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“The Two Voices of Aeneas”

At pius Aeneas, quamquam lenire dolentem

solando cupit et dictis avertere curas,
multa gemens magnoque animum labefactus amore
iussa tamen divum exsequitur classemque revisit.

Here in Book IV, Aeneas wishing to stay with his love, Dido, is compelled by
divine command and duty towards his dependents to leave her and seek his promised
land. The recovery of his happiness after years of toil is ended abruptly by a
divine order, to which he is unswervingly loyal. But beneath his reserved
exterior, his poverty of emotional expression, he is a man torn. Duty and desire,
public and personal devotion are warring within his breast. These verses give
perhaps the most succinct example of that to which my dissertation’s title refers.

The idea of a duality of ‘public’ and ‘private’ voices within the Aeneid and the
phrase the ‘two voices of Aeneas’, to which my title alludes, was suggested to me
by Parry’s important article The Two Voices of the Aeneid. I have used this title
in order to introduce the notion which I will expand upon throughout the essay,
namely that of two voices, the public, primary and the private, secondary voice.
This idea may be elucidated by a quotation from Lyne: “The Aeneid is an unusually
complex and rich poem. Its dense texture conveys a multiplicity of meanings. More
particularly, I would say it conveys a multiplicity of opinions; it offers a
variety of ways of interpreting the events enacted. It is as if one heard
different voices speaking to one in and behind the action” . Parry himself puts it
more starkly; “We hear two distinct voices in the Aeneid, a public voice of
triumph, and a private voice of regret” . I put it that these distinct voices can
also be discerned within Aeneas himself and are, in essence, distinguished by
their variance in object of concern. For example, Aeneas’ ‘first,’ primary voice
(like the Aeneid’s) is one of public concern and glorification, manifested as his
selflessness and duty towards others. The ‘second’ voice is the converse it is a
voice of personal tendencies and regard for himself, one of private concern. More
generally the term ‘two voices’ refers to Virgil’s even-handed treatment of his
subjects, his shunning of stereotypes in the portrayal of all his characters and,
in particular, Aeneas.
Although the idea of these two voices in the Aeneid is well trodden theme , and
has often been explored, I wish to investigate further this duality in the
characterisation of Aeneas and whether, and in what way, he is himself, in
microcosm, a model of the external struggles and conflicts of these voices within
the text. Put simply then my aim is to investigate the Aeneid’s portrayal of the
two voices or impulses within Aeneas: duty to the public cause and desire, which
is in effect duty to himself. I shall explore this through analysis of Aeneas’
character and its development throughout the epic. Specifically I am interested in
the internal strife that often plagues him, to which his men, and to a lesser
extent the reader, are rarely privy. I will then continue to examine how this fits
within the other tensions and wider voices in the text.
I shall begin with a brief study of the Aeneid as a whole, and from there proceed
to examine Aeneas’ character in more detail. I will attempt to illuminate the
different inclinations contained within Aeneas and for this purpose shall focus
especially upon those moments where conflict arises. These are times when the
tensions become more clearly discernable in their contrast and conflict, when
divergence of impulse brings them to the surface of Aeneas, and thus the
narrative. Once this disharmony in Aeneas’ character has been identified, along
with its constituent parts, I hope to discuss how it is portrayed and the tone
that this creates, before continuing to question Virgil’s intention and sympathy
for Aeneas’ more closely.
In instances where I do not offer my own translation, I shall use W.F. Jackson
Knight’s translation of the Aeneid, chosen for its accuracy and its literary
merits. I also include references to the Odyssey and the Iliad, clearly two of
Virgil’s major models. I use these purely as measures for his treatment of the
epic subject, and so my discussion of these texts is rather cursory. Even so, with
reference to the Aeneid’s epic precursors, much can be discerned about both Aeneas
and the wider poem’s intended meaning and interpretations. Central to this is the
understanding and estimation of Aeneas’ character, through both his divergence
from, and similarity to, Odysseus and Achilles.

The Two Voices of the Aeneid

At its most basic the Aeneid is the story of Aeneas’ odyssey from his home
Troy, razed to the ground by the Greek army, to journey to Italy’s shores,
“installing the gods of his race in the Latin land: and that was the origin of the
Latin nation, the Lords of Alba, and the proud battlements of Rome” . The journey
is really only half of the struggle; for once he reaches the ‘Lavinian’ shore he
must contest in warfare to claim Latium for his descendants. We have then a man
willed by fate and divine power to leave his desecrated home and seek a foreign
land for the reason of founding a great and glorious race, the Romans.
Thus the Aeneid is a hymn to the greatest empire the world had even seen.
His patron and sovereign emperor of Rome, Augustus, traced his lineage through
Julius Caesar all the way back to the poem’s heroic protagonist Aeneas and his son
Ascanius (or more patently Iulus). Thus Augustus appears to bask in the reflected
glory of his ancestor’s quasi-mythical endeavours and travails . Several times in
the poem, episodes are created to link the tale directly to the present day. In
the underworld Anchises proudly demonstrates the line of heroes ready to be born
after Aeneas in his lineage. Of these the most lavishly decorated by Anchises’
tongue is Augustus Caesar. The link could not be stated more plainly and thinly
veiled allusion is cast off in favour of direct praise and panegyric . Praise of
Augustus is accompanied throughout the poem by effusive praise for the Roman
people and empire itself, which will become the prize of Aeneas’ toil. At the end
of the poem we have the victorious Roman people, Aeneas’ men, Ascanius, Lavinia,
the glorious nation and the roman reader for whom the epic was intended. As
Jupiter proclaims in the first book;

“To Romans I set no boundary in space or time. I have granted them dominion and it
has no end.”

his ergo nec metas rerum nec tempora pono:

imperium sine fine dedi. (I.278-9)

This is the overtly public and panegyric sense of the Aeneid, forceful, proud and
patriotic. Appreciated most fully in its own time, this primary and optimistic
sense of the Aeneid has been so tarnished by the centuries of appreciation of the
private, ‘Cattulan’ voice in the poem that, strangely, one must appreciate that
this is not the only or even primary tendency of the poem. “The element of pathos
is so obvious to all readers of Virgil, and has been so strongly stressed in the
last hundred years of Virgilian criticism, that it is necessary to emphasise the
other polarity, the optimistic note of Rome’s greatness” .
This ‘Catullan’ voice, the second of the ‘two voices’ in the Aeneid is a term used
to describe the opposing voice of contemplation, a voice of dissent within the
primary voice, which creates pathos for Aeneas’ human obstacles. It engenders a
note of reflection and a sympathetic tone towards the characters who oppose
unawares the birth of the Roman Empire. For Virgil as a Roman it is an astounding
and touching ambivalence, and one of the great features of his epic.

