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Virgil’s epic, The Aeneid

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    The existence of fate is a topic that has been heavily debated for many years. Is someone’s destiny really predetermined? Or is life just a series of coincidences and butterfly effects? In Virgil’s epic, The Aeneid, we follow the Trojan hero, Aeneas, through a difficult journey in an attempt to fulfill his god-given destiny. A key theme in Virgil’s writing is the emphasis on how the success of the Roman Empire is a guaranteed prophecy. The source of his fortune stems from the Fates and Jupiter’s plan to grant “power, empire without end” (Virgil 56) to Aeneas’s family line. His fate is set in stone by a higher power, and the foundations of the empire have been set. A prime example of the role of fate in the epic can be seen in book IV of The Aeneid, when Aeneas is compared to “a sturdy oak grown tough with age when the Northwinds blasting off the Alps compete, fighting left and right, to wrench it from the earth…” (Virgil 143) in his decision to follow through with Jupiter’s reminder. Through Virgil’s use of Aeneas’s resolve, supernatural interference, and the importance of piety, Aeneas’s relationship with Queen Dido contributes to the motif that because of his assigned destiny, the Roman Empire was a success story that was bound to happen.

    Even in the face of much difficulty and opposition, Aeneas’s determination to bring about the future success of the Roman Empire remains ever-present. From the initial storm, scattering his men, to the war in Italy, rivaling the very war that cost the lives of so many of his loved ones, Aeneas faces many obstacles in his quest to fulfill his destiny. One obstacle worth noting, is his relationship with Dido. When reminded by Jupiter of his greater purpose, Aeneas makes the resolve to leave for Italy, having to face the tears and emotions of the betrayed Dido. Even so, he remains “as firm as a sturdy oak grown tough with age when the Northwinds blasting off the Alps compete, fighting left and right, to wrench it from the earth… His will… unmoved” (Virgil 143). Virgil places emphasis on Aeneas’s steadfastness, with eleven lines dedicated to his strength against trials and tribulations that threaten to knock him down. Though “he takes the full force of love and suffering deep in his great heart” (Virgil 143), it isn’t enough to cause Aeneas to lose the grasp on his goal completely. As the perfect example of Roman values, Aeneas remains adamant in achieving his destiny. Through the diversions that come his way, Virgil indirectly states that no level of hardship is enough to prevent the Roman Empire from reaching its predestined level of power.

    Another method in which Virgil hints at the theme of the god-ordained success of the Roman Empire,, is through his implementation of supernatural interference. A clear example of this can be seen when Dido begs for Aeneas to reconsider, in tears at the thought of his abandonment. Aware of Aeneas’s affection for her, Dido does all she can to make him return to her, “ resort[ing] to her tears, driven to move the man, her pride to passion. So if die she must, she’ll leave no way untried” (Virgil 142). However, Aeneas offers no response, as “he is deaf to all appeals. He won’t relent. The Fates bar the way and heaven blocks his gentle, human ears” (Virgil 143). As stated, Dido’s words falls quite literally on deaf ears; not due to Aeneas’s own stubbornness, but due to the work of the heaven and the Fates in an effort to prevent Aeneas from being swayed. It seems that at moments where human resolve may waver, the gods are sure to keep order in check. Virgil’s repeated references to the will of the gods unconsciously places even more emphasis on what is believed to be the completely deserved power of Rome. The glory that the empire achieved was due to far more than just the grit and will of men, but also due to Jupiter and the will of The Fates. Through supernatural interference, Virgil adds on to the pride of the Romans, who, much like Aeneas, seem to curry favor with the gods with nothing other than their identity as pious, powerful Romans.

    However, it is more than just the work of the gods that play a heavy hand in the way the story plays out, but Aeneas’s own will as well. His piety remains a consistent part of his determination to play out his predetermined role in history. It is important to note that in Latin, the term ‘pietas’ refers to more than just religion; it also refers to one’s duty to his family, and country. Whether it be to the gods, his family, or his country, Aeneas remains steadfast in his obligations. Despite the connection he has shared with Dido, “Aeneas is driven by duty… Strongly as he longs to ease and allay her sorrow, speak to her, turn away her anguish with reassurance… in spite of all he obeys the gods’ commands and back he goes to his ships” (Virgil 141). Though he does hold a “great love” for Dido, Aeneas is so pious that he puts the will of the gods above his own. Here, Virgil places emphasis on the importance of one’s destiny. Though following through with fate may cause pain and suffering, the sacrifice is essential for the greater good– an understanding that Aeneas knew all too well. As the story moves forward, his sense of duty to a higher power becomes an even more overwhelming motif in his character as a whole.

    In conclusion, Virgil makes very clear the prominence of destiny in the success of the Roman Empire. Despite the many obstacles that obstruct Aeneas’s path, nothing is able to prevent him from historic success. Virgil’s use of supernatural interference supports the idea that through Aeneas, the Romans held favor in the eyes of the gods; that with the heavens on their side, greatness would always be within reach. Furthermore, Aeneas’s sense of duty to the gods, his nation, and to his people, act as a motivating point for him, pushing him to continue on in his quest despite the personal pain it may cause. Overall, through Aeneas’s relationship with the Queen Dido, Virgil gives the reader a small peek into a topic widely known as ‘manifest destiny’ regarding the success of the Roman Empire.

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