Fate in Virgil's Aeneid and Homer's Iliad
In Virgil's Aeneid and Homer's Iliad, a picture of the supernatural and
its workings was created. In both works, there is a concept of a fixed order of
events which is called fate. Fate involves two parts. First, there are laws
that govern certain parts of mens' lives, such as human mortality and an
afterlife. Second, fate deals with the inevitable outcome of certain events,
outcomes that cannot be changed by men or gods.
Both Homer and Virgil allude to the existence of unchangeable laws, one
of which is the mortality of human beings. This can be seen by the fact that
character after character dies during war. In Virgil's Aeneid, Aeneas journeys
to Hades to visit his father. During his stay, he talks to a large number of
the warriors that have died in the Trojan War. The death of these warriors
shows the mortality of human beings (Forman 2015). Another unchangeable law is
the period of limbo that is said to await the souls of the unburied after death.
Homer indicates this law by writing of Patroklos' spirit's return to remind
Achilles that, until he has been properly buried, he must wander the earth.
These events show Virgil's and Homer's belief in laws that cannot be changed
The second element of Fate deals with the unalterable predestined
occurrence of certain events. One example of such an event is the fall of Troy.
According to Homer, the destruction of Troy was foretold in Hekuba's dream that
her son, Paris, would be the cause. This prophecy was confirmed by a seer.
Although Hekuba tried to avert the disaster by attempting to have Paris killed,
fate overcame and Troy was destroyed as a result of Paris' judgment concerning
the golden apple of discord (Strong 15-16). Virgil also writes about a similar
situation when Venus pleads with Jupiter to help Aeneas with his journey.
Meanwhile, on Olympus, Venus, the mother of Aeneas, berates Jupiter for
allowing her son to be persecuted in such a manner. Jupiter calms her and
reminds her of the many prophecies concerning her son and his progeny: how he
will found the city of Lavinium in Latium and win a great war; how his son
Acanius will build the city of Alba Longa; how the twins Romulus and Remus, his
descendants, will be born in this town and how they will found the city of Rome
The union of the Trojans and Latins to form a new race is another example
of a predestined event found in the Aeneid. This illustrates the unchangeable
will of Fate, even to the degree that the gods believe what is foretold must
happen (Camp 42).
Even though certain events are ordained by Fate, the time tables for
these events are flexible. Since Achilles was mortal, he was ordained by fate
to die during the Trojan War. This can be seen in the Iliad when Homer writes
about Achilles. Though his death was inevitable, it was postponed as a result
of being dipped in the River Styx. "...at birth, his mother dipped him in the
River Styx, rendering him immortal everywhere except in the heel, where she had
held him..." Fate finally ruled when Paris shot him in the heel with a poisoned
arrow, causing his demise (Strong 17).
Virgil also shows that Fate may be delayed when he writes about Juno's
attempt to stop Aeneas from founding Rome. When Juno sees Aeneas coming close
to his goal she asks Aeolus, god of winds, to blow the Trojans off course.
Their ships are destroyed and they wash up on the shores of Africa, close to the
city of Carthage. Once in Carthage, the shipwrecked survivors are welcomed by
Dido, queen of Carthage. Juno and Venus collaborate about Aeneas' marriage to
Dido. "She [Venus] agrees to the marriage, knowing that it cannot meet
Juipiter's or fate's approval - as Juno, where she less irrational, should also
know." (Anderson 44). At the request of Venus, Cupid, in the form of Acanius,
casts a spell on Dido causing her to fall in love with Aeneas.
Taking advantage of these events in a further attempt to detain Aeneas far
from his Italian goal, Juno, with the complicity of Venus, thrusts the
unfortunate Dido into the arms of her Trojan guest. Surrendering himself to the
delights of a mad passion, the Trojan hero forgets his predestined mission for
twelve long months. When Jupiter imperiously takes him to task, however, he
remembers the duty fate has laid upon him and leaves Carthage and the delights
of love, setting sail to the light of the funeral pyre in which the despairing
Dido has thrown herself (Brisson 23-24).
Aeneas and Dido's relationship and the destruction of Dido parallels Rome's
destruction of Carthage. It is a repetition of fate in which Dido represents
Carthage and Aeneas represents Rome.
The fall of Troy to the Greeks was ordained by Fate, but could have
taken place as much as ten years later than it did. These events reflect
Homer's and Virgil's belief in the existence of Fate as inevitable, yet, at the
same time, general and imprecise (Camp 42).
The works of Homer and Virgil show their belief in the reality of Fate
being composed of two parts. Both parts describe the existence of fate's
unchangeable laws. Both authors are successful in depicting predestined events
that cannot be changed by the powers of gods or prayers of men. Although fate
is not predominant in the writings of our modern world, in the works of the
ancient world; especially in Homer and Virgil, fate must be present for the
heroes to accomplish their destiny.
Anderson, William S. The Art of The Aeneid. Prentice Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, NJ., 1969.
Bertman, Stephen. "Modern values: the challenge of myth." Vital Speches. 1 June 1993: 508-512.
Brisson, Jean-Paul. "Aeneas, Rome's man of destiny." UNESCO Courier. September 1989: 23-27.
Camps, W. A. An Introduction to "Vergil's" Aenid. Oxford England: Oxford University Press, 1969.
Forman, Robert J. "AENID." Magill's Survey of World Literature. Ed. Frank M.
Magill. Vol 6. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 1993.
Milch, Robert J. THE AENEID Notes. Lincon, Nebraska: Cliff Notes, Inc., 1963.
Poschl, Victor. The Art of Vergil. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1962.
Strong, Elaine. THE ILIAD Notes. Lincon Nebraska: Cliff Notes, Inc., 1986.
"The Aenid." Prentice Hall Literature World Masterpieces. Englewood, N.J., 1991.
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