Celebration Compromised; the Second Voice of the Aeneid

“…those who seek a fundamentally sound, imperial poem need not be disappointed or
disturbed: the epic voice is there to speak to those with such positive
expectations. But there are further voices… Devices are exploited to insinuate
ramifying meanings and messages for those prepared to listen. Further voices
intrude other material and opinions, and these may be disturbing, even shocking.
Further voices add to, comment upon, question, and occasionally subvert the
implications of the epic voice.”

The Aeneid then is the tale of the first man of Rome, willed by the gods and the
fates to strive past perils and obstacles in order to create the Roman Empire, an
empire without end. The plot of the Aeneid is wrought out of a conflict between
Juno and the Fates, whilst Aeneas is tossed between them. He is impelled and
directed towards the creation of a Latin race, an event which Juno wishes to stop
since they were destined to one day overthrow her beloved Tyrian stronghold of
Carthage. As Aeneas succeeds and continues in his quest, so others are defeated or
fall by the wayside. By the end of the poem the list of Rome’s victims, even at
its embryonic stage, is numberless;

“…and the rest, a huge pile of tangled corpses, burned uncounted and without

cetera confusaeque ingentem caedis acervum

nec numero nec honore cremant…

Ostensibly then we have a struggle between the advancement of Rome and its
enemies, unaware of the crushing weight of destiny that makes their cause vain.
However, Virgil has presented us with a poem then that is far more open to
interpretation that we could have expected from a man patronised directly by
Augustus. For Dido and Turnus, the enemies of infant Rome, are given
representation and understanding by the author worthy even of the hero himself.
Their motives and passions are far from the shallow whims of caricatured
adversaries; their faults are abused by the gods to their own ends. Dido is cursed
by a love ordained by Venus as a safeguard for Aeneas and a marriage built as a
tether by Juno . Her violent end is a testament to the meddling of the gods.
Turnus too may be destroyed by Aeneas’ hand, but it is Juno who seals his fate
when she sends Allecto to madden him with another passion, the passion of war .
Our sympathy is evoked for both of them through the awareness that their causes
are in vain. The weight of destiny and all the golden ages of Rome are too much to
hold back. Their causes are honest, and their actions though impassioned and often
rash show integrity and determination in their beliefs. In many ways they are
innocents caught up in a progression of history that is not their own. But in
which they are intertwined by the gods’ interference. As Jupiter soothes his
daughter Venus with words of reassurance that destiny favours the Romans, the
reader knows with tragic dramatic irony, what the adversaries of Rome do not, that
they are doomed with no hope of success. At the same time as the fate of Rome is
sealed, so is the fate of all who stand in the way of her accession.

“Spare your fears, Cytherean. You shall have your people’s destiny still, and it
shall not be disturbed. You shall see your city, see Lavinium’s walls, for I have
promised them.”

This is why their destruction might not seem a cause for celebration; their deaths
are presented by a narrative voice and in a manner that seems to shroud the great
victory of the Trojans and subdue the celebration of Rome’s advancement. This is
the second voice, a voice of reflection. Their causes are presented as all the
more tragic since they do not act independently; compulsion from the gods seals
their fate . Putnam also views the “tragic” dimension as an important part in any
interpretation of the poem, but it must be remembered that this tragic view of the
events of the Aeneid is not necessarily uncontroversial.

“The Aeneid has two distinct sides which it is Virgil’s genius to have melded
together. There is what we might call the historical narrative from Aeneas and
Troy to Virgil’s contemporary Rome…. In counterpoint to this goal-directed
orientation is what we might call the poem’s lyric or tragic dimension…. Art
freezes time at a moment when victims become victimizers who do not spare. It
monumentalises violence and suggests that, when its narrative fully turns to the
business of war and pious heroes suffer the empowerment of force, epic, at least
in Virgil’s hands, takes on the semblance of concentrated tragic action…”

Virgil’s empathy for the defeated permeates the whole poem. Even the smallest of
characters in the Iliadic war scenes are treated with gentle compassion, such as
unlucky Antores a comrade of Evander, who, pierced by Mezentius’ spear which had
glanced off Aeneas’ shield, fell in battle.

“Unluckily he was felled by a wound not meant for him; and he looked at the sky,
and, dying remembered the Argos which he loved.”

sternitur infelix alieno vulnere, caelumque

aspicit et dulcis moriens reminiscitur Argos. (X.781-2)
The deaths of Mezentius and Lausus, father and son, slain by the raging Aeneas in
attempts to aid one another are portrayed with a kindness that redeems Mezentius’
previous impiety. The affection of Nisus and Euryalus is beautifully rendered by
Virgil, who interjects his admiration for their loyal selflessness, calling them
Fortunati ambo! Amid the ghastly sights of the battlefield their love burns to an
end with a gentle pathos, as Nisus lays down his life in a gesture designed both
to avenge Euryalus and to join him happy, together again in death.

“…and took life from his enemy even as he lost his own. Then pierced through, he
cast himself down on his lifeless friend and there at last found peace in a
welcoming death.”

