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Aeneas the tragic hero

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    In the Augustan Age, the concept of piety, especially religious piety, was seen to be an essential quality in leadership which Augustus often displayed through his restoration of temples such as that of Mars Ultor.

    Aeneas too is renowned for his pietas which he shows to his family, follwers, country and to the Gods.
    The Aeneid is an epic poem written by Virgil from around 30 to 19 BC that tells the story of the founding of Rome. The protagonist and epic hero, Aeneas, is a Trojan captain who escaped the fires of Ilion to lead a group of refugees to establish the Latin race. This mission, designated by the gods and fate, involved a journey filled with hardships that Aeneas and his people faced with determination and adamant resolve. In particular, however, it is Aeneas’ piety that is highlighted as his defining feature. It is crucial to note that, in ancient times, the Latin word pietas referred to not only religious devotion, but also devotion to one’s family and country.

    Aeneas' piety is evident throughout, being referred to by Virgil as "the devout," "the dutiful" or "Pies Aeneas" and can be seen clearly when Aeneas introduces himself to a disguised Venus, announcing himself as "Aeneas, known for my devotion." Aeneas' men also speak highly of his pietas which shows him to be a good leader and role model for them, giving them an example to follow, describing him as "Our king Aeneas, he had no equal for his piety and his care for justice." Aeneas often makes prayers to the Gods in times of need such as when he discovered the burning ships of Troy and prays immediately to Jupiter; he also sacrifices to them and makes libations to the blessed Gods such as when he sacrifices the sow in the name of "O greatest Juno" which would indicate that he has great pietas. Aeneas is constantly focussing on the spiritual which is most clear in Book VI in which on arrival to Cumae his men search for practical items such as flint and water but Aeneas is focused primarily on worship which is seen by his immediate journey to the temple of Apollo which is cemented by the epithet "Devout." more.


    In conclusion, I believe that Aeneas proves himself to be an invaluable leader both in the context of his soldiers and in the context of his role as pater patriae and pater familias.

    In ancient Greece and Rome, heroes were portrayed as a godlike, supernatural race of humans. With heroic qualities such as, strength, determination and achievements, the heroes far surpass common people. In Greek Mythology, Greeks believed that everything happened for a reason and that divine intervention was what led heroes to their fate. Although the gods favored Greek heroes, these heroes also attained human traits that made it easy for people to associate with them. In the epics, Oedipus the King by Sophocles, The Aeneid by Virgil, The Iliad and The Odyssey by Homer, themes such as love, loss, pride, and the abuse of power are frequent within the stories. Epic heroes such as Achilles, Odysseus, Oedipus and Aeneas all share similar heroic qualities that Greek and Roman cultures valued, however, they are also drastically different. Throughout history, heroic quests occur frequently in mythology. Many of these stories are similar: epic heroes undergo a journey in which they prove their own heroic features. All of these men are leaders in their own heroic journey and have the elements of a tragic hero. The challenges they face and the characteristics they displayed lead them to suffer at the will of the gods.

    With his men he makes countless self-sacrifices, instilling spirit into their hearts despite his own misery, the most significant example of this being in Book I when he promises them that "Troy shall rise again" despite his own transgressions. Aeneas also physically provides for them with the seven stags and Anchises' wine and at points even goes out of his way to entertain them and comfort them which is seen during the funeral games in which all contestants received a prize.
    After the death of Pallas, however, the reader is shown an alternative aspect of Aeneas’ character. Giving into his passions, he initiates an aristeia in which a killing rampage results in the violent deaths of many Latin soldiers. “As men say the titan Aegaeon had a hundred arms, a hundred hands, and sent out burning breath from fifty mouths and breasts when he opposed Jove’s thunderbolt, clanging his fifty shields and drawing fifty swords, just so Aeneas multiplied savagery over the whole field once his sword-point warmed.” This merciless side of Aeneas shows him as more human (though brutal) and not necessarily a faultless leader, allowing the reader to better relate to the Trojan hero. Virgil attempts to show his contemporaries that Aeneas is not a distant, divine being, sometimes giving into his emotions. Seen as just a human being, Aeneas’ pious character is still quite impressive, but Virgil illustrates that these qualities are ones that all can emulate, and calls on the reader to do so.

