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Barron's Booknotes-The Aeneid by Virgil-Free Book Summary
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AENEAS

Aeneas is a great survivor. He's one of those people who can lose everything and still start over again. He goes from being a victim of the Greeks at Troy to becoming a conqueror in Italy. He starts out as an unhappy and unwilling exile and becomes the founder of a great city. Aeneas is the first hero in Western literature who changes and develops. His struggles help him discover who he is and what he thinks is important.

Is Aeneas great because his fate made him great or is he great because he had the courage and determination to live up to the role fate handed him? There is a side to Aeneas-particularly in the first four books of the Aeneid- that isn't very impressive, even if you can understand why he feels the way he does. He's sad, tired, always waiting for his father or the gods to tell him what to do. But Aeneas always fulfills his duty to his family, to his country, and to the gods, even when he's depressed. He is never selfish. He always puts his responsibility to others first. If you have to name one quality that defines Aeneas, it is this devotion to duty, a quality the Romans called pietas or piety. This quality keeps him going even when he would rather forget about his fate. Ultimately, this same quality makes him accept, even welcome, that fate. Because, when Aeneas finally realizes that all his efforts will make the glorious Roman Empire possible, his love of his family and his country are fulfilled. The result is that the Aeneas you see at the end of the Aeneid is determined, sure of himself and confident that he knows what's right. He has become a great leader who is able to impose order on people who display more selfish and unruly emotions.


Aeneas achieves his self-control at a stiff price to himself and, often, to others. He leaves Dido, a woman who rescued him and his Trojans and who loves him deeply, with no explanation except that he must follow his fate to Italy. You may decide that he's a cold-blooded achiever. Or you may decide that Aeneas felt terrible pain at leaving Dido and was able to leave only through the heroic mastery of his feelings. Aeneas is a great warrior, able and willing to brutally kill his enemies, but he is often horrified by death. Even in the last scene of the Aeneid, where Aeneas kills his most bitter rival, Turnus, you see that he has a moment of pity.

Aeneas does not just live in the moment. He lives with a strong sense of history. He remembers his past in Troy and he sees the future in store for his people. Aeneas' own life shows the terrible price men pay to build great civilizations. He has to suppress his own feelings in order to bring order. Some readers also see Aeneas as a link between the classical world of heroes, which admired strong but often selfish individuals, and the later Christian era with its greater emphasis on compassion for other people.

Aeneas would not be great at a party. He never cracks jokes. His complete devotion to duty can be a little dull. Virgil may have made him this way, in part, because Aeneas was supposed to represent Augustus, who was a very reserved, even cold, person. Another reason that Aeneas may not seem like a real person is that Virgil didn't want you to think of him that way. After all, Aeneas is the son of a goddess. He is partly divine or partly a myth himself. Aeneas is larger than life. Virgil turned him into a model of a great leader-firm, stern, but compassionate. He is a symbol of the great Roman virtues of duty and leadership.


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