The Aeneid Fate and Free Will Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Book.Line). We used Robert Fitzgerald's translation.
'Here are signs for you to keep in mind:
When in anxiety by a stream apart
Beneath shore oaks you find a giant sow,
Snow-white, reclining there, suckling a litter
Of thirty snow-white young: that place will be
You haven after toil, site of your town.
And have no fear of table-biting times;
The fates will find a way for you; Apollo
Will be at hand when called.' (3.527-535)
These words by Helenus shine a more positive light on prophecy than the scene featuring Cassandra from Book 2. By telling the Trojans what to look out for, Helenus gives them a guiding light – in the form of a radiantly white pig – to encourage them on their journey and let them know then they've arrived.
"So lift your eyes and search, and once you find it
Pull away the bough. It will come willingly,
Easily, if you are called by fate.
If not, with all your strength you cannot conquer it,
Cannot lop it off with a sword's edge." (6.213-217)
These words are spoken by the Sibyl (a priestess of Apollo) to Aeneas; she is instructing him on how to get the golden bough, which will serve as his passport to the underworld. These lines paint a pretty straightforward picture of Fate versus Free Will (i.e., if you're not fated to take the bough, your will isn't free to take it) – until you compare them with the scene when Aeneas actually finds the bough, later in the same book. Here's the decisive moment: "Aeneas at once briskly took hold of it / And, though it clung, greedily broke it off" (6.297-298), What's up with "clung" and "greedily broke it off"? That doesn't sound like what the Sibyl predicted. Is Aeneas acting against Fate? Some scholars have suggested that the bough only seems to "cling" from Aeneas's perspective, because he is so eager. (The technical term for this is "focalization" – in that the narrative is "focused" through Aeneas's eyes.) Still, it's a mystery. Got any ideas?
"Look, how we've devoured our tables even!"
Iulus playfully said, and said no more,
For that remark as soon as heard had meant
The end of wandering: even as it fell
From the speaker's lips, his father caught it, stopped
The jesting there, struck by the word of heaven (7.151-157)
This famous scene is an example of a common theme in ancient literature: that people often fulfill prophecies unexpectedly, without even knowing it. The most famous example of this is Oedipus, who fulfills a prophecy saying he would kill his father and marry his mother, because of his ignorance of who his true parents are. (It's a little complicated to explain; check out our Shmoop guide – and read the play! – if you're confused.) Often, the fulfillment of a prophecy will be something relatively harmless – as in this case, where the prediction that Aeneas and his men will be reduced to eating their plates really just means they will end up chowing down on pizza (the dough is thought of as the plate).