The Role of the Gods and Fate in Virgil's The Aeneid
Are the deeds of mortal characters in the Aeneid controlled by the gods or by fate? Aeneas must fulfill the will of the gods, while enduring the wrath of other gods, all the while being a worthy predecessor of Augustus and founder of the Roman people. Of course, the Trojan is successful because he gives himself up to these other obligations, while those who resist the will of the gods, Dido and Turnus, die sad deaths.
Juno, the queen of gods, attempts to destroy Aeneas and his men in Book I of the Aeneid. The city of Carthage is Juno's favorite, and it has been prophesized that the race of the Trojans will one day destroy that city. This is too much for Juno to bear as another Trojan, Paris, has already scorned her. And so she calls on King Aeolus, the god of the winds, telling him to bring a great storm down upon Aeneas? fleet. Aeolus obeys and unleashes a fierce hurricane upon the battle-wearied Trojans. However, Neptune, the god of the sea, feels the storm over his dominion; he criticizes Aeolus for overstepping his bounds, and calms the waters just as Aeneas' fleet seems doomed. Seven ships are left, and they head for the nearest land in sight, the coast of Libya. Aeneas's mother, Venus sees the Trojans' poor state and pleads to Jupiter to end their suffering. Jupiter assures her that Aeneas will eventually find his promised home in Italy, and that two of his descendants, Romulus and Remus, will found the mightiest empire in the world. Then Jupiter sends a god down to the Phoenicians, the people of Carthage, to make sure they are welcoming to the Trojans. Juno hears that the Trojans are destined to found a city that will destroy her Carthage. That city is Rome, and ...
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... and in an angry mob set fire to the fleet. The Trojan men see the smoke, rush up the beach and throw water on the ships, but the burning does not stop. Finally, Aeneas prays to Jupiter to save the fleet, and immediately a rainstorm comes, putting out the flames. The goddesses Juno and Venus continue their quarrel by further intervention in the journey of the Trojans. At this point it almost seems to be overdone: the gods are driving the plot, not the hero. Aeneas has been reduced to a reactionary role as the different factions on Olympus duke it out over his fate, and send either aid or abuse down to the Trojans. Incapable to stop the burning of his fleet, he pitifully begs Jupiter to either help or kill him, so disheartened is he at his arbitrary maltreatment by the gods.
Gransden, Karl W. Virgil: The Aeneid. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1990.