Is Aeneas a Good Warrior?

Powerful Essays
Is Aeneas a Good Warrior?

'I sing of arms and of the man, fated to be an exile', begins Virgil, and it is on precisely the issue of this man of arms that critical debate in recent years has tended to centre. Scholars continue to disagree on whether or not Aeneas is presented as a good soldier, although the question itself is certainly far from black and white, complicated by the culturally relative nature of terms such as 'conflict' and 'courage', as well as by the rather oblique definition that 'good' itself holds. In this essay I will attempt to resolve these complexities and ambiguities by juxtaposing Aeneas against the Roman and Homeric ideals of the warrior, exemplified by Aemilius Paullus and Odysseus respectively. I will argue that Aeneas meets the criteria set by neither model and that, ultimately, he is an emotionally unstable, morally dubious and even an incompetent military leader.

However, the very fact that he is the protagonist needs to be stressed: his character is necessarily sympathetic, dynamic and intricate. My intention is not to assert that Aeneas is a villain or a coward; he is quite obviously neither of these things and such an interpretation of the Aeneid, a text rich and ambiguous in meaning, would be nothing short of reductive. And in this way he must, and does, have some positive, somewhat redeeming features. K. W. Gransden notes that, 'Virgil created in Aeneas a new type of Stoic hero'1, a point that is perhaps most evident in Book Four when Aeneas leaves Carthage. His speech to Dido is indicative of his determination to suffer both silently,

Aeneas did not move his eyes and struggled to fight down the anguish in his heart. (Bk. 4, p.91) and willing:

Do not go on causing distress to ...

... middle of paper ...

...43-58, 215-231

1 K. W. Gransden, Virgil: The Aeneid, CUP 1990, p. 95

2 Plutarch, Roman Lives, trans. Robin Wakefield, OUP 1999, p. 73

3 Homer, Odyssey, trans. Stanley Lombardo, Hackett 2000 , 19.227

4 Gordon Williams, Technique and Idea in the 'Aeneid', Yale University Press 1983, p. 43

5 Plutarch, Roman Lives, trans. Robin Wakefield, OUP 1999, p. 58

6 Virgil, The Aeneid, trans. David West, Penguin 1991, pp. 215-216

7 Aeneas' gibes must be remembered in the context of Book Six, in which the unburied, such as Palinurus, are unable to cross the Styx and thus gain entrance to Elysium.

8 W. A. Camps, An Introduction to Virgil's Aeneid, OUP 1969, p. 28

9 Jasper Griffin, Virgil, OUP 1986, p. 288

10 Plutarch, Roman Lives, trans. Robin Wakefield, OUP 1999, p. 65

11 Homer, Odyssey, trans. Stanley Lombardo, Hackett 2000 , 22.380 ff
Get Access