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 Virgil here is alluding to the Punic Wars in which Rome battled, and eventually conquered, Carthage. Enraged that the Trojans who slighted her could defeat her again, Juno attempts to break this chain of events by destroying Aeneas' fleet. Thanks to Neptune, though, they are only thrown off course, and Venus assures that they will not be harmed in Carthage. At times in the Aeneid, it seems as if the story is less about the deeds of the mortal characters than about the bickering of the gods, who continuously disrupt or manipulate events on Earth. The one common theme, though, is that fate always comes true. Aeneas is destined to settle in Italy, and nothing can prevent this. Jupiter sees to it that his overall plan will come to pass by helping out Venus.
The fall of Troy was brought about because the god Minerva helped to fool the Trojans into accepting the wooden horse. Sinon tells the Greeks, "if your hands should harm Minerva's gift, / then vast destruction...would fall on Priam?s kingdom and the Phrygians; / but if it climbed by your hands into Troy, then Asia would repel the Greeks" (II.268-273). Minerva sends a strange sign to confirm this story: two giant serpents rise up from the sea, devour a priest and his...