…moriens animam abstulit hosti.

tum super exanimum sese proiecit amicum
confossus, placidaque ibi demum morte quievit. (IX.443-5)

The list of dead and dying rises inexorably through the last books, both sides
experiencing the loss of countless men. Virgil’s sympathy tends to the slain on
both sides without prejudice. The loss is shared equally. In a short aside on the
gods watching from above, we might espy Virgil’s voice appearing;

“In Jupiter’s palace the gods pitied the pointless fury of both sides, sad that
men, doomed in any case to die, should suffer ordeals so terrible.”

di Iovis in tectis iram miserantur inanem

amborum et tantos mortalibus esse labores; (X.758-9)

We can see then that there is a multiplicity of identification of Virgil with all
his characters. Further to this I wish to show that Virgil in constructing enemies
of Rome with whom we can identify, constructs Aeneas also as a character that also
provides a balance towards the poem’s tone and attitude toward its celebration of
Rome and Roman values.
The Two Voices of Aeneas

The idea of Aeneas’ portrayal in the Aeneid as a character balanced between

private and public responsibility is best illustrated through an attempt to
illuminate a central tension in the poem and particularly within Aeneas. That is
the tension between duty and desire. This helps to clarify the tension between the
two voices in both the Aeneid and Aeneas and also how the public and the personal
voices shape the poem’s interpretation. Virgil, using this second voice, slowly
elicits our empathy for the grievous affliction and distress of Dido, Turnus and
that of the countless others mentioned as having died through or for Rome’s
accession. This note of tragic loss is found throughout the poem, notably in
Anchises’ lament for Marcellus in Books VI .
Just as a sense of the sadness and suffering of the vanquished tinge the Trojan’s
victories and introduce a reflective pathos which infects all the rejoicing at
proto-Roman success, so too does Virgil infect the poem with Aeneas’ pain and the
suffering of his solitude and thankless toil. Aeneas’ greatness and his suffering
stem from the same impulse; that is of subduing his personal desire and care for
himself in pursuit of a greater good. Hence we have a hero suffering for his
altruism; the pathos at one man’s suffering for others, for Aeneas too is crushed
by the weight of the divine plan. But the hardships of the inflexible fates are
augmented by the continual rage of Juno, and her attempts to destroy or divert him
from his purpose. Even the (usually distanced) external narrator, interjects with
incredulity at the violence of Juno’s anger in the prologue; tantane animis
caelestibus irae?
From almost the first word of the poem, we learn that Aeneas is fato profugus ,
and the proem goes on to summarise the work, multum ille et terris iactatus et
alto and multa quoque et bello passus . We can see that in Virgil’s own synopsis
that Aeneas endures great suffering. This, along with his pietas is his most
celebrated quality, and his resolve is often tested during the course of the work.
The emphasis of the Aeneid’s prologue clearly sketches Aeneas as a victim, who has
not been the cause of his own suffering. He is caught in a chain of events, which
are of his instigation. By contrast the prologues of the Odyssey and Iliad draw
attention to the human responsibility for the events; as the Odyssey’s prologue
pronounces; σφετερησιν ’ατασθαλιησιν ’ολοντο ([his men] perished by their own
sin). We are also told that although Odysseus too “suffered many hardships” they
were in “his struggles to preserve his life”, “roam[ing] the wide world after he
had sacked the holy citadel of Troy” . His journey is undertaken, driven by his
own personal voice’s longing for home, whilst Aeneas’ voyage is driven by his duty
to public benefit and its subjugation of his personal voice. Similarly the
catalyst for the events of the Iliad is human conflict, wrought in a dispute
between Agamemnon and Achilles. “Sing from the time of the first quarrel which
divided Atreus’ son, the lord of men, and godlike Achilleus (sic)” . The
delineation, then, is quite clear between the god’s responsibility for the events
in the Aeneid and the human accountability in the Odyssey and Iliad. Zeus makes
this quite clear, pronouncing these words at the start of the Odyssey.

“What a lamentable thing it is that men should blame the gods and regard
us as the source of their troubles, when it is their own wickedness that
brings them suffering worse than any which Destiny allots them.”

What I should like to begin to show next is that Aeneas’ resolve, and his pietas,
is represented as being borne out of a struggle in Aeneas’ own heart, a struggle
between public and private loyalty. We must remember that Aeneas’ ‘odyssey’ would
never have been undertaken if he had obeyed his desire to rush to his burning
home’s aid, furor iraque mentem / praecipitat . This impulse, rash and violent, is
the very epitome of the Homeric hero, of a Hector or an Achilles and this is the
point from which Aeneas begins the Aeneid, not where Virgil begins the Aeneid.
This wish is forced to submit to a combination of filial and divine piety, a theme
that will become common throughout the work. This desire and its submission to
his sense of devotion to others increase our awareness of his altruism. But these
are often in conflict here, as elsewhere, in the undertaking with his primary wish
or desire.
This conflict of desires is perhaps at its most potent during Aeneas’ visit to
Carthage and his affair with Dido. When finally he is instructed by Mercury to
leave at Jupiter’s behest, he does so with great angst. His desire to stay with
Dido, and his devotion to her, is bested by the greater power of his devotion to
the gods, to his son and to the inflexibility of the fates. Mercury’s rebuke very
literally frightens him from his happy rest with pleas to his sense of devotion to
others, especially to his son Ascanium surgentem… / respice . But Aeneas does not
move easily, his heart is torn by this divergence of devotion, and he struggles in
making the choice between his love for Dido and the respite from his toils, and
his duty towards others. He is in anguish at leaving Dido, but tries to prevent
the cura becoming the furor that masters her; obnixus curam sub corde premebat .
Aeneas masks this struggle within himself with a stubborn refusal to betray
emotion. In his speech in Book IV (333-61) Aeneas appeals to Dido, asking her to
remember that the duty that takes him away from her is the same duty as that which
had brought him to her shores; for if he were acting sua sponte he would have
stayed to found Troy again.
Later in the underworld Aeneas attempts to reach out to Dido in apology and
explanation of his behaviour. Which he confesses was not forged of his own will,
invitus, regina, tuo de litore cessi. / sed me iussa deum…cogunt . It is easy to
dismiss Aeneas’ actions toward Dido as callous and cold hearted, that he treats
her in an offhand manner, as no more than a foreign dalliance. Avoiding this,
Virgil instead brilliantly depicts Aeneas’ torture, subdued and internalised but
none less extremely evocative and all the more potent for its repression. Seeing
Dido in Book VI, a shade, he bursts into tears and speaks lovingly to her; demisit
lacrimas dulcique adfatus amore est . But Dido in cruel reflection of his reserved
behaviour towards her in Book IV ignores him and just like he did, she leaves
staring fixedly at the ground.
Aeneas’ hardship is compounded by both his and our realisation that his is a
thankless task. As the blow that ends the Aeneid is struck he finds himself no
closer home or without even the consolation of closure. This is in stark contrast
to the Odyssey and the Iliad, which close with resolution and reconciliation. His
is not a joyous Odyssean return to wife, son and home. His two loves, Creusa and
Dido have been torn from him and replaced by a preordained bride. His father
Anchises dies nearing the end of the voyage, having travelled so far; “For here
[Drepanum] after all the persecution and sea storms, O bitterness!” exclaims
Aeneas “I lost my father, my solace in every adventure and every care… This blow
was my last anguish” . Later still, when he is so close to making a landing in
Italy, Neptune exacts his price for their passage across the sea and Aeneas’ loses
his great friend and helmsman, Palinurus. Neptune’s proclamation of this price
also echoes the great price that Aeneas pays for his people;

unum pro multis dabitur caput (V.815)

