The Effect of Troy's Rebirth on Aeneas's Transformation in the Aeneid

By Sujay Kulshrestha
2011, Vol. 3 No. 02 | pg. 1/1

In the Aeneid, Virgil depicts the struggle of the newly displaced Trojans to find a new home, under the leadership of Aeneas. The Trojans, having only recently lost the Trojan War to the Greeks, travel in search of a new home, eventually settling in Italy−to the dismay of some of the Italians. The motif of Troy’s rebirth plays a major role in the Aeneid in that it is intertwined with Aeneas’s personal destiny; the two domains are so intertwined that Aeneas both prevents his own happiness and alters his own personality to successfully create a new Troy. Over the course of the epic, Aeneas consciously realizes that he is fated to move Troy into the future and both sacrifices his personal happiness and adjusts his character to satisfy his destiny.

At the beginning of the Aeneid the Trojans are a people without a home. Displaced by the Trojan War, the surviving Trojans sail away from Troy in search of a place to establish a new city−Virgil devotes the first six books to telling the story of their wanderings. During this chaotic period, the Trojans fall under the leadership of Aeneas, who will re-found Troy according to Virgil. Aeneas recognizes his destiny early on in the Aeneid: at the end of book one he becomes inexplicably overwhelmed with emotion when examining a relief sculpture of the Trojan War (1.610-77). Virgil indicates that while viewing this sculpture in Dido’s kingdom Aeneas finally trusts his destiny and believes that he will ultimately succeed in helping the Trojans, stating: “...here for the first time he took heart to hope / For safety, and to trust his destiny more / Even in affliction. (1.612-14)”  Aeneas realizes that, despite his current state of “affliction”, the outcome of all of these trials and tribulations will ultimately be positive. This realization indicates that Aeneas will work to reestablish Troy−undoubtedly helping the Trojans because their cause would hardly be successful with a halfhearted leader.

Furthermore, as Aeneas examines the various reliefs, he becomes even more overwhelmed with emotion, openly weeping as he passes from image to image. Aeneas’s emotion stems from his realization of the need to preserve the Trojan legacy: “he found before his eyes the Trojan battles / In the old war, now known throughout the world” (1.619-20). With each image, Aeneas’s feelings grow stronger and he realizes that the Trojans’ struggles in war have pervaded throughout the world. Viewing these images gives Aeneas a motivation to help preserve Troy−by re-founding Troy Aeneas can ensure that Trojan struggles in war do not go to waste. Evidently Aeneas quickly learns that Troy’s rebirth is inevitably linked to his own destiny as he references his destiny numerous times throughout the epic. For example in Book IV, not only does Aeneas claim responsibility for Troy’s rehabilitation, but he also goes on to indicate that he alone will renew Troy’s reputation, stating: “I should look after Troy” (4.472-77). This statement demonstrates that Aeneas recognizes his destiny as being linked to Troy’s rebirth. Although reluctant to do so at first, Aeneas rises to the occasion and takes on the task of renewing Troy.

Upon realizing his destiny, Aeneas’s personality starts to transform and he begins to willingly devote all of his energy into Troy’s rebirth. Of course, with such a substantial task comes substantial personal sacrifice−Troy’s rebirth comes at significant personal expense to Aeneas’s happiness. The main instance of this sacrifice occurs when Aeneas’s destiny forces him to abandon Dido, his lover. Dido, ruler of Carthage after her husband’s death, offers Aeneas stability and tranquility in comparison with his current quest−it had Aeneas chosen to stay with her, he would be able to rule a city without facing any hardships. In other words, all the work has been done for him to create a kingdom. However, Aeneas does not choose to take the easy route, stating: “duty-bound, / Aeneas, though he struggled with desire / to calm and comfort her… / to speak to her… / took the course heaven gave him / and went back to the fleet” (4.545-51). Here Aeneas demonstrates the notion of pietas, or duty, by putting his cause before his personal preferences.

Apparently Aeneas wants nothing more than to stay with Dido−or at the very least comfort her−but he realizes that he is not fated to do so. Aeneas acknowledges that he would very much prefer to stay with her during their argument, where he admits to Dido that the gods are forcing him to leave her−he does not act in his own interest. Troy’s rebirth forces Aeneas to make personally unfavorable decisions, it would be much easier for Aeneas to stay in Carthage and rule with Dido, whom he loves, until his death. Instead, however, he recognizes his destiny and selflessly denies himself immediate happiness to bring happiness to his people. In short, Troy’s rebirth induces Aeneas to evaluate and rank his priorities, with his personal happiness coming second to Troy’s.

While assisting with Troy’s rebirth forces Aeneas to reassess his priorities, it also causes a change in character. Aeneas, over the course of the epic, through the trials and tribulations that he faces, eventually becomes more Achillean in character. The that arises between Aeneas and Turnus dominates the second half of the epic, the Latin commander; this conflict mirrors the conflict between Achilles and Hector. Turnus enrages Aeneas by killing Pallas, whom Aeneas is especially close to, just as Hector’s slaying of Patroclus enrages Achilles. Aeneas fights with renewed vigor following Pallas’s death, taking prisoners for sacrifice, denying mercy to pleading soldiers, and brutally disfiguring other soldiers (10.725-849). Aeneas’s previous disposition, one of leadership and limited violence, immediately changes upon Pallas’s death to one of a ruthless killer, similar to Achilles. Had Aeneas not been called upon to assist in the renewal of Troy, it is unlikely that he would make such a change in personality.

