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Literature / The Aeneid

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"Arma virumque cano…"
(I sing of arms and the man…)
Opening words

The Aeneid is an epic poem written by the poet Publius Vergilius Maro—more commonly known as Virgil. It's considered one of the great forerunners of literature and many later works are deliberately based off the style Virgil used. Of course, Virgil himself was deliberately writing in the style of Homer, his literary hero, also basing his portrayal of certain characters off of stars of The Iliad or The Odyssey.

The Aeneid is a continuation set after the end of The Trojan War, following the story of the Trojan hero Aeneas. Prophesied to found a city whose empire will cover the whole world and rule forever, he travels all over the known world (i.e. the Mediterranean) trying to reach the fated place. After suffering many tragedies and getting kicked out of most places, he realises that the gods want him to go to Italy. When he gets there, however, he still doesn't have it easy: he has to pretty much conquer the whole area before he can settle down.

The city he eventually founds is the one from which Roman founders Romulus and Remus supposedly come. The Aeneid was intended as a propaganda piece for the emperor-in-all-but-name Augustus, who had recently become the supreme power in Rome, then ravaged by civil war, by defeating Mark Anthony and Cleopatra VII. Aeneas, who is piousnote , dutiful and brave, was held as the Roman ideal and is obliquely compared with Augustus at several points in the poem.

Standard material for Latin students; the U.S. AP Latin exam assumes its takers have read at least a requisite 1800 lines, as the entire test is about the epicnote .

The poem may well have made some tropes, and used others cheerfully. This guarantees that all those tropes are at least Older Than Feudalism, if built at all.

Tropes Used:

  • Action Girl: Camilla of the Volsci. Huntress and worshipper of Diana, she's one of the few female war leaders and warriors in the Aeneid. Even Dido got her kingdom through trickery rather than martial prowess.
  • Adaptational Villainy: In The Odyssey, Aeolus is in charge of a thriving kingdom and tries to help Odysseus. Here, he is bribed by Juno into loosing the winds on Aeneas's ships. Helen is also treated less sympathetically than she is in The Iliad, betraying Deiphobus to the Greeks.
    • Most of the Greeks in general are portrayed unsympathetically. Odysseus for example is a slimy Manipulative Bastard compared to the Guile Hero Only Sane Man in Homer's epics.
    • This also applies to the Gods that were on the Greeks side. Hera's grudge against Aeneas is incredibly petty and excessively destructive. Athena doesn't make an appearance but sends snakes to kill off Laocoon simply for figuring out the trap and warning the Trojans.
  • Adult Fear: Pyrrhus brutally killing Polites in front of Priam is probably the worst thing you can do to a father.
  • Aerith and Bob: Amongst the exotic sounding Greek and Latin names, it may come as a surprise for some to also find names still used today like Anna and Camilla.
  • Affectionate Nickname: Aeneas is known as "pius Aeneas" (Usually translated "pious", but "steadfast" or "dutiful" is closer to the original meaning).
    • Aeneas is one of many many characters referred to with epithets. Juno is Saturnia, Dido is infelix Dido or miserrima Dido (referring to her destiny and doomed love) etc. Virgil is homaging Homer, who also refers to various heros and gods with epithets
  • Anachronism Stew:
    • In The Iliad and The Odyssey, Homer described battles fought with bronze-tipped spears. In The Aeneid, Virgil describes those same battles as having been fought with steel-tipped spears. Steel-making was unknown in Homer's time.
    • Escaping from the destruction of Troy, Aeneas lands at Carthage, even though Carthage was founded some four centuries after The Trojan War.
    • There are multiple references to Aeneas taking the "penates"—statues of the gods to be kept in households—with him when he leaves Troy. Romans had these, but Greeks actually did not.
    • The text references a type of ship called a bireme multiple times, which did not exist at the time of the story.
  • Angel Unaware: Aeneas meets his mother Venus when he lands near Carthage, but she is disguised as a huntress. She shows him the way to Carthage. (Aeneas does realize she's a divine being, he just can't tell which one.)
  • Ascended Extra: Aeneas was a minor character in Literature/Iliad and in most accounts of the Trojan War prior to Vergil's interpretation (however, it was implied that he was important for, at the time, unknown reasons).
  • Battle Couple: Nisus and Euryalus are the homosexual kind. They are tied at the hip. They start a night raid against the Latins together. It doesn’t end well.
  • Because Destiny Says So: Largely deconstructed. Aeneas's life is hell because of this trope. He breaks up with Dido by citing it, which doesn't exactly go well to say the least.
    • Doesn't matter whether Lavinia really wants to marry Turnus (implied at one point) or how long they've been promised, it's decided the minute he arrives that she's gonna marry Aeneas, who never shows any interest in her. Which means Turnus is doomed to die, just for being her former fiancé. And that's that.
  • Big Bad: Juno. While she never directly confronts Aeneas, she does spark the most amount of conflict for him in her efforts to prolong his suffering, even manipulating Turnus to start a war.
  • Bishōnen: Euryalus is described as “pulchrior”, or more beautiful, than any of Aeneas’ other men.
  • Blood-Splattered Warrior: Implied Trope; Alecto appears in Book VII covered in Gorgon poison at Juno's summon. As established in the Argonautica, the Gorgon's poison is its blood, meaning Alecto is drenched in acidic blood just before she goes to bring war to Italy. John Dryden's translation of the text makes this explicit.
  • Break-Up Bonfire: After Aeneas abandons her, Dido orders to build a pyre to burn Aeneas' clothes and weapons, an image of Aeneas and also the bed on which she slept with him, claiming this ritual will heal her of her lovesickness. But when the pyre is ready, she stabs herself with Aeneas' sword on it, and the Breakup Bonfire becomes her funeral pyre.
  • Breather Episode: Anchises' funeral games.
  • Disposable Woman: Creusa, Aeneas' first wife who dies during the razing of Troy.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Juno is still pissed about not being chosen as the fairest by the long-dead Paris. Her hatred for the Trojans is the direct cause for the war that fills the second half of the epic.
    • Seems even more fitting seeing as 1) some of her reasons are even more stupid, like the fact that Ganymede was chosen as "cup-bearer" to the gods instead of her daughter and he happened to be a Trojan and 2) in the end, she ends up going along with the creation of Italy and Rome anyway, making all of her resistance pointless.
      • Juno doesn't hate Ganymede just because he's Trojan (and therefore ultimately responsible for the destruction of her beloved city Carthage), but because he was her rival for Jupiter's affections.
  • Doomed Hometown: Aeneas' odyssey is set off by the Greeks' destruction of Troy.
  • Downer Ending: Somewhat; while Aeneas is victorious and peace is ensured, the epic ends on the death of Turnus.
  • Dressing as the Enemy: A band of Trojans disguise themselves in Greek armour; however, the other Trojans are fooled as well, and the Greeks eventually see through the disguise.
  • Dying Curse: Immediately before Queen Dido of Carthage commits suicide because Aeneas left her, she prays to the gods that Aeneas' mission may fail, and that the Carthaginians may forever be enemies to the descendants of Aeneas' Trojans and may one day avenge her. While part of the curse comes true, it ultimately fails: Aeneas succeeds despite many obstacles, and although Carthage came close to defeating Rome in the Second Punic War, in the end Rome turned out victorious.
  • Fan Sequel: To The Iliad. Actual Greek traditions held that:
    • Aeneas left Troy after an omen of impending doom—the death of Laocoön and his sons—and returned to Mt. Ida.