Aeneas’ only reward for all this strife and grief is the promise of more battles
and strife to occupy him, and the destiny told him by Anchises that his death will
anticipate the birth of his son by Lavinia. This is the son whose destiny will
lead him to continue after Ascanius the dynasty of the kings of Alba Longa and
later Rome. Anchises’ speech in Book VI only serves to highlight the importance of
the future, and the idea that Aeneas himself is of less importance than the role
he must play in facilitating the future. When Aeneas shoulders the shield inlaid
with images of his ancestors we are given a powerful metaphor for his purpose,
carrying the weight of destiny. Just as he dutifully carries his father, his past,
on his shoulder leaving Troy, he symbolically shoulders his future in Book VIII.

“He had no knowledge of the events, but none the less he found pleasure in
their representations, as he lifted onto his shoulder the glory and destiny of his
We begin to see that, not dissimilarly to Turnus and Dido, Aeneas is an
innocent too, plucked by fate and tossed between tragedies, grief, strife, injury
and even famine. He has come from the epic age of Troy and is brought, as he
brings his dependants, into the ‘civilised’ age. His journey is as much one of
personal development as it is a journey of traversing geography. His development
arises through the growing maturity of his selfless instincts, of his pius
temperament. This is what distances him from other heroes of the traditional epic
mould. Aeneas begins the Aeneid in the age of myth, of fabled Troy and legendary
battles, and journeys to the real, the concrete physicality of the site of future
Rome. In Book II he views the mythical events of the Trojan horse, but by Book
VIII he wanders about the Capitol . Substituting epic selfishness with altruism,
he is a man without peer in piety, devotion, strength and endurance, noted for his
epithet pius. The cost of the Roman Empire, is not just the hundreds fallen in
battle or Palinurus or Pallas or even Dido or Turnus, it is Aeneas too. The great
irony is that Aeneas is victorious, but in a battle it was made his duty and not
his desire to fight. Hence we have a victor that can also be a loser. This is the
human cost of Rome for Aeneas. We do not see Aeneas after the victorious blow is
struck. No celebration is recounted, and the tone, for such a climactic moment, is
clearly subdued, so much so that in the context of a triumphal poem, it could even
be described as bathetic. I will return to this.
We know then that Aeneas suffers greatly for others, and in his submission
to duty we feel pathos for his suffering. This situation is made all the more
tragic since the rewards of his toil are not his to share. This pathos created is
for a man used by the gods alternately as a tool and a toy, a man whose
dutifulness has driven him to greatness when his desire would have had it that he
would never have left Troy, but instead have died gloriously in arms.

“Quick, comrades! Bring me arms. The vanquished are summoned to meet their life’s
end. Let me go back to the Greeks. Let me return to the battle and fight once
more. We shall not die this day unavenged.”

This is the same man who would have stayed in Carthage with his love Dido -for
Dido alone was maddened by Cupid’s artificial passion- a man who, in short, would
never have embarked on the long toil of journey and war, of Odyssey and Iliad if
he had been guided by his own wants and his own sense of glory. This voice, that
which I have termed the second voice of Aeneas, is the voice which calls him back
to Troy, the personal voice including all the diverse elements of not only desire,
passion and its recklessness, but also longing for home, rest and peace. These
comforts are what he later comes to find with Dido. This second voice, the voice
of Aeneas’ desire is in conflict with the primary or first voice, that of duty to
his dependents and the gods. Hence we can begin to discern that, just as on a
greater scale in the Aeneid as a whole, a conflict between public and private
voices takes place in microcosm within Aeneas himself. This tension, so central to
the Aeneid’s enduring appeal, is the tension between the public and private
tendency. It is felt in the heart of Aeneas just as it is in the cities, palaces
and battlefields of the poem on a larger scale.
I hope it is clear from what I have already stated that Aeneas is presented to the
reader as a protagonist who is no more able to escape the hardships and
destruction that the ineluctable future brings than any of his obstacles and
adversaries. The irony of his position comes from the fact that he (and more
explicitly his pietas) is the catalyst of his own torment, his own toil.

“Aeneas’ tragedy is that he cannot be a hero, being in the service of an

impersonal power. What saves him as a man is that all the glory of the solid
achievement which he is serving, all the satisfaction of having arrived in Italy
means less to him than his own sense of personal loss.”
Now I hope to have demonstrated this tension of private and public impulses within
Aeneas. We have come to an opportune point to begin a more general discussion on
the role of pietas and ‘moral action’ and their connection to the two voices in
the Aeneid. I shall examine whether the voices of Aeneas create a tone of
celebration of the discharge of duty in public service, or of an atmosphere
critical of the primary voice, arising from the private loss that this brings, or
indeed whether they create something altogether more complex.

Pietas, ‘Moral Action’ and the Suppression of the Second Voice in the Aeneid

I have mentioned the idea of pietas several times already in this dissertation.
One cannot continue to write long about Aeneas’ character without an explanation
of pietas. Mention of it is especially pertinent here, since it is useful to
investigate its connotation in the classical sense. Using Lewis and Short, a short
list of its primary meanings should suffice.

1. Dutiful conduct towards the gods, one’s parents, relatives, benefactors,

country, sense of duty.
2. Conscientiousness, scrupulousness.
3. Duty, loyalty, affection, compassion, kindness, pity, patriotism.