    Aeneas can also be viewed as a good leader in his role as pater familias due to how he clearly cares for both his son and father, although the extent to which he cared for his wife Creusa is still questionable.
    The third and final aspect of Aeneas’ legendary piety was his duty to the gods. Following the more traditional and widely known interpretation of the word, this quality involved obeying divine decrees and showing reverence for the gods through ritual sacrifice and prayer. Because he himself was descended from the gods, Aeneas never forgot his duty to his heavenly mother, Venus, and the rest of the celestial beings. “By these spoken vows they sealed the pact between them in the sight of captains on both sides, then cut the throats of duly hallowed beasts over the flames and tore the living entrails out, to heap in freshly loaded platters on the altars.” Along with Aeneas’ duty to the gods, the readiness with which he meets the directives of fate is quite apparent. He recognizes the significance of forces larger than himself and unquestioningly accepts his fate, acting as the vehicle through which fate carries out its historical design. It is clear that Virgil wanted to convey the importance of fate and piety toward the gods in both the time of Aeneas and his own day.

    Aeneas' sacrifice of his personal emotions in order to fulfil his destiny is what gives him the title of pater patriae over the nation of Troy and Rome and is most notable when he leaves Dido in order to continue his journey to Latium.
    The trait that Greek and Roman cultures mostly valued was attained within Aeneas. He is a devoted servant to his destiny and the gods. He is a praiseworthy Trojan hero and leader. What makes Aeneas a hero is his will to sacrifice his human needs for the sake of his people. For example, Aeneas makes the decision to leave the woman he may possibly love to fulfill his prophecy the gods have assigned him. Even though he has human flaws, Aeneas proves to be emotionally strong, as he never loses sight of his goal. Aeneas is a hero who just made bad judgment calls when it came to dealing with his feelings and the feelings of others. These traits differentiate Aeneas from the rest of the heroes because he does not give in to the urge of human flaws.

    Aeneas can thus be seen to not only be a good leader to his men but also in the eyes of a Roman audience whom would respect his pietas for his followers, family, country and Gods. Portraying Aeneas as a good leader and hero was unarguably important to Augustus whom wished to equate himself with Aeneas in terms of leadership as a source of Auctoritas and propaganda.
    Therefore, Aeneas possesses the values that were seen as most important in Virgil’s era, and he serves as a vehicle by which Virgil both glorifies Rome and its founding and instructs the Roman people as to how they should carry out their lives. Virgil’s goal was to have the reader identify that high class of character with Rome itself and its leaders, in particular Caesar Augustus, the ruler of the empire at the time Virgil lived. During that period, Augustus attempted to revive the moral standards of Rome, which had deteriorated over the past generation. Like Aeneas, he is a leader that will bring prosperity to the Roman people. The poem is thus designed to glorify the emperor and explain the origins of Rome, all in the style of Homer’s Greek epics.

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    Response to the question

    This is a thorough response to a prompt to discuss how far Aeneas could be considered a hero in the Aeneid. The candidate skilfully accomplishes this, discussing the main values and characteristics of the Aeneid, such as pietas and Aeneas’ ...

    This is a thorough response to a prompt to discuss how far Aeneas could be considered a hero in the Aeneid.

    The candidate skilfully accomplishes this, discussing the main values and characteristics of the Aeneid, such as pietas and Aeneas’ role as pater patriae and paterfamilias.
    One of the main purposes of Virgil’s Aeneid was to create a great epic hero who would be an appropriate founder of the new Italian race. Aeneas was able to accomplish his mission and preserve the well-being of himself and his people by subordinating his own anxieties and passions to the demands of fate, the rules of piety, and reason. His pietas stretched to all aspects of his life, including his country, his family, and the gods. Virgil meant for his readers to identify with this Roman hero and strive to develop those characteristics themselves. The poem also glorifies the Roman Empire itself and its ruler, Caesar Augustus, through direct textual correlations to Virgil’s contemporary period.

