Lincoln Blogs


‘I Am Dutiful Aeneas’
July 19, 2007, 9:27 pm
Filed under: Books, School Papers

The Aeneid, a famous epic poem written by Virgil, has an important theme of duty. Aeneas, the main character introduces himself saying, ” I am dutiful Aeneas.” He does what he knows to be his duty always, even if he doesn’t want to. There are many examples of this.

In the first part of the book, Aeneas tells Dido, the queen of Carthage who he is deeply in love with, his story of the Trojan War. He tells of how the Greeks came out of the Trojan horse–the giant wooden horse in which Greek soldiers hid–and destroyed the city. He wanted to stay and fight, but knew that by doing so, he would die and thus condemn the rest of the survivors to death, for they were mostly weak, and he was their leader. So, he left the ruins alive, carrying his father on his back. Many followers came with him. They were shipwrecked on their voyage out of Troy, but found their way to Carthage, where Aeneas meets Dido, the beautiful queen of the city, and falls in love. Dido is amazed at this story, and wants Aeneas to stay in Carthage. But while in Carthage, the king of the gods tells him that his duty and destiny is not to stay and rule in Carthage, but to found a new city where his ancestors lived. He assumes this means Troy, so, he sets off to rebuild the city, leaving Dido. It pains him almost to death that he has to leave, as it does Dido. She commits suicide out of grief. This devastates Aeneas, but he stays the course, for he knows it is his duty.

He and his crew set sail, eventually making their way to Italy. Aeneas is led to the underworld, which he must visit if the suffering is ever to end, according to the prophetess Sibyl. So, he is led by Sibyl and brought down where he sees the ghost of Dido, who refuses to speak with him. His father Anchises also awaits him. Anchises shows Aeneas where following his duty will lead him, and tells him that who he believes to be the only god has created everything in the universe. Then, Anchises reveals to his son what god has destined for him: a long line of descendents in Rome, including Romulus, the founder of the great city, and Augustus, who will bring peace to the land. Aeneas now realizes that his duty and destiny is not to rebuild Troy, but to found Rome. This knowledge rejuvenates him, and gives him the courage to wage war, which is needed if he is to fulfil his duty.

He goes into a seemingly unnecessary war against those whose evil would thwart the destiny of Rome. One of these evildoers is Turnus who was the chief antagonist of Aenas. Prior to Aeneas’ arrival in Italy, Turnus was the primary potential suitor of Lavinia, daughter of Latinus, King of the Latin people. Lavinia, however, is promised to Aeneas. Juno, determined to prolong the suffering of the Trojans and not wanting Rome to be founded, prompts Turnus to demand a war with the new arrivals.

At the end of the war, Aeneas overcomes the source of rebellion and evil, Turnus. Turnus begs for mercy and his life, and Aeneas does not really want to kill him, but he knows it is his duty. So, he delivers the fatal blow, conquering the enemy, and blazing the trail for the likes of Romulus and Augustus.

Aeneas’ sense of duty in the Aeneid drives him to go sometimes against his will for what he knows is the greater good. He does what needs to be done, no matter what the consequences. He says that there is “work which duty binds me to fulfil.” He does fulfil it, and ends up founding the greatest empire the world has ever seen. Aeneas introduces himself at the beginning of the poem as, “I am dutiful Aeneas” and continues to show himself dutiful.

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