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Free MonkeyNotes Book Notes-The Aeneid by Virgil-Free Online Summary
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Minor Themes

Filial Devotion

The significance of this theme reflects the Roman virtue of “pietas” meaning reverence for higher authority and submission to it. Aeneas is a perfect example of this quality. His devotion arises out of deep love and respect for his father Anchises and it is extended to the gods as well. If his carrying Anchises out of Troy is an inevitable act of a good son ordered to do so by Venus, a goddess and his mother, his later care and respect for his father arises out of affection and duty. This virtue was encouraged by the Romans because when extended to submission to the city fathers (the senators) and to the fatherland it ensured total loyalty to the state.

As Aeneas respected his father, so Iülus loves and respects him, offering rich gifts to Nisus and Euryalus, when they venture out of the camp to seek him. Iülus is young enough to be moved by filial devotion in others. He can feel Euryalus’ concern for his devoted mother and weeps in his heart for her when her son is killed. He is touched even by the enemy revealing filial devotion as he sees Lausus throw himself in the way of the spear meant to kill his father Mezentuis. Turnus refuses to listen to the advice of the father figure Latinus to prevent a war and marry another girls so he must die. Pallas of course dies despite his affection for his father. He goes to meet Aeneas and his warriors to prevent his father breaking the rituals of sacrifice. The risk, he takes is great and the message is that filial affection must not expect any return from the father.

Propitiating the gods

This is a theme linked to the main theme of Destiny. Human action is totally ineffective unless it conforms to the preordained will of the gods. The gods must be acknowledged as Aeneas does in gratitude every time he touches the shore. He goes to great lengths to receive guidance approaching the gods with the right gifts in the form of certain types of sacrifices like two year old unshorn lambs or milk white bulls or blackheaded cattle in the case of death anniversaries. Fine examples of how the altars are set up and persons purified are presented, the most elaborate being Dido’s preparation of what turns out to be her funeral pyre.

Even treaties of state have to be ratified with the gods as witnesses. This is again elaborately described in Book Twelfth, when Latinus joins Aeneas in a treaty of settlement by single combat (ll. 180ff). The sanctity of treaties (ironically Juno is the goddess who enforces them) is such that a pagan Roman reader would perfectly grasp Aeneas’ great wrath at Latinus (not Turnus or Jaturna) when the first spear is thrown and the treaty broken.

Sexual Love

It may seem ironic that while Dido is a major character in The Aeneid, sexual love and the struggle involved is restricted mainly to Book Fourth. Critics have noted that lineal love between parents and children is given so much significance (Creüsa’s ghost does not expect of vow of divine love from Aeneas, her injunction is “still love thy child and mine” Book II 790-91) but the lateral love between the sexes is secondary. However, the only sexual love shown at great length is not a first love. Aeneas’ deep grief and wild search for Creüsa has been shown before he meets Dido. Dido confesses to her sister Anna how she had vowed eternal fidelity to her first husband, Sychaeus. So this passion between them inspired in Dido through Venus’ wiles and natural for Aeneas who responds to her natural physical charms and her brilliant powers of enterprise and administration which her city displays is hardly a major theme in Virgils’ design. It serves to show Aeneas as a sincere human being capable of deep feeling. Virgil’s early readers would feel less sorry for Dido than for Aeneas. He has to fulfill his destiny giving up a readymade empire of great aesthetic beauty and luxury that Dido can offer. The obsession with Aeneas has made her slack in carrying out her duties as a Queen, this is not forgivable. She could have continued without Aeneas, had she supervised the military drills as she used to and not let her citizens fall into a life of dissipation. Modern critics of course take a very romantic view and condemn Aeneas as heartless, forgetting that in the total scheme of the poem duty means fulfilling one’s destiny.

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