Study Guide

The Aeneid Family

By Virgil


Book 3

'When faintness of dread left me,
I brought before the leaders of the people,
My father first, these portents of the gods
And asked their judgment.' (3.82-84)

The standard epithet Virgil uses to characterize Aeneas is "pius." Although it is related to our word "pious," for the Romans this word had a much stronger connotation of devotion to family – and especially to one's parents. As the quotations in this section will show, devotion to one's parents, especially to one's father, is a very, very prevalent theme in the Aeneid. Here, we see this love and respect symbolized in the fact that Aeneas singles out his father as the first of the Trojan leaders he consults about a message from the gods.

'For after storms at sea had buffeted me
So often, here, alas, I lost my father,
Solace in all affliction and mischance;
O best of fathers, in my weariness—
Though you had been delivered from so many
Perils in vain—alas, here you forsook me.
Never had Helenus the seer, who warned
Of many things to make me quail, foretold
This grief to me—nor had the vile Celaeno.
Here was my final sorrow, here the goal
Of all my seafaring.' (3.937-948)

These lines come at the end of the story Aeneas tells to Dido in Books 2 and 3, so when he says "Here was my final sorrow," you have to understand that that is only from the perspective of his voyage so far. As we know, there are plenty more sad things that are going to happen to Aeneas before the poem is over. Still, given what we know of Aeneas's deep love for his father, there is no doubt that this was one of the worst calamities he ever experienced.

Book 5

"I greet and bless you, sacred father, bless you,
Ashes and shade and soul, paternal soul
I vainly rescued once. It was not given me
With you beside me to explore the coasts
And plains of Italy, nor to discover,
Whatever it may be, Ausonian Tiber" (5.105-110)

Aeneas says these words while making a sacrifice at his father's grave in Sicily. They provide (yet another) sign of the depth of his affection.

Book 6

"Have you at last come, has that loyalty
Your father counted on conquered the journey?
Am I to see your face, my son, and hear
Our voices in communion as before?
I thought so, surely; counting the months I thought
The time would come. My longing has not tricked me." (6.921-926)

Wouldn't it stink if Aeneas loved his dad a lot but his dad treated him badly? Fortunately, that isn't the case. As we can see from these lines, spoken by the spirit of Anchises in the underworld, the old man deeply loved his son as well.

Book 7

By fate
Latinus had no son or male descendant,
Death having taken one in early youth.
A single daughter held that house's hopes,
A girl now ripe for marriage, for a man.
And many in broad Latium, in Ausonia,
Courted her, but the handsomest by far
Was Turnus, powerful heir of a great line.
Latinus' queen pressed for their union,
Desiring him with passion for a son. (7.67-76)

These lines shed light on a family structure very different from ours – in which young women did not get to choose who they would marry, but instead were carefully shepherded into matches that their parents deemed suitable. Theoretically, control over these matters rested squarely with the male head of the family, or paterfamilias, who in this case would be King Latinus. Family dynamics are rarely so simple, however, and much of the drama of the second half of the Aeneid comes from the fact that Latinus's wife, Amata, wants their daughter to marry Turnus, a Rutulian prince. This might be because Amata thinks he is the best match for Lavinia, but doesn't it strike a bit odd that Virgil says she was "desiring him with passion"? Compare this with other scenes involving Amata and see if you agree with us that there's something fishy going on between Amata and the Rutulian prince.

Book 8

"But, Fortune, if you threaten some black day,
Now, now, let me break off my bitter life
While all's in doubt, while hope of what's to come
Remains uncertain, while I hold you here,
Dear boy, my late delight, my only one—
And may no graver message ever come
To wound my ears." (8.783-789)

Evander, king of the Arcadians, provides yet another example of a father who cares deeply for his son. All the same, he sends young Pallas off to war with Aeneas because he thinks it is important for him to learn how to fight.

Book 10

"Did such pleasure
In being alive enthrall me, son, that I
Allowed you whom I sired to take my place
Before the enemy sword? Am I, your father,
Saved by your wounds, by your death do I live?" (10.1184-1188)

Similarly, in this image of Mezentius, we see that the love between fathers and sons is not limited to the good characters in Virgil's poem. Even though Mezentius is a pretty bad guy, who doesn't worship the gods and was kicked out of his home city by his own people he still feels tremendous guilt at the fact that his son, Lausus, died trying to save him. Shortly afterwards, Mezentius will announce that he has lost the will to live – making him rush into battle on horseback, despite the wound in his groin (that's really got to hurt). He doesn't survive.

Now Lausus
Groaned at the sight of love for his dear father,
And down his cheeks the tears rolled. (10.1108-1110)

But wait, there are even more father-son pairs in this poem! Here we see Lausus, the son of the freaky Etruscan warrior Mezentius just before he races to his death in an attempt to save his father from being killed.

Book 12

"Learn fortitude and toil from me, my son,
Ache of true toil. Good fortune learn from others.
My sword arm now will be your shield in battle
And introduce you to the boons of war.
When, before long, you come to man's estate,
Be sure that you recall this. Harking back
For models in your family, let your father,
Aeneas, and uncle, Hector, stir your heart." (12.595-602)

After so many images of Aeneas playing the role of devoted son, here we see him playing the role of father, instructing Ascanius in how to be a proper warrior. At the same time, he holds up a different family member, the Trojan warrior Hector, who died at Troy, as another role model for his son.

The author of men and of the world replied
With a half-smile:
"Sister of Jupiter
Indeed you are, and Saturn's only child,
To feel such anger, stormy in your breast." (12.1124-1128)

If Aeneas tries to remind Ascanius of how courage runs in their family, here Jupiter tells his sister Juno that being a prickly pear runs in theirs. You can tell by that "half-smile," however, that Jupiter is also poking fun at himself. By this subtle touch, Virgil makes even the gods seem like a family just like those of mortals, with its own foibles and inside jokes.

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