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roman lit essay

April 21, 2010

The Leadership of Aeneas in the Aeneid

Aeneas is often praised as a good leader, and set as an example for Romans to aspire to. The final scene of The Aeneid, featuring the death of Turnus gives us a chance to reconsider our evaluations of Aeneas. By comparing him with other characters from The Aeneid, in particular Evander and Diomedes, we can see that Aeneas shows a lack of moderation and fails in his role as leader.
The last scene of The Aeneid has Aeneas and Turnus entering into combat with each other when Turnus flees, following a wound to his thigh.(1) Aeneas, chases after him and catches him when Turnus begs for his life saying “clearly I earned this, and I ask no quarter/ make the most of your good fortune here…let me bespeak your mercy…the Ausonians / Have seen me in defeat, spreading my hands./ Lavinia is your bride. But go no further/ Out of hatred.”(2) Aeneas seems to be moved by the words and when he notices Pallas’ belt, he becomes engaged saying “You in your plunder, torn from one of mine/ Shall I be robbed of you? This wound will come/ From Pallas: Pallas makes this offering/ And from your criminal blood exacts his due.”(3) and then slays Turnus.
This act can be interpreted in many ways, such as an act of vengeance, but one thing is certain, Turnus has to die in order for Aeneas to go on to complete his destiny. Agatha H. F. Thornton writes that “it was Turnus’ destiny to die…but apart from this, turnus brought his own death upon himself by his furor and violentia which at this decisive point drove him beyond the bounds of moderation.”(4) Thornton presents an interesting argument that the final scene must be thought of in light of the deaths of both Pallas and Lausus. By comparing the way both are slain in battle, Pallas killed by Turnus who takes his belt, and Aeneas who kills Lausus, put leaves his armour untouched. By examining this example we see that Aeneas is capable of mercy in this case, when it comes to Turnus, he “cannot grant pity and forgiveness to a man who is incapable of pity.”(5)
This interpretation of Turnus’ actions in the tenth book, does not seem to hold up when one examines the intents of both himself and Pallas and the aftermath of their fight. Before they begin fighting both parties say they wish to strip the armour from the other, as was a common custom. And, following the death of Pallas, Turnus says to the gathered Arcadians, “Arcadians note well/ And take back to Evander what I say:/ In that state which his father merited/ I send back Pallas. And I grant in full/ What honour tombs confer, what consolation/ Comes of burial.”(6) This suggests that Turnus is respecting Pallas and his father, and that by no means does Turnus seem incapable of pity. A second point to bring up is that Turnus shows moderation through only taking Pallas’ belt, and not stripping him completely. George Duckworth offers a good insight in this particular matter, when he says that “Turnus is not killed because he has slain Pallas or even because he wears the youth’s balteus. Turnus’ appeal of the devotion of a father to son is at first effective, Aeneas almost spars him, but the sight of the sword belt reminds of another father son relationship (Evander-Pallas).(7)  The way Aeneas is described as seething with rage, is sometimes seen as a slur. Virgil, uses it several times earlier in the book to mark contexts where intemperate behaviour is displayed.(8) This could suggest that Aeneas “lacks the self-control that some readers expect from him as a Stoic role model or as a prototype of Augustan clemency.”(9)
Two better examples of role models can readily be found in the Aeneid. These are Evander and Diomedes, who are both leaders somewhat comparable to Aeneas. Evander, who was a Greek exile from Arcadia is the founder of ‘proto-Rome’ and serves as the mentor for Aeneas.(10) As mentor, Evander is tasked with guiding Aeneas towards his destiny. An example of this is when Evander “urges Aeneas to imitate his simple lifestyle by accepting the same humble hospitality as  Hercules did before him.”(11) Evander represents a model of civilization and piety which Aeneas is meant to emulate. Evander had already accomplished what Aeneas is setting out to do, which is to found a new city in the area which is now known as Rome.
A better example of an alternative role model who is very similar to Aeneas can be found in the character of Diomedes. Diomedes is one of the victorious Greek heroes from the Trojan War, and is one of the bravest amoung the Greeks during the war, and almost kills Aeneas before he is rescued by his mother.(12) Diomedes, following his return from Troy finds his position at home usurped and so he departs for Italy, where he founds a city. In the eighth book of the Aeneid, the Rutulians send an embassy to Diomedes, hoping he will join in the battle against Aeneas. Diomedes and Aeneas share a number of character traits, especially in the Iliad. Aeneas and Diomedes are “both described as aristoi, and they  are both considered as chief leaders by their fellow warriors, and thus stand in the position below that of Hector and Achilles.”(13) Diomedes can be seen as a foil to Aeneas, both have similar pasts  following the Trojan War, in that Diomedes also ends up in Africa and falls in love with a princess who later kills herself(14) before reaching Italy.
The Diomedes found in the Aeneid is a figure that has greatly changed since the Trojan War. This is most notable in his reply to the Rutulian emissary.  The new Diomedes does not care for “the glory of completing his victory over the Trojan survivors, or for the promised rewards and pleadings. Diomedes’ concern now is only to live in peace and he advised them to do the same.”(15) Thus, Diomedes instead of embracing his former role as destructive warrior instead chooses to live a quiet, peaceful life where we can live out the rest of his life. Papaioannou suggests that this change in character may represent the shift in cultural hegemony from Greek to Latin.  Papaioannou says Diomedes is “representative  of the old epic Greek world, who tired of endless fighting, willingly acknowledges the new world order soon to be dictated and controlled by his former enemy Aeneas.”(16)
Diomedes’ desire for peace is not an option for Aeneas, as he is being propelled forward by the gods. What Aeneas can learn from Diomedes is a greater sense of moderation. When Aeneas strikes Turnus down, he acts immoderately by giving into his rage. Diomedes can be said to be too peaceful, but it is not ruled out that he would take up arms to maintain peace for himself. Aeneas himself is given this choice when in Carthage. Mercury sets in opposition the two ideas of otium and gloria.(17) Otium, roughly means leisure or peace, where gloria represents personal reputation. Mercury argues that Aeneas is being self-indulgent by wanting to maintain the otium he is experiencing. By not thinking of the gloria, Aeneas does not see what he must do.  For Aeneas, the pursuit of gloria is the ultimate way of showing his pietas.(18)
Aeneas, and his decision to slay Turnus shows  a lack of moderation in two aspects of Aeneas’ character. The first is his drive towards pietas and gloria, which he must reach or anger the gods. The second aspect is the lack of pity that Aeneas shows Turnus. The idea that Turnus wronged Pallas by killing him does not really fit the response, as Pallas was an armed combatant who was also trying to kill Turnus. It is not like Pallas tried to run away and was killed like a dog, he was killed honourably in battle, and was not stripped of his armour.  It is not clear what happens to Turnus’ armour following his death, but the way Aeneas surrenders his moderation in the moment of rage leaves both options open.
The characters of Evander and Diomedes both represent other leadership figures, who arguably are better leaders then Aeneas. Evander, who lives a simple, peaceful lifestyle offers help and assistance to the Trojans, including his own son, who looses his life. Diomedes is a clear parallel for Aeneas, and is a changed man from his days during the Trojan War. He has experienced much sadness and loss and prefers to  live the remainder of his says peacefully. Diomedes chooses otium over gloria, whereas Aeneas does the opposite.
A modern reader would likely find the leadership of Diomedes to be much more appropriate then that of Aeneas. Following the defeat of his people and the loss of their homeland, the Trojans leave for Italy where they start another large war that kills then more people. The lack of moderation shown by Aeneas sets a bad example to his ancestors and is not in keeping with the example put forward by Evander, and fails to compare with the example set by Diomedes.