It is telling that of the words used here, are all transitive in their
sense, in that they all determine action toward another. Pietas is a quality that
is inextricably entwined with conduct towards a third party. At its most basic
level, and the level most appropriate to this discussion, the quality of pietas is
selflessness over selfishness, duty over desire. The object of this selflessness
is unimportant. The quality refers only to the subject’s negation of self. This is
Aeneas, the primus vir of Rome, who is so called. He possesses the physical,
‘heroic’ qualities of Hector, Achilles, Odysseus and Turnus. Many of these
qualities are of the typically epic kind; i.e. skill with tools and weapons,
bravery, excellence at a number of disciplines, but he is most notable for his
fighting in addition to his ‘god-like’ appearance. He thus has all the qualities
of the Homeric heroes, but adds one further, this pietas. It is one which defines
him more than any of the others. Pietas changes his motives, and consequently his
actions, it redirects the implementation of his strength towards different ends.
This is his ‘piety’ and it is bound to an altruism and duty to others that is
simply not found in the characters of Odysseus or Achilles. It is in Aeneas’
demonstration of the excellences of pietas that he is most distinguished from his
Homeric forebears. This quality of motivation transforms an epic, self-centred
hero into a king and a leader of men. He is both one of them and at the same time
responsible and caring for them.
This difference in motivation between Aeneas and Odysseus is perhaps most
clearly seen in their interaction with their men, as a leader. Aeneas, during the
journey from Troy, assumes the role of a quasi-paternal leader of his men. His
concern is often for them directly, and he shows a great understanding of their
needs and willingness to help to fulfil these. Having finally made land near
Carthage Aeneas, though exhausted goes hunting for food for his men. “Aeneas only
ceased shooting when he had triumphantly laid on the earth seven weighty
carcasses, in number equal to the surviving ships” . This is one of first moments
as a reader that we encounter Aeneas. This first impression is one of a man
providing and caring for his dependents. He is not simply feeding himself; he
finds food “equal to the surviving ships.” Similarly the tribulations Aeneas leads
his people through are not begot of his own desire, his own wishes. This is
clearly contrasted with Odysseus, during whose journey all his men are lost. They
are lost on a journey of which Odysseus, unlike Aeneas, is the auctor. Odysseus is
the architect of his own destiny; his actions bring their own outcomes. Unlike
Aeneas he is unperturbed by a fate that is not his own. He is driven purely
through his own passion, his longing for a return, and his eventually becomes a
happy νοστος (voyage home);

“I long to reach my home, and see the happy day of my return. It is my never
failing wish.”

We may feel pathos for the suffering that Aeneas’ pietas brings, and its
consequent suppression of the personal, but it creates a man who becomes a great
leader and a great king. We can occasionally see the inner turmoil of Aeneas, but
the characters around him never do, for this is his guarded secret.

“[Aeneas] was sick at heart, for the cares he bore were heavy indeed. Yet he
concealed his sorrow deep within him, and his face looked confident and cheerful.”

After his arrival at Carthage, Aeneas, wearied by toil and disaster, finds solace
with Dido, and recuperation in her arms. There he finds all that had eluded him
for so long; companionship, stability and peace. Virgil’s expert construction
means that the toils that Aeneas narrates are juxtaposed and contrasted with this
episode , emphasising the stability he has found. Dido is also eminently suitable
for him personally, she too, an exile, founds a city on foreign soil. As Aeneas
himself notes:

O fortunati, quorum iam moenia surgunt (I.437)

In contrast to happiness and companionship that he finds at Carthage, his

‘mission’ is thrust upon him. The opening of the poem we see a man pursuing
another’s goal, beset by misfortune, a man who has lost his home, wife, father and
many close companions. It is only at Carthage where he finds that which he wants,
after years of despair and disaster; love or companionship at the very least,
peace and solidity. All this compassion we feel towards Aeneas and his
predicament, is only heightened by the dramatic irony, that we the reader know he
cannot stay. For here his desire to stay is, as so often, in conflict with his
duty towards his dependents, his ancestors and his son.
So we can see that which I have called the second voice of Aeneas, his own wants
and desires, is subdued by his attraction to pietas and altruism. And it is that
very act of subduing his desires, his personal, second voice that creates this
feeling of pity, of pathos towards him. The fact that he suffers personal loss in
proportion to his public excellence and this only serves to heighten our feelings
of pity for him at his plight. But our perception of him as a leader, as a man and
as a symbol is increased because of this, because we know what the cost of this
greatness is. I should like to infer that his piety is a direct result of the
suppression of his volition, the suppression of his second, personal voice in
favour of the duty of the first voice, his predilection towards considered
Pathos is created in Aeneas, just as in the Aeneid , through our awareness that in
this conflict of public and private, there can only be one winner. We are reminded
frequently that Aeneas possesses pietas, often by Aeneas himself, sum pius Aeneas
. This ‘piety’ comes from his dedication to duty and devotion to others and not to
desire, his own feelings. Aeneas evokes pathos because of he is a master at
suppressing his desires in the face of a ‘greater good’. I should like to move
onwards to illustration of the converse side of the second voice. That is the
involvement of desire and personal volition in impius and immoral action.
Impiety and the Second Voice in the Aeneid

Up to this point I have sought to illustrate the presentation of the two

voices in the Aeneid, in order to show how the primary voice, though it often
encourages pius action, is undermined by the second voice’s reflection upon the
its cost. An episode which seems to emphasise this cost, and which has been seen
to be critical of the advancement of empire, is Aeneas’ killing of Turnus. I now
want to move to explore how the ‘piety’ of the second voice, so often cited as the
voice of compassion and quiet reflection in the poem, is itself undermined by the
actions it motivates, and how this episode compromises not the first voice, but
the second.
When Aeneas strikes the prostrate Turnus the poem ends abruptly. There is no
cheer, no happy homecoming, like as for Odysseus, and no Iliadic resolution. The
last mention in the poem is not of Aeneas but of Turnus, and his sudden death at
Aeneas’ sword.

“His limbs relaxed and chilled; and the life fled, moaning, resentful, to the

ast illi solvuntur frigore membra

vitaque cum gemitu fugit indignata sub umbras

For such a climactic and victoriously epic moment, the tone is curiously muted.
Our final moment of the epic tale centres not on the hero victorious, but on the
vanquished’s pain. Now this produces a question of tone. Undoubtedly the killing
of Turnus is justified, by epic standards at least . But need the Aeneid have
finished with a representation of Turnus’ viewpoint, with his focalisation? It
would be hard to imagine that there was any way in which Turnus could be spared,
but Virgil deliberately gives us his perspective at the last. It is an intensely
interesting conceit for the last word of Rome’s greatest epic to be given to her
opponent. Galinsky, in The Anger of Aeneas, argues for the acceptability and
legality in every sense of Aeneas’ action.

