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

Turnus is a daredevil. If he were alive today, he might be the person who drag-races on Main Street at 3:00 A.M. to show off. He's incredibly competitive. He may not care that much about what he's fighting for, but he's proud of being a great warrior and he isn't going to let anyone get ahead of him.

Turnus isn't a nasty person. He doesn't really mean to cause as much harm as he does. Because he never really stops to think about the consequences of his actions, everything he does is incredibly destructive. That's why Virgil always compares him to a wild animal.

And that's Turnus' great flaw. You'll see that Virgil is no pacifist. He thinks that war and killing can be justified. He does not criticize Aeneas for fighting for his people and their right to make a home in Italy. But Turnus is mostly fighting for himself. Turnus never considers the possibility of a reasonable compromise with the Trojans. Even after his allies want to make peace, Turnus cannot stop fighting.

But is Turnus to blame for this? Literally, the story tells you that Turnus is set on fire with lust for war by Allecto's blazing torch. Is this passion something that Turnus couldn't help? Or was it in his personality all along; and is Allecto only a symbol for why it heated up? (This is the same question we asked about Dido and Cupid.)

You might think that the second answer sounds more reasonable. We no longer believe that evil goddesses like Allecto really exist. But there is another way of thinking about whether or not Turnus is to blame. In some ways he is just defending his country from invasion by a foreign army, the Trojans. What is wrong with that? What would your reaction be if a foreign army arrived in the United States and said, "Oh, by the way, we're here because the fates told us to come"? If you think about it that way, what Turnus does is perfectly reasonable, and he's innocent because he has no way of knowing that Aeneas really is right about his fate. He doesn't know that Aeneas will win. If he could have known that in advance, of course there would have been no reason to fight. But he can't know that Aeneas will win until close to the end. To his credit, when Aeneas is about to kill him, he realizes that he was wrong and admits it.


You get an interesting insight into Juno when you think about Turnus this way. One of the things wrong with Juno is that she keeps fighting fate. That's irrational on her part because she knows what the fates have in store. But Turnus really doesn't know. So what is evil in Juno becomes tragic in Turnus. He's doing the best he can but he doesn't realize that he's on the losing end of history.

You can also compare Turnus to Dido. They are both victims of uncontrolled passion and of Aeneas and his fate. Dido's misfortune is that she lives in a country where Aeneas isn't meant to stay. Turnus' problem is that he lives in a country where Aeneas is supposed to stay. But Dido harms only herself while Turnus kills many innocent people. And that makes a big difference. Dido is purely tragic, but it's hard to know exactly what to feel about Turnus.

Still another way of looking at Turnus is that he is the old-fashioned hero, the rugged individualist, who can never accept any authority other than his own. He cannot live in a peaceful, civilized state like the new order that Aeneas will start. There is no place for people like Turnus in Rome because they're the kind of people who start civil wars.

JUNO

If you're really unlucky you may have met someone like Juno. She could be a distant relative who comes to the annual family reunion hopelessly overdressed and wants you to tell her how great she looks. You have to flatter her or she'll pester you all evening. She remembers all insults-real or imagined-and she talks about them for hours. She can't imagine what she ever did to deserve such disrespect. When the party's over, she still insists that no one paid any attention to her.

But Juno's even worse than this because she's a real troublemaker. She doesn't just talk about how angry she is, she acts on it. Since she's a goddess (and married to Jupiter) she can cause big trouble. If she wants a storm she can get it, and when she wants an evil demon, like Allecto, to drive people crazy all she has to do is call. Juno never controls her feelings. She simply lets everything out-and it's all bad.

The strangest thing is that Juno, despite her ruthlessness, never gets what she wants. Have you ever noticed how true that is about angry people? They just go from one fight to another, but they never seem to win. Why is that? One reason is that they are often irrational. They pick fights they can't win. They're also very self-destructive. They're so angry that they don't realize that their plans will backfire and produce exactly what they don't want. A good example of this is Juno's invention of a mock marriage between Dido and Aeneas in order to force Aeneas to stay in Carthage. Aeneas leaves anyway and Dido's life is ruined.

Why is Juno so angry at the Trojans? She has one petty reason-she lost a beauty contest-and one good reason. Carthage is Juno's favorite city and Rome (which the Trojans will found) is destined to destroy Carthage. That sounds like a rather good reason to be furious, and it is. However, no one, not even Juno, can change that destiny. It's inevitable. It's a part of fate and in Virgil's world even the gods can't change fate. So, in fighting fate, Juno is doing something basically irrational. She's fighting a battle she can never win. All she can do is make trouble.

This gives you a clue to what Juno symbolizes in the Aeneid. She is a force for disorder. Her uncontrolled rage does nothing but cause misery and death. Her weapons are found in nature: storms and fire on one hand, passions in men on the other. Thus, one way you can view Juno is as a symbol of violent and destructive forces that are always present in the world.

Juno will never stop on her own, but after her anger has burned itself out a bit, she will obey a command to stop from a god more powerful than she. That's Jupiter, her husband and the king of the gods. Similarly, you'll see that the effects of her rage on men like Turnus can eventually be controlled by other men, like Aeneas, who are strong enough to impose order.


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