    • Or he did survive the sack of Troy, making a Last Stand until the Greeks let him leave intact.
    • Aeneas ruled over a rebuilt Troy after The Trojan War, as the Iliad hints that the kingship would pass from Priam's line to him.
  • Flashback: Books II and III is Aeneas telling the story of the fall of Troy to Dido.
  • Foreshadowing: In Book IV we are repeatedly told that Dido is "burning" with love for Aeneas. At the end of the book, this becomes rather unpleasantly literal.
  • Forging Scene: Venus gets Vulcan to forge armor for Aeneas.
    • This article gives details on the comparisons between the shields.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: When Dido in book IV tells her sister about her love for Aeneas, she says a line which is often translated as "perhaps to this one sin I could succumb." In Latin, the order of words in a sentence doesn't matter, so the word for "sin" doesn't come up until the end of the line. Since the word for "succumb" literally means "to lie under," Romans might have thought that Virgil was referring to something else...
  • Give My Regards in the Next World: A rather villainous version.
    Priam: How dare you make me witness my own son's death! You're no son of Achilles—he had respect for those begging for mercy!
    Neoptolemusnote : You'll get to see my father yourself! Be sure to tell him how wicked his son is. Now die.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: While her husband is a good if not very proactive king, Queen Amata of Latium sides with Turnus against Aeneas. Then there's Juno, who also causes some trouble for Aeneas.
    • Dido goes a bit love-crazy after Aeneas arrives, and it gets worse after he dumps her. By that point virtually all her subjects are against her.
  • Gray and Gray Morality: Aeneas is a courageous, pious, and dutiful leader, but he also commits morally questionable acts such as abandoning Dido without warning and slaying an unarmed Turnus at the end of the poem. The Trojans' enemies are likewise portrayed sympathetically despite being antagonists.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Aeneas is the son of Venus, and Turnus, his rival, is the son of a nymph.
  • How We Got Here: Books II and III are an extended flashback to the events of The Trojan War and the long period of wandering that followed it, leading up to the Trojans arrival in Carthage at the beginning of Book I.
  • Judgement of the Dead:
    • King Minos is seen judging the newly dead in between the ghosts of infants and the suicides as Aeneas enters the realm of Pluto.
    • Apollo's priestess explains that those damned to the Fields of Punishments are first interviewed by Rhadamanthus, who they are compelled to tell their every crime.
  • Intangibility: As they reunite in Elysium, Aeneas tries to hug the soul of his father, only to touch his hands to his own chest three times. Turns out that while the souls of Elysium look solid, living people cannot touch them.
  • Intro Dump: Book VII ends with a series of paragraphs listing the background and army of more than a dozen heroes who have answered Turnus' call to wage war on Aeneas.
  • Ironic Echo: Aeneas refers to himself as "pious (roughly "righteous") Aeneas" during his remorse following the death of Lausus.
  • It's Personal: Aeneas would have been perfectly content to show his rival, Turnus, mercy and let him live... if he hadn't killed his friend a few books ago. Mezentius and Aeneas' conflict also turns personal after the death of the former's son.
  • Last of His Kind: Aeneas and the other Trojans are part of a handful of survivors of their city-state after it was exterminated by the Greeks. The Aeneid definitely contributed to the idea of the surviving Trojans being the founders of other countries—for example, several medieval works had them as the founders of Britain. Especially pronounced as, to make Juno feel better about losing this particular godly squabble, Jupiter says that the Trojans will not pass on their culture but fully assimilate with the Latins instead.
  • Like Father, Like Son: Averted, Priam explicitly condemns Pyrrhus as not being like Achilles. Specifically, Achilles held some measure of honor and compassion by returning Hector's body. Pyrrhus just killed Polites in front of Priam.
  • Love at First Sight: Dido for Aeneas, justified in that Cupid, Aeneas' half-brother, personally causes it.
    • Aeneas and Pallas seem to have become friends at first sight. I mean seriously, a Roaring Rampage of Revenge for a guy you've known for a week or two?
  • Lover and Beloved: Nisus and Euryalus at first embody this dynamic that was characteristic of homosexuality in Ancient Greece, with Nisus as the older loving mentor and Euryalus as the younger beloved follower. However, their relationship shifts to one of more equal footing as they embrace more Roman values.
  • Mama Bear: Venus goes to great lengths to make sure Aeneas' destiny happens on schedule. Not only does Aeneas resent it, she really does more damage than good.
  • Medal of Dishonor: Salius gets tripped during a foot-race and gets a pity-reward from the king, prompting another loser to demand a pity-reward for being the first runner to fall over. The king obliges and gives the loser a nice shield.
  • Mission from God: The prophecy that Aeneas will found Rome. He finds other nice places to settle three times, and every time the gods say, "Nope, you gotta keep going."
  • My Girl Is Not a Slut: Aeneas' people may be just as annoyed about him knocking boots with Dido as hers are, but she's the one who pays for it.
  • Nay-Theist:
    • Mezentius is one of the first known examples. His whole shtick is essentially, "screw you Jupiter!"
    • Iarbas, an African king spurned by Dido, rhetorically asks Jupiter to his face whether or not he's powerful enough to be worth worshipping.
  • Nice Hat: Turnus has a helmet crested with a metal chimera that breathes real fire.
  • No Ending: The poem ends the second Aeneas kills Turnus, with no resolution to whether Aeneas marries Lavinia or how the Latins and Trojans settle into peace.
  • Our Giants Are Bigger: The nine-acres tall Tityus, a child of Zeus and the Earth, appears in the Fields of Punishments. His many entrails serve as an eternal feast for an infernal vulture.
  • Patriotic Fervor: One of the whole points of the work!
    • "Remember, Roman, these will be the arts for you, to rule peoples by command, to impose the custom of peace, to spare the conquered, and to wear down the proud with war." (6.851-3)
