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

The goddess Venus is Aeneas' mother. Like all mothers, she would like to see her son succeed. In fact, she wants him to succeed so much that she doesn't really care how hard it may be on him. For example, Venus agrees with Juno's scheme to have Dido and Aeneas marry in a mock ceremony. Venus doesn't care because she knows that Aeneas will have to leave anyway. But she doesn't stop to think about Aeneas' feelings when he has to leave. Venus isn't very warm. She's not interested in having long chats with her son, and she enjoys tricking him by disguising herself.

Like Juno, Venus loves to intervene in human affairs and helps Aeneas out of several difficult spots, but like Juno she can't change the basic course of fate. All she does is restore the balance after Juno has tipped it against Aeneas. But Venus' actions never restore order; in fact, they sometimes make matters worse. She's just another competing force against Juno. While she's not angry and destructive like Juno, she's not particularly admirable, either. Basically, Venus is concerned only about what she wants. If people like Dido get hurt in the process, Venus doesn't care.

In Roman mythology Venus was the goddess of love. It's no accident that she's Aeneas' mother. After all doesn't his great sense of responsibility come from his love of his family and country? But in Virgil's world you also see that love isn't necessarily as positive an emotion as we think it is today. Venus is responsible for Dido's uncontrollable passion. And Venus herself seems to be more a goddess of self-interest than one of true love and generosity.

JUPITER

Jupiter is the only god in the Aeneid who acts the way you would think a god should. He's calm, rational, impartial. But in one way he's very different from what you would think a god should be. He's not particularly interested in goodness. His major interest is to see that everything goes according to fate. As a result he, unlike Juno and Venus, tends not to intervene unless things get seriously out of control.

Jupiter is the only god who really has the power to change things. For example, he can stop Juno from making trouble. He doesn't simply try to foil her the way Venus does. In some ways you might decide that there really is only one god, Jupiter, in the Aeneid and that the other gods are just symbols of natural and human forces.

You may ask why Jupiter doesn't intervene sooner and stop Juno from her futile but destructive efforts to change fate and prevent Aeneas from reaching Italy. If you think of Jupiter as a personality instead of a god, it's easy to understand why. He's married to Juno and has learned to indulge her a bit. It's easier for him to let her defuse her anger on the Trojans than to have her raging around him all day. But even if you view Jupiter as a god, his delay suggests that he himself is also a part of nature. He represents a basic force toward order but other chaotic forces also exist (like Juno) and he must let them run their course. Jupiter and the forces of order may ultimately win, but there may have to be a thunderstorm before the sky clears. Juno has to rant and rave for a while before her anger can abate.

Virgil also uses Jupiter as a way of giving official and religious approval to the Roman Empire. When Jupiter predicts that the Roman Empire will reach the stars and that it will last forever, Romans of Virgil's day must have felt that their power over the world was not only right but inevitable.


ANCHISES

Anchises is Aeneas' father. When you first meet him, he is an old man, stubbornly refusing to budge from burning Troy. That's where he's lived his life; that's where he's going to die. Only after he sees two impressive omens, which say that his grandson is destined for great things, is he willing to go. Aeneas carries him out of the city on his shoulders.

Anchises is literally and symbolically a burden to Aeneas. Aeneas loves and respects his father very much. But Anchises is basically rooted in the past, even though he becomes a fervent supporter of the Trojans' search for a new city. Anchises makes mistakes-he sends the Trojans to Crete, which is relatively near Troy, instead of sending them to Italy. This shows that Anchises can't think radically. He's not up to a big change. He's naive. He thinks that the future will resemble the past. His naivete is shown by the fact that, unlike Aeneas, he doesn't seem to worry that much. He doesn't have doubts about the future. Anchises must die and go to the underworld before he will understand how different the future will be. Anchises symbolizes the old life and the old ways of Troy. Aeneas loves and respects these things, just as he loves and respects his father, but he must leave them behind and go on alone to find a totally new life in Italy. Anchises' death symbolizes that he remains a Trojan, a man of an earlier era.


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