Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 8

Philip Reynor

March 2006

Aeneas: The Most Unheroic of Heroes?


Philip Thomas Reynor _____________________________________________________________________

Virgils characterization of Aeneas is complex and intricate. If we examine this characterization as a movement or progression out of one sphere of social ideals and into another, the question as to the heroism of Aeneas can be formulated with more clarity leading to a clear and distinct exposition of the relationship between Aeneas and the heroic ideals in question. When Aeneas leaves the conflagration of Troy he is unconsciously stepping away from the heroic Homeric ideal and slowly moving towards his destiny and a new heroic Roman ideal. This transformation movement is not simple or smooth, in fact, as Adam Parry outlined, the movement is laden with suffering1. In order to transform successfully Aeneas must face manifold challenges that hinder - possibly regressing or even preventing the transformation. However, these same challenges are the catalyst for the transformation itself without which Aeneas may have remained confused and unsure in the limbo of the Homeric ideal. Firstly, it is necessary to demonstrate the values inherent to the Homeric hero. Commencing with the heroic ethos from which the movement begins and holding it as a standard from which to make future judgements, we can then gauge the progressive transformation of Aeneas from an individual hero to a pious humanistic hero. The ethos of the hero, in the Iliad and Odyssey, maintains his standing in society; he must display his aret and prove that he is a worthy agathos the consequences of failure being
1

Parry, A; The Two Voices of Virgils Aeneid; p.107-123.

Philip Reynor

March 2006

loss of kleos or tm on one hand and slavery or annihilation on the other, merits do not lie in mere intentions. Success in this arena bringing with it kleos esthlon and, as Graham Zanker points out, the only type of immortality the Homeric hero can aspire to eternal life in public on the lips of men and women2. As we see Achilleus vigorously testifying to Odysseus that when you fail to grant tm to one who deserves it then coward and hero are honoured alike 3 this is the key piece to the arch of the heroic society without which heroes loose their raison dtre, and thus a strong motivation for individualism of the Homeric hero4. The qualities the Homeric hero aspires to are now clear but it is also clear that aspiring to these qualities will not aid, and may hamper the hero Aeneas as he faces unique emotional and intellectual challenges. The progressive transformation is evident from Book 1 onwards. Homer has already fated Aeneas to become king of the Trojans5 and as Bowra comments as such Homer described him, and as such he remains in the Aeneid.6 The heroism of the Homeric epics has been inherited in The Aeneid. However, for Virgil the hero with Homeric qualities alone is lacking and this lack is evident from the first moment we meet Aeneas - caught in a raging storm, sent by Juno, as he leaves Sicily on the final leg of his voyage to Italy. Surprisingly, he is terrified. Now Aeneas is still strongly clinging onto the Homeric ideal, resultantly we see a man torn between two worlds, a broken and desolate leader who has difficulty coping with the situation and prays to have fallen at the hands of

Zanker, G; The Heart of Achilles: Characterization and Personal Ethics in the Iliad; p.12 the glory of success, prestige, authority, dignity, high rankcan result in kleos, fair fame which will be public, and which will provide the only form of immortality to which the Iliadic hero can aspire. 3 Homer; The Iliad; Trans: Hammond, M; Book 9: 318-19. 4 The individual hero who is striving for personal glory is personified for example in the actions of Diomedes in Book 5 of the Iliad when he even attacks and wounds the gods themselves. 5 Homer; The Iliad; Book 20, lines 308-9: Poseidon remarks that the mighty Aineias will be king over the Trojans, and his childrens children born in future time. While just prior to this Achilles asks Aeneas, Does your heart urge you to fight me in the hope that you will take Priams royal position over the horse taming Trojans. 6 Bowra, C. M; Aeneas and the Stoic Ideal, p.209.