“It is not the moral ambiguity, but the humanisation of this ineluctable scene
that is one of Virgil’s hallmarks here as elsewhere in the epic.”

We need only look at the happy carnage of Odysseus’ slaying of the suitor’s to see
that the epic genre not only accepted the death of an adversary but traditionally
revelled in it, at least in the Homeric model; which we must remember is Virgil’s
model also. When compared, the final moments of Turnus, and Odysseus’ chief
adversary Antinous, could not be more different. Whereas the last moments of the
Aeneid are given over to Turnus’ point of view, when Antinous is slain, he falls
amongst his fellows like the first domino to topple. The external narrator
portrays his end, graphic, comic and macabre; no empathy is elicited for him, the
objects around him being described as fully as he, in his death throes.

“Yet Odysseus shot his bolt and struck him in the throat. The point passed clean
through the soft flesh of his neck. Dropping the cup as he was hit, he lurched
over to one side. His life-blood gushed from his nostrils in a turbid jet. His
foot lashed out and kicked the table from him; the food was scattered on the
ground, and the bread and meat were smeared with gore.”

I will not try to contradict Galinsky and purport that this humanisation of Turnus
at his death is as simple as a ‘moral ambiguity’. However the strangeness of this
description, positioned so in such an epic scenario cannot be so easily explained
or overlooked, either as moral ambiguity or a fitting retribution. Putnam
describes this as an act of realism on the part of Virgil, for Aeneas to veer so
sharply from his former pietas, “At the end of the Aeneid Virgil sharply and
profoundly disavows the linkage between Aeneas and pietas, this unmasking of
Aeneas as a symbol makes this tale truly reflect history itself” . There is no
doubt that this explosion of Aeneas’ pent-up rage is an act of realism, creating a
character, more human with his flaws, than the ‘stoic’ figure he often appears to
be. But though I find this explanation helpful in understanding some of the
intention this action, I think we must look further for its full significance.
Much of what is contested about the tone of this final scene in the Aeneid, and
what Galinsky tries to presuppose, is what a Roman reader would have felt at this
scene of Roman success and its price: “To the contemporary Greek or Roman reader,
then, the picture of the avenging Aeneas, who is stirred to anger and meting out
punishment in proportion to crime, would have looked anything but odd or out of
place” . His arguments do demonstrate the great degree of tolerance, and even
encouragement, for the use of ỏργη or ira in the meting out of punishments in the
Greek and Roman worlds. This goes some way to explaining and excusing Aeneas’
terrible fury. But I am not convinced that this can explain the tone of sympathy
for Turnus. For, though he is swiftly dispatched; ...cum gemitu fugit indignata
sub umbras is the last line we read. The lingering thought struck by the poem, as
we close its covers, is of Turnus. Whether Aeneas was justified in exacting
revenge is irrelevant. In the last instance we are confronted with the pain and
injury which is felt by Turnus, whether we consider him worthy of death or not.
Instead, I feel that here, as with the affair with Dido, Aeneas, instead of
suppressing his private voice, his volition, he gives it free reign. He is
overcome by a sudden and violent rage, at the sight of Pallas’ belt on Turnus.
Finally being overcome by his desire, his private voice, his furiis…terribilis
(his dread fury), he commits an act of impiety, perhaps not by epic or even
judicial standards, but the tone of the scene leaves us with a sense of confusion
and pathos, a feeling that something wrong has been done. Part of this, it is true
can be attributed to Virgil’s expert humanisation of the characters (as Galinsky
points out), but there is something terrible and animalistic about the Aeneas that
slays Turnus. It is a vengeful fury that sits ill at ease with his epithet pius.
Pietas, as discussed above, being made up above all, of compassion, mercy and
kindness. The rage that he feels is sudden and overwhelming, it is not the cool
and considered hero that he had been moments before when mercy was on the point of
staying his hand, for that surely would have been the pius action of the pius

“…he checked the fall of his right arm. And now at any moment the pleas of Turnus,
already working on him mind, might have prevailed on his hesitation, when
This hesitation illustrates how close Aeneas is to preserving his victory
over rashness and the mastery of fury. His apparent impiety is compounded by his
disregard for his father’s advisory words. These are words that emphasise the need
for responsibility that power brings.

“ spare those suppliant and to vanquish the proud”