    The candidate uses this discussion of Aeneas subordination of personal desires and ambitions to a greater, patriotic one to elaborate on the propagandistic value of the poem in the Augustan era and how this contributes to Aeneas’ portrayal as heroic by Virgil.
    Although at some points Aeneas may have wanted to abandon his quest, he subordinates his personal desires for the greater good, namely, his country and his son. Another example of Aeneas’ commitment to his comrades is his decision to commence the cease-fire so that the dead could be buried. “Meanwhile let us give over to the earth our friends’ unburied bodies: the one honor possible for them now in Acheron…and make beautiful the funeral rites for those heroic souls who won this land for us.” Aeneas shows how deeply he appreciated the young warrior and how seriously he took the promise to King Evander to protect him. This commitment to honoring the dead was also bolstered by Aeneas’ journey through the underworld in which the unburied were unable to cross the river Styx. For this reason along with many others, honoring the deceased was a major concern of Aeneas and his comrades.

    The candidate makes use of ample quotation from the original text to make his or her argument and frames it within a clearly structured essay marked out with a strong introduction and conclusion.

    Level of analysis

    The level of analysis in this essay is of a high standard. In each paragraph the candidate sets out an argument, backs it up with evidence from the text and then draws his or her conclusion.

    Prompt:Discuss the nature of the hero in ancient Greece and Rome by comparing/contrasting the characters of Achilles, Odysseus, Oedipus and Aeneas. In your analysis you will want to describe character traits of each (be sure to quote examples from the text to support your observations) and the heroic nature of each (again, you’ll need to cite examples of exploits, sacrifices, character changes, etc. from the text to support this). You will also want to discuss what classical Greek and Roman cultures valued in a hero by contrasting Achilles, Odysseus, and Oedipus (each of which represents different aspects of the Greek hero) with Aeneas.

    As mentioned above, there is comprehensive discussion of the major themes of the Aeneid at a level appropriate for A level. However, one area the candidate could have considered more closely was the opposite side of the argument - in what ways did Aeneas not show heroic qualities? In discursive essays it can make your argument more convincing if you set out the arguments to the contrary and then argue against them.
    Before Aeneas and becoming Queen, Princess Dido lived in a place known as Tyre. She was married to Sychaeus, a man of great wealth and high position among the Phoenicians. However, Dido’s brother Pygmalion, a wicked tyrant, held the kingdom. Because he was greedy and wanted the gold, he murdered Dido's husband. He kept this murder secret for a long time and cheated his sister's hopes with lies of her husband’s death. Sychaeus' ghost appears to Dido while she was sl...

    The candidate does this to a limited extent, discussing Aeneas’ treatment of Creusa and his relationship with Dido, which could be expanded on. Perhaps the candidate could have considered how Roman interpretations of his treatment of Creusa and Dido might differ from modern ones, which have the benefit of exposure to feminism and the women’s rights movement.
    To better understand Dido, one must know two things; of her life before she met Aeneas and an understanding of what Virgil was trying to accomplish by including this character. Virgil was tasked with writing a piece that brought back pride to Roman citizens. By creating the character of Dido, Virgil makes an “emphatic statement of the sacrifice which the Roman ideal of duty demands.”(The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces, pg. 471) Most of us could have never left the one we love as much as Aeneas loves Dido. Because of her, we can see what it means to be a Roman soldier and the extreme sacrifices called for. It was his duty and obligation to leave her, no matter the personal cost.

    In general, however, this essay successfully conveys how Virgil has made Aeneas into an heroic character through his scrupulous pietas and other values and qualities and would be deserving of a high grade at A level.
    The nature of the hero in ancient Greece and Rome attain god like characteristics but are viewed as less than gods due to their human flaws. A hero is a person fated by he gods or some divine force. A hero struggles through their journey because they are forced to make sacrifices and are challenged by their own characteristics. Heroes such as, Achilles, Oedipus, Odysseus and Aeneas all prove to be Greek heroes. They each represent different aspects of the Greek hero but ultimately prove their heroic traits.

    Quality of writing

    The quality of writing in this essay is of a high standard. There are no obvious spelling, grammar or punctuation mistakes, and the essay is written in a style which flows well and is easy to follow. The candidate’s arguments are set out in a clear fashion and within the framework of a well-structured essay.

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