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The Aeneid

The Aeneid

by Virgil

Analysis: What's Up With the Ending?

Ahh, the ending of the Aeneid, in which our valiant hero hesitates before killing his surrendering enemy Turnus, then loses his temper and kills the guy anyway. Wait – what? Good question. The ending of the Aeneid is one of the most controversial aspects of the poem. Because the Aeneid is known to be unfinished, some people have thought that Virgil meant to continue the story – he just died before getting around to it. (In the fifteenth century, an Italian man called Maffeo Vegio even penned a new "Book 3," in which Aeneas and Lavinia get married. (Check it out here; there's probably a reason you've never heard of it.)

OK, maybe that's true, but since we know Virgil didn't write the poem in order, preferring to work here and there on whatever happened to inspire him, this only begs the question: why wasn't he inspired to wrap things up nicely? Taking the poem as it is, the ending clearly shows Aeneas violating Anchises's command to "spare the conquered," even if he has "battled down the proud." As such, it provides powerful evidence for those scholars and readers who see Virgil as sympathetic to the defeated – and perhaps deeply critical of the Roman Empire itself.

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