…parcere subiectis et debellare superbos


What I wish to put across is that the murder of Turnus is one of the few of
Aeneas’ actions made solely of his own accord (sua sponte). This is an occasion
where the personal voice, the second voice as I have called it, suddenly and
terribly overcomes the first; desire supersedes duty. In this case it is that duty
of pietas which, I mentioned above contains a sense of pity and compassion. This
action is motivated by Aeneas’ own feelings, without heed for divine direction or
filial compassion, and it sits ill at ease with the pius and dutiful man that
Aeneas had up until this point appeared to be. As Putnam states, “Aeneas’ final
rage is not motivated through a reasoned application of pietas but results from a
terrible loss for which he compensates by killing the person who had caused the
deprivation” . The barbarity of the epic hero still resides beneath all his layers
of public and selfless devotion. This is the animalistic impulse of the human
voice, of the ‘second’ voice of Aeneas. This is the desire for personal vengeance,
so strong and deadly that consideration cannot check it.
Aeneas is suddenly characterised as saevus, and aligned with the forces of
destruction, since furor is that which previously had characterised his
adversaries, Juno and Turnus. His victory had been, up until this point, a victory
of rationality over furor. Putnam, having stated that “Aeneas and Neptune are
parallel creations, each endures Juno’s frenzy and sets against it,” asks “Why,
then, at the end of the poem is Aeneas made to react like Juno and not like
Neptune, like a person given over to private vendetta rather than a public
spirited soul bent on suppressing passion?” Aeneas is here also clearly equated
with Achilles. Aeneas’ fury at the death of Pallas, mirrors Achilles’ vengeful
violence at the death of Patroclus. The anger of both wrought from the affection
for their young protégés. Aeneas had so far been distinguished from Achilles, and
this comparison of reaction by Virgil, brought even closer by the similarity of
the situation, is striking. For previously he had been prized for his qualities
which distanced him from the furor of violent anger. Strikingly Virgil denies
Aeneas a chance to atone or any epilogue to his anger. As there is in the Iliad,
where Achilles is finally reconciled with Priam and suppresses the extent of his
rage once he had taken his revenge on Hector.
In the action of killing Turnus, Aeneas is overcome by the furor that
characterises both Dido and Turnus and eventually leads to their destruction. The
furor of personal desire is the emotion that Aeneas strains so hard to overcome
upon leaving Dido. This is a manifestation of the second voice of Aeneas, his
impulse to deny duty and embrace his personal yearning. This is the part of
himself, the private dissent, which Aeneas must subdue in order to continue in his
role of pius Aeneas, exchanging his personal tendency for his public dedication,
and moral action in all its senses. It is the source of his internal conflict.
When Aeneas visits Dido, we have another example of the private, second voice of
Aeneas overcoming his primary goal of reaching Italy. Only here we have a less
sudden and more externalised version than his anger at Turnus. We are made aware
during Aeneas’ affair with Dido that he is in contravention of his destiny and his
duty towards his son, dependents and descendants. The fact is recognised by
Jupiter, when he tells Mercury in Book IV: “…the Dardan prince who is now
lingering in Tyrian Carthage with never a thought to those other cities which are
his by destiny” . As well as Mercury speaking to Aeneas, “You forget your destiny
and that other kingdom which is to be yours… What can you gain by living at
wasteful leisure in African lands? …at least think of Ascanius” . To have stayed
with Dido as he wished would have constituted not only an unbecoming victory of
otium over negotium and officium, of leisure over hard work and duty , but also as
Anna says, the possibility of Aeneas marching with the Carthaginian army:

“Dido, only imagine, if you make this splendid marriage, what a great future lies
in store for our city and our realm! With a Trojan army marching at our side,
think what deeds of prowess will exalt the fame of Carthage!”

…Teucrum comitantibus armis

Punica se quantis attollet Gloria rebus!

These last words emphasise the importance of Aeneas’ duty. It can be imagined how
the idea of Carthage, Rome’s greatest enemy, being strengthened by Rome’s mythical
founder was excruciating to a Roman ear. It can be understood then how pernicious
Aeneas’ stay with Dido was, how to a projected Roman audience, their res publica
and their lives were threatened by Aeneas’ passion for Dido, by his private
emotion. Their love is a thing that is so innocuous in its immediacy, but is in
retrospect so crucial to a much larger design.
When Aeneas’ desires to kill Helen in the burning Troy, his personal desire
becomes manifest. His personal wish is not always in conflict with his public
responsibility. But here we can make out the epic violence and desire which
resides beneath Aeneas’ more pius and stoic appearance. This gives us a precedent
for the vengeful fury Aeneas feels towards Turnus.

“I shall have some credit for having stamped dead a mortal sin, and punished a
wrong which cries out for justice; and it will be joy, to have glutted my desire
for the vengeance of the fire and satisfied the ashes of all that were ever dear
to me.”

But above all the most continual desire of Aeneas, like Odysseus is to return to
his homeland. However for Aeneas this is not his destiny’s path.

“I should have made the city of Troy, with its loved remembrances of my own folk,
my first care; and, with Priam’s tall citadel still standing, I should have
refounded Troy’s fortress to be strong once more after her defeat.”

To follow his heart and stay in Troy, would be impius, a disregarding of the
fates, and more directly, Apollo’s order. His wish to reach Italy is not of his
heart, but is instead of his duty, as he says, “Apollo…has insistently commanded
me to make my way to Italy’s noble land” . The contrast between desire and duty is
emphasised in juxtaposition. His desire “my first care” is curbed by his sense of
duty, brought about by pious devotion to the gods. But beyond direct piety to the
will of the gods and fate’s decree, Aeneas’ public instinct is directed towards
his readers, the Roman people. His trials are wrought around the installation of
Rome, and his piety is directed towards his ancestors’ and the Romans’ future.
Thus the moral and pius action instigated by the public impulse can often be quite
clearly contrasted by the immoral and impius action motivated by the personal
We can see that Virgil presents two sides to the interpretation of Aeneas’ second,
personal voice. Put more simply, on one hand, if the personal is checked for a
‘greater’ cause (i.e. in Aeneas’ dutiful conduct), a tendency toward the public
voice, we feel pathos for his suffering because of his selflessness. This is seen
most clearly in Book IV, Dido’s episode. On the other hand if personal desire is
given free rein over the first, dutiful instinct, it is presented as frequently
callous and at worst destructive, demonstrated at its most potent in the killing
of Turnus.


As discussed in the introduction, the interpretation of the Aeneid has divided

critics broadly into two interpretive ‘camps’. One construes the victory of Rome,
as portrayed in the Aeneid, as an event for celebration. The other sees instead
the tragedy in the loss and suffering of those defeated. To some the primary voice
is persuasive. Others are drawn more to the ‘Catullan’ voice of reflection.
Virgil, in his portrayal of Aeneas and the events of the Aeneid, asks much of the
reader about cost and worth, the cost of empire; the publicly motivated, and the
cost of the personal; the privately motivated. This dual perspective is the
essence of the ‘two voices’. Empathy for the loser invites us to question the
motivation and the cost of the victory, no matter who emerges victorious. The same
question was aimed at the contemporary audience and the answer that we return will
depend upon our own response to the poem.
Instead of falling into either of these two ‘camps’, I put it that Virgil has
added further levels to both the voices, compromising both and not allowing any
interpretation to be made wholly without reservation. As I have proceeded through
this dissertation, I have concentrated on the second voice. At first I focused on
how it modified and subverted sympathy for the primary voice, highlighting the
cost of empire. I then moved on to show how it was itself subverted by the actions
it motivated and the implications it hinted at. What I hope to have demonstrated
is that Virgil has balanced the possibilities for the Aeneid’s interpretation to
the extent that it cannot be pinned to one or other meaning, whether that is the
panegyric or the ‘Catullan.’ The two voices create this balance of tone, and are
the reason why there can be so many potential interpretations of the poem. Central
to this ‘openness’ is Virgil’s depiction of Aeneas, and more precisely the
depiction of the duality in the voices within Aeneas, since it provides us with a
further level of dialogue between the public and private tendency within the
Aeneid itself. These voices which I have identified within Aeneas (and more
broadly the Aeneid) afford an exquisitely complex discourse throughout the poem,
weaving together in both assent and contradiction with each other and providing
discourse on a great number of topics. In both Aeneas and the Aeneid one voice
never lets the other dominate the narrative for too long or too persuasively. This
can bring about some wonderful difficulties of tone. Here Parry identifies a
central one,

“…the Aeneid enforces the fine paradox that all the wonders of the most powerful
institution the world has ever known are not necessarily of greater importance
than the emptiness of human suffering.”