Notes
1 Virgil, The Aeneid. 4th  ed. Robert Fitzgerald. New York: Random House Inc, 1990. Pp 401
2 Virgil, The Aeneid. 4th  ed. Robert Fitzgerald. New York: Random House Inc, 1990. Pp 402
3 Virgil, The Aeneid. 4th  ed. Robert Fitzgerald. New York: Random House Inc, 1990. Pp 402
4 Thornton, Agatha H. F. “The Last Scene of the ‘Aeneid’.” Greece & Rome, Vol. 22, No. 65 (Jun., 1953), pp. 83
5 Thornton, Agatha H. F. “The Last Scene of the ‘Aeneid’.” Greece & Rome, Vol. 22, No. 65 (Jun., 1953), pp. 84
6 Virgil, The Aeneid. 4th  ed. Robert Fitzgerald. New York: Random House Inc, 1990. Pp 311
7 Duckworth, George E. “Turnus and Duryodhana.” Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, Vol. 92, (1961), pp. 87
8 Laird, Andrew. “Approaching characterisation in Virgil.” The Cambridge Companion to Virgil, (1997), pp. 288
9 Laird, Andrew. “Approaching characterisation in Virgil.” The Cambridge Companion to Virgil, (1997), pp. 288
10 Papaioannou, Sophia. “Founder, Civilizer and Leader: Vergil’s Evander and His Role in the Origins of Rome.” Mnemosyne, Fourth Series, Vol. 56, Fasc. 6 (2003), pp. 681
11 Papaioannou, Sophia. “Founder, Civilizer and Leader: Vergil’s Evander and His Role in the Origins of Rome.” Mnemosyne, Fourth Series, Vol. 56, Fasc. 6 (2003), pp. 690
12 The Iliad, Book 5, 297-470
13 Papaioannou, Sophia. “Vergilian Diomedes Revisited: The Re-Evaluation of the ‘Iliad’” Mnemosyne, Fourth Series, Vol. 53, Fasc. 2 (Apr., 2000), pp. 197
14 Papaioannou, Sophia. “Vergilian Diomedes Revisited: The Re-Evaluation of the ‘Iliad’” Mnemosyne, Fourth Series, Vol. 53, Fasc. 2 (Apr., 2000), pp. 198
15 Papaioannou, Sophia. “Vergilian Diomedes Revisited: The Re-Evaluation of the ‘Iliad’” Mnemosyne, Fourth Series, Vol. 53, Fasc. 2 (Apr., 2000), pp. 208
16  Papaioannou, Sophia. “Vergilian Diomedes Revisited: The Re-Evaluation of the ‘Iliad’” Mnemosyne, Fourth Series, Vol. 53, Fasc. 2 (Apr., 2000), pp. 212
17 Miles, Gary. “Glorious Peace: The Values and Motivation of Virgil’s Aeneas.” California Studies in Classical Antiquity, Vol. 9, (1976), pp. 148
18 Miles, Gary. “Glorious Peace: The Values and Motivation of Virgil’s Aeneas.” California Studies in Classical Antiquity, Vol. 9, (1976), pp. 150

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