The Aeneid Mortality Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Book.Line). We used Robert Fitzgerald's translation.
Dawn at that hour
Brought on her kindly light for ill mankind,
Arousing men to labor and distress. (11.251-253)
Even though he doesn't go as far as his hero, Virgil's narrator here expresses sentiments similar to those of Aeneas, in the fourth quotation from this section. That's because when Aeneas says he can't imagine why the souls of the dead would want to be reborn, he imagines the human condition as fundamentally burdensome. The narrator's position is more nuanced than the hero's however, because of the paradox that the light which brings "labor and distress" (in this case warfare) is also "kindly." After all, even though people are terrified of warfare, they are still glad for every new day that comes.
"Every man's last day is fixed.
Lifetimes are brief, and not to be regained,
For all mankind. But by their deeds to make
Their fame last: that is labor for the brave.
Below the walls of Troy so many sons
Of gods went down, among them, yes, my child,
Sarpedon. Turnus, too, is called by fate.
He stands at the given limit of his years." (10.650-657)
These words by Jupiter present not so much a paradox as a contrast: between the brief lifespan allotted to mortals, and the lasting fame that some are able to achieve. These lines are especially indebted to the mindset of Homer's Iliad, in which fame (or, in Greek, kleos) is all-important. That said, in Homer, the afterlife was awful, whereas in Virgil, there is at least the potential that you might end up in Elysium, if you were a really good guy – plus you're going to get reincarnated. Look at the fifth quotation for the theme of Duty, where it lists the people who end up with sweet digs in the afterlife. These guys certainly aren't all warriors. How does this fact change your perception of Jupiter's speech here? Do you think that Virgil really subscribes to the Homeric value system, or is he promoting something different?
"When the long file had gone
A distance on its way, Aeneas halted,
Sighed from the heart, and spoke a final word:
"More of the same drear destiny of battle
Calls me back to further tears. Forever
Hail to you, my noble friend, my Pallas,
Hail and farewell forever." (11.127-133)
Of course, the greatest pain caused by death may be felt by the survivors. As Walt Whitman puts it in his famous poem for Abraham Lincoln, "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd," "I saw the debris and debris of all the dead soldiers of the war; / But I saw they were not as was thought; / They themselves were fully at rest—they suffer'd not; / The living remain'd and suffer'd." In this case, the words Aeneas speaks to the dead Pallas are a common way of saying a last goodbye. For a precursor to these lines in Latin literature, check out this poem by the Roman poet Catullus.