Philip Reynor

March 2006

Diomede under the walls of Troy.7 Simply put, aspirations towards kleos will not resolve this situation. Yet, because of these challenges, he also progresses away from this ideal and thus we first meet not a super-human hero but a brave man at the limits of his endurance after seven years of wandering. Virgil here illuminates the progression of Aeneas as, in his encouraging speech, he showed them (his companions) the face of hope and kept his misery deep in his heart.8 The movement is clear, as he no longer wails to the stars for death but stoically subdues his emotions in order to generate hope for his followers. In contrast to Odysseus, we see why Aeneas must begin to move from the Homeric sphere. Firstly, unlike Odysseus, Aeneas has no home to return to, and furthermore, in order to settle a new home he needs to reach his promised land with all his companions alive, a task that Odysseus fails to accomplish. Secondly, Aeneas must progress from Homeric individualism; he must be a social man, a man who succeeds in bringing his people safely to Italy and ensuring the legacy of his people. Aeneas is no longer on a Homeric quest for kleos esthlon and Virgil demonstrates this by the frequent epithet he gives his hero pious, meaning dutiful, responsible and devoted to others. The new ideal Aeneas must aspire is humanistic and moral. A progressive transformation continues throughout the poem. We read a similar incident in the second book, where Aeneas ignores Hectors advice to escapesave yourself from these flames Look for a great city to establish.9 Aeneas, stubborn in his Homeric quest for noble death, mindlessly10 rushes out to face the enemy. Only after witnessing Polites death does his mind momentarily sway to his responsibility for his own father and family, however, he regresses once more at the sight of Helen and the
7 8

Virgil, The Aeneid; Book 1, lines 96-99. Ibid, lines 208-209. 9 Ibid, Book 2, lines 289-296. 10 Ibid, line 317.

Philip Reynor

March 2006

praise he would win for blotting out this evil.11 This time it takes divine Venus to wrench Aeneas from his bygone ideals and guide him where Hector had previously attempted and failed. Yet he still regresses for the third time; at the sight of his father Anchises bound to the destruction of Troy and Aeneas, once more, dons his armour only to be guided, once more, by a divine miracle and a divine sign.12 At this, we witness further progression and are given a symbol of the burden of social responsibility that Aeneas carries - as he lifts his father Anchises, carrying the household gods, onto his shoulders and makes his way out of his Homeric past, out of Troy. The hero faces emotional challenges and, as demonstrated, has difficulty in surmounting them. He swerves from one ideal to another giving us the appearance of an indecisive weak leader. Nevertheless, the hero meets the challenge and progresses in the right direction. This constant regression in order to urge forward progression is a stoical13 theme in the first half of Virgils poem. In the Book 3, Aeneas endures and surmounts diverse dangers in the search for his new home in Thrace, Crete, the Strophedes Islands, Sicily and finally, with death of his father Anchises. Subsequently, Aeneas begins his sorry affair with Dido and in the process forgets his mission and his duty altogether, regressing once again from Roman ideals. Again, he needs divine guidance to facilitate his progression, to shake him from his slumber and urge him to face the emotional challenges of abandoning Dido (representing voluptas or passion)14 for duty, abandoning individual satisfaction once again and moving toward pious ideals. Some may view Aeneas as inhuman in his
11 12

Ibid, line 585. The miracle is the flame that rises above the head of Iulus without doing him any harm. The sign is a falling star, which flies above the home of Aeneas and lands in the woods of Mount Ida. 13 Stoics believed that the development of the virtuous man was a result of facing trials, whether one fails them or not. 14 Significantly, he is here compared by Iarbas to a second Paris (4.217), as effeminate with a Maeonian bonnet tied under his chinenjoying what he has stolen (4.216-7). The affair of Paris and Helen played a major part in the fall of Troy and, similarly, if Aeneas follows the path of Paris Rome may never be founded. Cicero himself holds voluptas as a vice (Leg I, 31-32).

Philip Reynor

March 2006

treatment of Dido however, as David Feeney illustrates anything he might say will be inadequate after a speech such as Didos15, concurrently, following any other path of action leads to regression,16 thus, there is only one choice Aeneas can make and he shows true quality in making it. If we examine the Roman ideal of wisdom, expounded by Cicero as the knowledge of what should be done and what should be avoided17, in the context of this episode Cicero would agree that Aeneas is behaving wisely, a quality essential to leadership. In addition, he is displaying another Roman virtue: temperantia in turning his back on the wealth of Carthage. 18 In Sicily, once more, we note a regression and see Aeneas at his lowest point as he considers abandoning his quest altogether after the burning of four of his ships. Anchises comes to his rescue, as he did when faced with plague and famine in Crete, and with his words stamps Aeneas resolve to sail for Italy. After his visit to the Underworld, we see a new man in Aeneas. His movement has finally been secured and the hero sheds his Homeric skin on landing in Italy and lifts onto his shoulders the fame and fate of his descendants.19 Aeneas is no longer looking backwards and Virgil firmly marks this from Book 7 onwards. In the Underworld, Aeneas finally says farewell to the past and the ideals of the Homeric hero. Firstly, to the helmsman Palinurus symbolising a farewell to wandering20, then Dido as a farewell to love21 and finally Deiphobus as a farewell to Troy22 and it is no coincidence that
15 16

