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Role of the Gods in Virgil's The Aeneid

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There are many gods that play a role in the Aeneid. The main ones are Jupiter, king of all deities, Juno the divine antagonist of Aeneas’ destiny and Venus, his mother and his main protector. There are also the lesser gods such as Neptune, Aeolus, and Mercury, who serve as instruments for the main gods to meddle in the events of the story.

The interactions between these is clear from book 1 where Juno is fuming because her favoured city Carthage has been prophesized to be destroyed by Trojans, who she already holds hatred for. She calls on Aeolus to let free the ‘brawling winds and howling storms’ [1.54] to keep Aeneas and his men from reaching their destiny in return for the most beautiful nymph. Aelous gives his consent to this and the Trojans face a sudden and violent storm. However, Neptune, god of the ocean, does not appreciate this and calms the storm down, saying of Aeolus

‘he is not the one who has jurisdiction over the sea or holds the trident that knows no pity. That is my responsibility, given to me by my lot.’ [1.137-140]

This indicates that even if one god is higher than another, as with Juno and Aeolus, they cannot just order them about but treat them favourably and on a same level. Neptune’s reaction also shows that the gods are territorial and can cancel out orders from even the queen of the gods.

The interaction between gods and mortals, is shown from the first paragraph. Virgil lets us know that Aeneas is not even at fault but Juno despises him.

‘Why did she drive a man famous for his piety to such endless hardship and such suffering? Can there be so much anger in the hearts of the heavenly gods’ [1.10-12]

Aeneas is often referred to as 'pious Aeneas', and this is also how even he...

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... attempts they do just the opposite. With Venus’ many interventions, Aeneas is prevented from making mistakes and is guided to his fate, from not killing Helen [book 2] to leaving behind the old and the weak for Italy [book 4] . He is shown enough times to be the puppet of their play: from obeying the will of the gods while enduring the wrath of other gods, all this in order to set the wheels in motion for the far off future Roman race. However, there are also times when he is also shown to be exerting his won free will. For example, in book 12, killing Turnus when he is begging for mercy, something not heroic and which Susanna Braund debates the positive and negative aspect of in her essay on Virgil and the Meaning of the Aeneid [1.17-18]. nonetheless, this act demonstrates that even the gods and the fates require his cooperation to fulfil his destiny.