent man? Could Virgil not have intended to write such an ending before his death? Alas, the world will never know, but if the history of Rome is any indication, the reader has good reason to hope Aeneas‟ piety is not definitively crushed at the end of the Aeneid. Tacitus had certain hope for the future himself, and his words echo the recurrence of monarchy and greater freedom in Rome: “Now at last spirits are reviving. At the first dawning of this most fortunate age… principles formerly incompatible, monarchy and freedom [are being combined]” (Tacitus, Agricola 4).

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Works Cited McKeon, Richard, ed. The Basic Works of Aristotle. New York: Random House, 1941. Plato. Great Dialogues of Plato. Trans. W. H. D. Rouse. Eds. Eric H. Warmington and Philip G. Rouse. 1956. New York: Signet Classic, 1999. Tacitus. Agricola. Trans. A. R. Birley. New York: Oxford World‟s Classics, 1999. Virgil. Aeneid. Trans. Frederick Ahl. 2007. New York: Oxford World‟s Classics, 2008.

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