Aeneas is said to possess spiritual or godlike qualities that make him fit his role as a hero and destined founder of Rome. Critics see this achievement as proceeding both from his destiny and his own actions. He is the son of the Trojan mortal, Anchises, and the goddess of beauty and love, Venus, and as such, enjoys special protection, while remaining mortal.
His most outstanding quality is his respect and fidelity to prophecy. Ever aware of his destiny and role in the founding of a nation, he always takes this into consideration in taking every action. This awareness and devotion to his noble destiny enable him to endure much suffering and difficulty, from the defeat at Troy to his final duel with Turnus in Italy.
His ability and decision to keep his focus on that destiny give his the power to ward off the weakening effects of frustration and restless emotions that war against his duties and that destiny. That image is ever before him, stronger and more compelling than any failure or difficulty that he faces. This quality of endurance and single-mindedness in any event all alone makes him deserve the favor of the gods and worthy of recognition as a graceful, noble hero.
Despite his single-mindedness, he has much room for the condition of others. He shows compassion in many ways and in many occasions. When his crew get tired, dejected and discouraged in their journey to Italy, he delivers a speech to lift their dwindling spirits, reminding them of how far they have already gone and suffered for the one cause:
Endure! Conquer! Jove will soon dispose to future good our past and present woes.
A what greater ills hereafter can you bear?
Resume your courage and dismiss your care
Endure the hardships of your present state;
Live and reserve yourselves for better fate."
He says these encouraging words with a smile, but deep within, he himself feels apprehensive and in throes. But that is just what courage is to him: not the absence of fear or agony, but the ability to decide to go on despite fear or agony.
He shows this compassion in other occasions, such as by allowing the crippled and those unwilling to stay behind (Book V) and in the underworld, by recognizing the lot of the unburied dead. He has compassion both the living and the dead, and preserves these lesson with him into the war in which he engages later, whereby he ensures the burial of allies and enemies alike.
In Carthage, he meets and attracts the Phoenician princess Dido, who is amazed at his heroic accomplishments. They live together for a time. Before the arrival of Aeneas, Dido became a widow when her husband, Sychaeus, was killed by her brother, Pygmalion. She was then a strong and able ruler of Carthage, a city on the coast of North Africa. She was, then, determined not to remarry so as to preserve the memory of her murdered husband. She was driven to Tyre, her native land, by her brother, but this condition did not make her lose her grip and control of her responsibilities to those she governed.
When Aeneas arrived, Dido was immediately stricken as though mad. She tells her sister that something in her was rekindled. She risked everything for Aeneas, and when they live together, she compromises her deceased husband's memory. This makes her lose the loyalty of her subjects and the alliance of her local African chieftains, because Aeneas is a foreigner. They view him as a military threat. But Dido is deeply obsessed with him:
Let us make, instead of war, an everlasting peace and plighted wedding.
You have what you were bent upon: she burns with love; the frenzy now is in her bones.
Then let us rule this people - you and I with equal auspices...'"
Book 4, Lines 130-136)
Although he indulges in an affair with Queen Dido, Aeneas is roused from the grips of passion when Jupiter reminds Aeneas of his son, Ascanius, to whom he is devoted. Momentarily dazed by a passionate relationship with the obsessed Queen, Aeneas' inherent sense of order and control returns and he decides to sacrifice his longing for Dido. He could have chosen to just remain in Carthage, not only with a Queen he already loves, but also without further bloodshed and the hardships of going to war. This is most acutely evident of the strong and virtuous character of Aeneas, because it is only after he leaves Dido that his destiny to build the foundations of Rome is revealed to him. He makes the decision only partly and partly by the force of destiny. Thus, does Aeneas rejects the tempting choice of just staying put and staying with a woman who is madly in love with him, not to mention the guilt he must have struggled against by being responsible for Dido's eventual suicide. But his highest consideration is his loyalty to duty and to destiny, subordinating his already genuine romantic love to the will and pleasure of the gods, as expressed to Dido in Books IV and V. This and other situations that illustrate the same devotion and selflessness in Aeneas have earned him to be called "pious Aeneas," a quality that sharply contrasts the disobedient and discordant behaviors of Juno and Turnus, his enemy.
Another virtue or godly characteristic he possesses is filial and parental loyalty to his Anchises and Ascanius, his son. His sense of family is best shown in the epic by his escorting them out of Troy, with Anchises on his back. When asked by Anchises, Aeneas answers:
Did you suppose, my father,
That I could tear myself away and leave you?
Unthinkable; how could a father say it?
Now if it pleases the powers about that nothing
Stand of this great city; if your heart
Is set on adding your own death and ours
To that of Troy, the door's wide open for it."
Aeneas inspires his father that the latter cannot decide to stay behind to die in Troy without leading the rest to the same fate. Anchises is already losing courage and his son restores it. Anchises has already allowed himself to get immersed in self-pity, but Aeneas lifts him from it.
That same loyalty to family brings him back to his senses when reminded of his son by Jupiter:
Are you now laying the foundations of high Carthage, as servant to a woman?"
Book 4, lines 353-4)
His father does not erase Aeneas' filial loyalty. When he reaches Italy, he descends to the underworld, with Sybil of Cumae as guide, to visit his father there.
The circling year completes its months since we entombed in earth the bones and remnants of my godlike father.
Unless I err, that anniversary
Is here, the day that I shall always keep in grief and honor.'"
Book V, lines 61-67)
This fidelity and his other heroic attributes lead him to a view of the future history and heroes of Rome. Anchises shows him sharp images of the future events that will escalate into Aeneas' founding of Rome. This He is, thus, made to understand his exceptional mission with greater clarity and urgency. Full of vision and vigor for that mission, he leaves the underworld to pursue his destiny in Italy.
Aeneas' courage and skill in warfare are among his other excellent virtues too:
sing of arms and of a man: his fate had made him fugitive: he was the first to journey from the coasts of Troy as far as Italy and the Lavinian shores
Across the lands and waters he was battered beneath the violence of the high ones for the savage Juno's unforgetting anger."
Book 1 lines 1-7)
The man you seek is here. I stand before you,
Trojan Aeneas, torn from Libyan waves, you who were alone in taking pity on the unutterable trials of Troy, who welcome us as allies to your city and home - a remnant left by Greeks, harassed by all disasters known on land and sea.'"
Book 1, lines 836-842)
Aeneas and the other Trojans are initially welcomed in Italy by King Latinus, the ruler, thinking that he is the prophesied future husband of his daughter Lavinia. But the headstrong Queen Amata wants Lavinia to marry Turnus, instead, She and her son look at the Trojan visitors with hostility. Owing to his instinctive obedience to the gods and his destiny, Aeneas dutifully responds to the suggestion of the river god Tiberinus to go to the Tiber and get more military support from the neighboring tribes. This gives his mother, the goddess Venus, the chance to give him the weapons made by Vulcan, the god of war.
In the meantime back in King Latinus' land, Aeneas' son Ascanius goes to hunt for a stag that the local herdsmen like very much. Turnus takes this as his chance to initiate conflict and fight indeed breaks out. Many perish in this battle…