Essay on Fate and Human Responsibility in the Aeneid

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Fate and Human Responsibility in the Aeneid

If you're going to write an epic about great heroism, don't use the Aeneid as your primary guide. It's not that heroism can't be found in the Aeneid, it's just hard to prove. First off, Virgil writes a story in a fatalistic universe, wherein every action and every event is under Jupiter's divine thumb . Fatalism "is all-pervading in Virgil . . . in it [the Aeneid] the words fatum and fata occur some 120 times" (Bailey 204). And in the first three books alone "the word 'Fatum' or 'Fata' occurs more than forty times" (Sellar 334). Venus praises Jupiter as one who: "command[s] and govern[s] the events of gods and men . . ." (1:321-21). Furthermore, Phoebus tells Aeneas that "the king of gods allot the fates, revolving every happening . . ." (3:484-87). So whenever Aeneas wins a battle, whenever Aeneas needs help, whenever Aeneas catches a cold, Jupiter has control. And though not all events are fated (e.g. Dido's suicide), most events are under the control of the gods . Aeneas even admits that he doesn't have a free will (4:491-92), because he is bound for Latium. If a universe is fated, how can anybody be responsible for his or her actions? The very idea of fatalism obliterates any notion of heroism because it removes the potential for human responsibility .

Why should Aeneas be praised for conquering Latium? Why should Aeneas be called a hero? The interesting paradox within the Aeneid is the idea of human responsibility interwoven with fatalism. Though Aeneas knows that "fate has promised" his settlement in Latium (1:286-87), he doesn't sit around waiting for Jupiter to zap them all into Latium; he is on a constant quest to settle there. And t...

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