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Essay On Fate And Human Responsibility In The Aeneid

2822 words - 11 pages

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 though 'fatum' works nicely for Aeneas, the tragedy of 'fatum' is revealed in the deaths of Dido and Turnus, who are mere innocent victims of fate.  Anderson notes: "Everything that Aeneas does seems to have its cruel price; every time he promotes the destined future he also hurts the present condition of someone else" (26). Yet, out of all the characters in the Aeneid, readers will pity Dido the most.  Turnus could fight back against fate, but Dido can't.  In fact, Poschl argues that "the book of Dido can be considered the climax of the whole poem (91). Dido's death is by far the most problematic because through her death, which she didn't deserve , ushers in the future death of everyone in Carthage  .  The idea of a praiseworthy hero, who incites the suicide of an innocent Queen, becomes highly suspect.  We want to cheer along Aeneas through his adventures, but it becomes increasingly hard knowing that he is the cause of Dido's suicide.   Even though Venus and Juno engineered Dido's love affair with Aeneas, our view of Aeneas is damaged because he wasn't forced to have sex with Dido.  Dido was spellbound, but Aeneas wasn't. Aeneas could have been heroic and refrained from fornication, but he didn't.  Aeneas enjoyed his...

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