How negatively does Aeneas’s abandonment of Dido reflect on his character?
Though Aeneas cannot resist the will of the
gods or fate, which demands that he leave Carthage, the manner in
which he leaves Dido is not beyond contempt. We know from other
passages that Aeneas is not a character without compassion, yet
if Aeneas feels genuine sympathy for the lover he is about to abandon,
he fails to express it well. He speaks formally and tersely to Dido,
offers her little comfort, and denies that an official marriage
bound them to each other. He refers to Troy and the new home he
plans to found in Italy and talks of his son’s future. We can find
fault in Aeneas because, while Virgil allows us a view of Aeneas’s
emotions of sadness, regret, and reluctance as he leaves Carthage,
Aeneas expresses little of these emotions to Dido. If we consider
one’s self to reside in one’s will and emotions, Aeneas betrays
himself by leaving Dido, and he admits as much, claiming that her
words set them “both afire” (IV.
Both Aeneas and Dido face a conflict between civic responsibility and individual desire. Aeneas sides with his obligations, while Dido submits to her desires, and so their love is tragically impossible. In terms of his patriotic duty, Aeneas acts impeccably, though he may be faulted for staying with Dido in Carthage as long as he does. His abandonment of Dido is necessary his service to Troy, his allies, his son, his father, and fate. From this point of view, Aeneas acts correctly in subjecting his desires to the benefit of the Trojan people.
Dido fails her city by ignoring her civic duty from the point when she falls in love with Aeneas to her suicide. Virgil suggests that Dido’s suicide mythically anticipates Rome’s defeat of Carthage, hundreds of years later. How negatively we judge Aeneas for his abandonment of Dido depends not on whether we sympathize with or blame Dido, but on whether we believe that Aeneas’s manner of leaving her—and not his departure itself—is what causes her suicide.
To what extent is the Aeneid a political poem? Is it propaganda?
In many of the passages referring explicitly to the emperor Augustus—in Anchises’s presentation of the future of Rome, for example—Virgil’s language suggests an honest and heartfelt appreciation of Augustus’s greatness. It is worth noting, however, that in addition to being the emperor, Augustus was also Virgil’s patron. It would thus have been impossible for Virgil to criticize him outright in his work. One can argue that Virgil may not have truly believed in Augustus’s greatness and that the impossibility of explicit criticism forced him to resort to subtle irony in order to air any grievances regarding Augustus’s policies or ideology.
What is the relationship in the Aeneid between an individual’s merit and the degree to which his or her personality is interesting? How might our estimation differ from Virgil’s?
In some ways, Juno, Dido, and Turnus are
more developed, well-defined characters than Aeneas is. They act
on their desires and emotions and assert their wills, and Virgil
puts much of his best poetry into the words and descriptions of
these three. Yet throughout the