In discussion of the composition of the two voices of Aeneas I have here defined
them broadly as impulses of selflessness and selfishness and this idea is central
to an understanding of these voices. The pathos evoked for Aeneas, in his role as
a figure of self-sacrifice and suffering, bearing the load of others at the
expense of his own needs and desires, is the pathos felt for the ‘second’, so
called ‘Catullan’ voice. This is both the second voice of the Aeneid, eliciting
sympathy for all those suffering and it is also found within Aeneas as his second
voice: the voice that elicits pathos, when at every turn we see how his desires
and hopes are thwarted, the quiet voice within his breast that calls him away from
triumph and foreign struggles, back to the home and the familiar. The ambiguity of
the morality of the voices comes from the fact that the personal impulse, as well
as engaging our sense of pathos, is also presented as the catalyst for destructive
and immoral behaviour. This is found in both its present action and its future
repercussions. For Virgil’s depiction of the personal voice continually engages
and then checks our sympathy for it and provides for a more balanced
interpretation of the poem as a whole. For whilst pathos is elicited in the
private voice’s domination, and we perceive the strain that duty towards the first
voice exerts upon the individual, conversely the actions of Aeneas and the
inferred results of these actions driven by private motivation, provide a strong
indictment, both of the pietas and morality, of the second, private voice.
The episodes concerning Dido and Turnus are those which most compromise the
Aeneas in his role of altruistic and pius leader of men. Both of these episodes
suggest that future strife that will stem from his actions, for himself and his
dependents but most of all for his ancestors, all of whom Aeneas had, until that
point, striven to protect. Dido exhorts a future ‘Avenger’ to persecute Rome,
alluding to he who would become Republican Rome’s greatest threat: Hannibal . The
bitterness of Turnus’ death alludes, albeit less directly, to the continual
struggle of early Rome to extend its influence throughout Italy. There is a
reference to the shutting of the Belli portae the “gates of War” in Book I by
Jupiter. I feel that it is inferred that Aeneas, in slaying Turnus, opens these
metaphorical gates .

“Aeneas violent, final thrust of the sword, as the sight of Pallas’ belt brings
with it the grief of bitter memories, offers no Aeschylean resolution of Furies
into Eumenides. We remain caught in a web of killing which suggest reiteration of
tragic suffering, not release from its very human toils.”

The similarity between these two episodes is that they are the two crucial points
of the poem, points where Aeneas’ actions are motivated by his own will . Although
it is clearly the case in the murder of Turnus that Aeneas is motivated by
personal emotion, this is less clear in the Dido episode, when his duty to the
gods is what occasions their separation. However it is his love for Dido as well
as his desire for the peace and stability found at Carthage which created the
situation from which the turmoil arose. What I suggest is that these two episodes,
which instigate the greatest threats to nascent Rome, spring from Aeneas’ personal
impulses or, more explicitly, his private voice. On the one hand it is his lust
for a woman, an understandable though intemperate and selfish luxuriance, which
keeps him from his mission, and ultimately threatens the Punic wars, and on the
other his anger and lust for retribution for Pallas’ death at Turnus’ hand.
Neither of these had any semblance of divine inspiration or sanction. Similarly
the suppression of the personal voice to the end of selfless duty is portrayed as
commendable, as pius. The conflicts, from which this is wrought in both the heart
and in the mind, are those which transform the epic hero into what I have called
the ‘civilised’ hero .
Eventually we begin to come full circle. For on the surface the work is certainly
one of panegyric intention, of celebration of the fruits of duty, of public glory.
This celebratory tone of Augustus’ glorious imperium is undoubtedly compromised by
the poem’s private voice, a voice which expresses reflection at the suffering of
both Rome’s enemies and of Aeneas. But Aeneas’ actions towards Dido and Turnus
show all too clearly the flaws of the private voice. It too is compromised, both
by the actions it motivates and the violence it authorises. We can see that just
as the first, primary, public voice must concede much in the way of morality to
the second, private voice, there comes a point too when the secondary voice must
concede this to the primary voice, the selfless instinct and the pietas it prizes.
The killing of Turnus, so often cited as an example of the cost of empire and the
callous nature of the primary voice, can also conversely be understood as a
reflection on the immorality of the personal voice.
The actions motivated by the personal, second instinct of Aeneas reinforce the
importance of morality and pietas to the primary voice, in its manifestation as
duty and selflessness. Just as Dido and Turnus are ill fitting in the ‘civilised’
world that Aeneas’ is creating, due to their traditionally epic characteristics
and their purely personal instincts, so too is the immorality occasioned by the
furor of Aeneas’ private voice. The personal voice, lyric and tragic though it is,
makes no allowances for something greater or the benefit of others. Its beauty is
found in its immediacy and in its intimacy. The public voice might disregard the
ephemeral beauty of the private voice, but its intention is in larger design, in
something shared. Just as the primary voice must cede to the secondary, so in turn
must the secondary cede something to the primary.
There is as such no admission of a clear meaning of an intended interpretation by
Virgil. Instead the terrible personal vengeance that is wreaked on Turnus as the
poem closes confuses the idea of pathos and sympathy for the loss of the private,
second voice; a sympathy which I had often felt defined the Aeneid . Virgil is too
expert at life’s presentation to be so trite as to profess a simple meaning, and
no truths are laid down, however the questions raised are both worthwhile for him
to ask, and for the reader to ponder.

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