    • As mentioned above, though, it can be read as satire against that same Patriotic Fervor.
  • Perspective Flip: While the Iliad and the Odyssey told the story from the Greeks' point of view, this work tells it from that of the surviving Trojans.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner:
    • Pyrrhus to King Priam.
    • Aeneas to Turnus: "This wound will come from Pallas: Pallas makes this offering, and from your criminal blood exacts his due!". All the more famous because it sparks a What the Hell, Hero? moment, and dishes out an abrupt, rather Downer Ending.
  • Pretty Boy: Young men such as Ascanius, Pallas, Euryalus, and Lausus often have their almost feminine beauty described at length (since it was highly valued in Rome). Turnus' good looks are apparently enough to inspire other men to fight and die for him.
  • Propaganda Hero: The poem was more or less state propaganda promoted by Augustus to link the emerging and brand-new The Roman Empire with antique origins. It deliberately aimed to displace Remus and Romulus (the popular founders of Rome) with Aeneas. The Julio-Claudian family of which Augustus was a descendant claimed descent from the Trojans and the Goddess Venus, both origins linked Augustus and Caesar to Aeneas, thereby creating a continuity of the ruling family with their ancestors, and insisting that the foundations of Rome were imperial rather than republican. Aeneas likewise embodies virtues more amenable to Augustan Roman: piety, family honor, stoicism, differing from the more capricious and earthy nature of the Homeric attitude.
    Jupiter: His ego nec metas rerum nec tempora pono;
    Imperium sine fine dedi.
    ["For these I set no limits, world or time,
    But make the gift of empire without end"].
    Lines 278–279 (tr. Robert Fitzgerald)
  • Prophecy Twist: The Harpy Celaeno's prophecy that they will get so hungry that they'll eat their tables... which they do when they eat a meal served on big pieces of flatbread. Young Ascanius making direct reference to the pun only makes it better.
  • The Rival: Turnus, Aeneas' rival for the land of Latium. He's even called a "second Achilles".
  • Seers: King Tolumnius, one of Turnus' allies, is renowned for his ability to divine the future from the movement of birds. Turnus mentions this ability to bolster his army's confidence, but Tolumnius' divination allows the goddess Juno to trick the Turnus' army into thinking fate is on their side, prolonging the war.
  • Senseless Sacrifice: Nisus tries to save Euryalus by pleading with the Latins to kill him instead, but the Latins kill them both.
  • Sexy Walk: How Aeneas recognizes Venus in her disguise at the beginning of the book. ("And by her stride she showed herself a goddess.")
  • Shout-Out:
    • The first words, "I sing of arms and a man," are meant by Vergil as a callback to The Iliad and The Odyssey respectively, to connect his epic with the works of Homer.
  • Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome: Ascanius goes from a small child in the first book to being able to go hunting at Carthage and then fighting and killing in the Latin wars.
  • Sword over Head: Subverted. Aeneas almost decides to spare Turnus when he has him cornered at swordpoint, until he remembers how Turnus killed his friend.
  • Temporary Love Interest: Dido. Her love keeps Aeneas in Carthage and away from his destiny and so the gods send a messenger to remind him to continue his journey.
  • To Hell and Back: Book VI. In a homage to The Odyssey, Aeneas enters the underworld to talk to the ghost of his father.
  • Trojan Horse: Book II contains the beginning of the fall of Troy and shows the horse from the view of the Trojans.
  • Undignified Death: Dido, a once competent ruler, kills herself in a rather embarrassing way, having lost the respect of her people an as a result of Aeneas leaving her.
  • We Will Meet Again: Dido's Last Words are that hers and Aeneas' people will meet again in war—Virgil's fictional cause of the Punic Wars.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Aeneas does a few things to provoke this reaction, among them abandoning Dido without warning and slaying the helpless Turnus at the end of the poem. While the ancient Romans would have viewed these actions somewhat differently than modern readers do, the discrepancy is not so great that Aeneas' less heroic moments wouldn't have caused them some pause.
    • Some have argued that this was deliberate; since Aeneas was supposed to be a stand-in for Augustus, many believe that Virgil worked in a Take That! or two out of resentment for having his farm confiscated to give to soldiers.
    • Priam also calls out Pyrrhus, sadly to no effect:
    Priam: You pretend that Achilles was your father, but this is not how Achilles treated his enemy Priam.
  • Woman Scorned: Dido really goes off the deep end, even though Aeneas obviously didn't want to leave, and wouldn't have if the gods (mostly Juno) told him to move on.
    • "Could I not have torn apart his snatched-away body, and scattered it on the waves? Could I not have murdered his companions and Ascanius himself, and served them on the father's table to be feasted upon?"
    • Additionally, Juno's whole reason for being miffed at the Trojans (and therefore Aeneas) is that Paris didn't pick her.
  • Wouldn't Hit a Girl: Some historians believe that the reason Camilla isn't killed by Aeneas was so that Virgil could avoid having his hero kill a woman. Even a badass Action Girl kind of woman.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: Juno does her best to avert Aeneas' fate (she hooks up him up with Dido to distract him, supports the Rutuli, tries to kill him multiple times) and fails miserably.
  • You Can't Go Home Again: Troy has been razed by Greek soldiers; the premise of the poem is Aeneas trying to found a new one.
    • Well, for a while Aeneas certainly does try to make a new Troy and actually meets someone else who successfully does so however the point of the story is really more him realizing that it is not his place to reproduce Troy but instead to lay the groundwork for Rome.
  • You Have Waited Long Enough: Dido's sister Anna says this when Dido believes that having an affair with Aeneas would be betraying her deceased husband.

Alternative Title(s): Aeneid