Perhaps the most profound evidence of this change occurs at the end of the epic, where he denies mercy to Turnus: “...Fierce under arms, Aeneas / Looked to and fro, and towered, and stayed his hand / Upon the sword hilt…  What Turnus said began to bring him round / From indecision. Then to his glance appeared...Enemy still” (12.1280-87). Here Aeneas has just incapacitated Turnus with a spear and stops to consider Turnus’s request to spare his life. Aeneas seems inclined to consent to this request, despite his “fierce” state, he still maintains his hand on the sword hilt. This moment of indecision indicates that a trace remnant of Aeneas’s personality, his merciful side, lingers. However, in Achillean fashion, rage boils up inside him after he glances at Pallas’s swordbelt that Turnus sports on his shoulder; Aeneas becomes furious with Turnus for wearing an object that he associates with such grief. As a result, just as Achilles slays Hector in honor of Patroclus, so too does Aeneas in honor of Pallas. This final scene demonstrates the extent to which Aeneas’s character has been transformed by his mission to reestablish Troy: the last vestiges of mercy that he almost granted are chased away by blinding anger for his fallen comrade. Being the key part of Troy’s rebirth causes Aeneas to change his personality to attain the goal of a renewed Troy, which ends badly for Turnus.

The motif of Troy’s rebirth is central to the Aeneid, which takes place a short time after the Trojan War. The renewal of Troy intertwines with Aeneas’s own fate forcing him to make significant changes to his life in order to fulfill his destiny. Once he recognizes this, he puts his people’s happiness before his by leaving Dido against his free will, knowing that he is not destined to stay and rule Carthage. Furthermore, his personality changes, from a benevolent leader to an Achillean menace, brutally killing and denying mercy to his enemies as revenge for his fellow soldier’s death. Evidently in order for Troy to be reborn, the fates require the sacrifice of the happiness and the change in personality of one leader, Aeneas.


Virgil, and Robert Fagles. The Aeneid. New York: Viking, 2006. Print.

Suggested Reading from Inquiries Journal

Why raise the curtain on this 45 day by 45 night saga? In a story whose ending everybody knows already, why choose these actions of these characters to expound upon? The Iliad is not a war tale one might tell in which friends love friends, who in conjunction hate enemies, and all fight quite openly for comrades... MORE»
Advertisement
Even in fairy tales and fantastical legends, the trespassing of the breathing upon the domain of the spirits is rare. It is a disturbing idea; when the dead visit our world, we can at least find comfort in numbers. Yet the hero Odysseus braves the unknown and looks into the eyes of death. And as ghostly whispers blow across the... MORE»
Reading Greek plays provides valuable insight into the relationships between gods and humans. While both gods and humans have fairly similar personalities Greek gods have a certain amount of power that, given motivation from an arrogant mortal, they are all too willing to manipulate for their own entertainment without regard to... MORE»
In Euripides’ Bacchae, careful examination of the character Dionysus illuminates discrepancies in action based on gender. Ultimately, Dionysus’ effeminate nature compounded with his subversive measures toward women and male proclivities suggest an inherent duality. Dionysus’ vacillation between masculine... MORE»
Submit to Inquiries Journal, Get a Decision in 10-Days

Inquiries Journal provides undergraduate and graduate students around the world a platform for the wide dissemination of academic work over a range of core disciplines.

Representing the work of students from hundreds of institutions around the globe, Inquiries Journal's large database of academic articles is completely free. Learn more | Blog | Submit

Follow SP

Latest in Literature

2018, Vol. 10 No. 10
Innocent lamb, savage tiger, free-flying eagle – time after time animals interrupt poetry as the ideal, the muse, the hero, or the grotesque operating alongside humanity. In tracking animal imagery throughout contemporary Irish poetry, we... Read Article »
2018, Vol. 10 No. 03
In his poem ‘Punishment’ from the poetry collection North (1975), Seamus Heaney picks up the voice of a witness who is suspended between the possibilities of love, silence, voyeurism, outrage and above all, the understanding of the process... Read Article »
2018, Vol. 10 No. 03
Sexual violence and coercion became hot topics in 2017, with endless headlines. However, these problems and issues are not new, nor are they confined to a single segment of society. Rather, they have longstanding roots within patriarchal society... Read Article »
2018, Vol. 10 No. 01
Both Vladimir Nabokov and Virginia Woolf detail memories of having intense shocks into consciousness during their early childhoods, where they are suddenly aware that they are beings alive, in a reality governed by temporality and humanistic revelations... Read Article »
2017, Vol. 9 No. 12
Since its emergence in the 19th century, fantasy fiction has proliferated throughout the world, from the global craze of Lord of the Rings (1954) to Harry Potter (1997). As a sub-genre of fantasy based on Chinese traditional mythology and martial... Read Article »
2017, Vol. 9 No. 11
The arrival of Spanish conquistadors in the “New World” at the end of the fifteenth century triggered an age of violence, oppression, and colonization that lasted until the United States took the stage as a modern colonial power in 1898... Read Article »
2010, Vol. 2 No. 01
Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is about a man on a voyage by ship, who in one impulsive and heinous act, changes the course of his life – and death.  The Mariner faces an inner struggle over... Read Article »

What are you looking for?

FROM OUR BLOG

How to Select a Graduate Research Advisor
Presentation Tips 101 (Video)
"Should I Go to Graduate School?"