Feeney, D; The Taciturnity of Aeneas; p. 184. It may be argued that Aeneas covert departure is a sign of his callous nature and move away from humanistic ideals. Contrary to this, we could argue that Aeneas is showing quality leadership, a true Roman ideal and a pious one at that, a secret departure is to the benefit of his men and himself as Dido could easily capture and kill them thus jeopardizing Romes future. 17 Cicero, De Officiis, I, 153. 18 We also see this theme of power in poverty (6.844-5) in Book 6 in the parade of future Romans, and in Book 8 in the words of Evander you too must have the courage to despise wealth (8.366-7). Cicero also holds temperance as a virtue, and believed intemperance resulted in a diseased soul (De Off, III, 32). 19 Virgil, The Aeneid, Book 8, lines 731-732. 20 Ibid, Book 6, lines 337-385. 21 Ibid, lines 451-478. 22 Ibid, 494-547.

Philip Reynor

March 2006

following this he is granted a glimpse at the great Romans of the future. Significantly, Anchises greets Aeneas in Book 6 with the words, I knew your devotion would prevail over the rigour of your journey23, indicating that Aeneas has overcome his challenges and progressed finally into the Roman ideal. The heroism of Aeneas is set in motion when Virgil drives him on an arduous transition for the welfare of his people. By surpassing challenges that cannot even be addressed by the Homeric ethos, he progressively becomes a new generation of hero, one that adheres to the ideals of a new society, an evolved hero. Aeneas represents a man who by facing and surpassing challenges becomes a better man, a man who can deal with complex emotional and intellectual issues. From the moment he lands on Italian soil, we see a constantly decisive, wise, courageous, temperate and pious man not some individual attempting to display his aret to secure kleos esthlon or selfish glory at any cost. Cicero tells us that we should attempt to make the interest of each individual and the body politic identical. For, if the individual appropriates to selfish ends what should be devoted to the common good, all human fellowship will be destroyed.24 The benchmark of heroism in The Aeneid is not a Homeric one, heroism itself is progressing with Aeneas, and therefore he cannot be judged by Homeric standards, Virgil carries the Homeric individual, glory seeking hero, into The Aeneid and realises that if real human challenges are to be met these ideals must be abandoned. A social hero has arisen, a man of the people, for the people.

23

Ibid, line 686-687. This is significant as it is the first words of the only conversation between Aeneas and Anchises in the whole of the poem. 24 Cicero, De Officiis, III, 26.

Philip Reynor

March 2006

Bibliography: Primary sources: Cicero (1967). On Moral Obligation: De Officiss. Trans: Higginbotham, J. Faber and Faber L.T.D (London). Homer (1987). The Iliad. Trans: Hammond, M. Penguin (London). Homer (1991). The Odyssey. Trans: Rieu, E. V. Penguin (London). Virgil (1990). The Aeneid. Trans: West, D. Penguin (London). Secondary Sources:

Philip Reynor

March 2006

Bowra, C. M. (1933/34). Aeneas and the Stoic Ideal. Virgil: Critical Assessments by Classical Authors; Volume 3, p.204-217. Ed: Hardie, P. (London 1999). Feeney, D. (1983). The Taciturnity of Aeneas. Virgil: Critical Assessments by Classical Authors; Volume 3, p.183-203. Ed: Hardie, P. (London 1999). Galinsky, K. (1988) The Anger of Aeneas. Virgil: Critical Assessments by Classical Authors; Volume 4, p.435-454. Ed: Hardie, P. (London 1999). Putnam, M. C. J. The Hesitation of Aeneas. Virgil: Critical Assessments by Classical Authors; Volume 4, p.414-433. Ed: Hardie, P. (London 1999).