Aeneid for Appearances Only: The Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

"Alas!" said one, "what oceans yet remain

For us to sail! what labors to sustain" (Book IV).

Playing on their already frustrated emotions, they are quick to succumb when "the goddess, great in mischief, views their pains" (Virgil Book V). Stirred-up by the goddess, the women set fire to the ships, only to have them put out by the Trojans with some assistance from the gods.

Thus, this is just another example in which women are considered hindrances in the Trojan culture. Furthermore, the fact that they hinder the Trojans suggests their low position in society. Clearly, the concept of fate is very important in the Trojan society, and by attempting to thwart fate, the women are acting in a way that is contrary to Trojan beliefs and values. In addition, their grumbling and complaining makes them appear weak and unfruitful. This is especially true in the above situation. Virgil spends many lines describing the heroics of the war games that the Trojans are playing, emphasizing their strength and glory. In contrast, the women are portrayed as grumbling and crying about the situation that the Trojans are embracing. Thus, compared to the men, the women look weak and less than industrious. In addition, the fact that the women attempt to thwart the Trojans through setting fire to the ships suggests that the women are uniquely malevolent, attempting to damage the honor of their own kin. Thus, in this situation, the Trojan women are described as obstacles to the men's ambitions, in addition to obtaining a low place in society -- a place where they do not heed the values of the culture and are weaker and less loyal than their male contemporaries.

After Juno has failed in her attempt to hinder Aeneas's affairs through two incidents with women -- his love for Dido and the rebellion of the Trojan women -- she makes yet another attempt through a woman who cannot be described as low status. Like Dido, Amata, is a queen who is described sensually at first. Of course, this sensual description occurs only after Juno has infected Amata via the Fury, Juno's "darling plague, the fav'rite of her snakes," throwing the dart into her heart and making her likely to "kindle rage / And sacrifice to strife her house husband's age" (Virgil Book VII). Suddenly, Amata is filled with a rage that has begun even before infection; she determines that Turnus, a native, is worthy to marry her daughter, Lavina, while Aeneas, a foreigner, is not. As Juno's fury, in the form of a serpent slides into Amata, she is consumed by the desire to stop the Trojans and Aeneas, and is described as a sensual and powerful being. Virgil presents the reader with a picture of Amata lying, "her swelling breast / Fir'd with disdain for Turnus dispossess'd / And the new nuptials of the Trojan guest" (Book VII). Meanwhile, the fury shakes "From her black body," fixing itself "Betwixt her linen and her naked limbs" (Virgil Book VII). Like Dido, the sensual description of Amata in this book allows readers to draw the conclusion that she is a powerful, sexual woman. In addition, her convictions, as well as her ability to influence others to the point of creating a war suggest her power. Indeed, Amata is quite powerful. In order to hinder Aeneas, she manages, with the help of Juno's fury, to anger Turnus to the point where he is willing to fight. The transformation is quite stunning. When Amata first approaches the man she hopes to call her son-in-law, Turnus says:

You tell me, mother, what I knew before:

The Phrygian fleet is landed on the shore.

I neither fear nor will provoke the war;

My fate is Juno's most peculiar care.

But time has made you dote, and vainly tell

Of arms imagin'd in your lonely cell.

Go; be the temple and the gods your care;

Permit to men the thought of peace and war" (Virgil Book VII).

But just seconds later, Amata's words, helped by Juno's fury, manage to enrage Turnus and send him to meet the Trojans with war in mind. Indeed, Juno's use of Amata and Amata's rage serve as the greatest obstacles to Aeneas's ambitions, as it is Amata's and Jupiter's actions that cause the battle between the Latins and the Trojans, and while the Trojans eventually win, many die in the attempt.

Thus, this situation shows that women are seen as hindrances to men's ambitions, a commentary on their low position in society in Italy as well as in Troy. While Amata certainly does not appear to be of low status when the reader first encounters her, Virgil suggests that she is, ultimately, of a lower status than men in two regards. First, Virgil's heroes are the Trojans, and it is clear that he means the reader to see them as their protagonists. By putting Amata, and other women, in the way of the Trojans, Virgil lowers the opinion of Amata in the eyes of the reader. Amata, with her fellow female, Juno, is not only standing in the way of the protagonist, but is also standing in the way of fate, the founding of the great Roman Empire. Thus, readers see Amata as nothing but an antagonist. In addition, when Amata confronts Turnus before the Fury enters him, Turnus suggests that women are valued lower in society than men by suggesting that Amata should not think about politics, but should stick with more womanly topics, such as religion.

From Dido to the Trojan women, to Amata, women in Virgil's Aeneid are consistently filling the roles of those hindering or preventing Aeneas's ambition to fulfill his fate -- founding Rome. This observation is especially interesting in light of the progressive tone that the poem seems to take at first glance. Women certainly hold the appearance of power in both Trojan and Latin societies. They are gods, rulers, and messengers to the gods. They are described as beautiful, sensual, strong, and intellectually stimulating, and often times they are seen as equal to men. This is true in the case of Dido, who seems to rule, literally, hand-in-hand with Aeneas in her kingdom for a time. The Trojan woman have the power to organize and revolt, Sibyl controls who enters the underworld, and Amata is not only a ruler, but she is strong enough to incite war -- a man's affair. Of course, it is impossible to forget that the war between the Latins and the Trojans is waged over a woman, Lavina, just like the war in Troy occurs because of another beautiful woman -- Helen.

But a closer reading of Virgil's poem suggests that this apparent power is just a farce, making the low place that women hold in society even more poignant. Women in Trojan and Latin society have no more real power than the current Queen of England. Instead, it is all about appearances. Despite the fact that women hold high political stations, they are not given respect, and are seen as mere obstacles to men's affairs. While Aeneas truly loves Dido, he does not hesitate to leave her when Jupiter reminds him that it is his fate to go to Italy, denying that he was her husband. Dido receives death and eternal wandering in the Field of Suicides, while Aeneas eventually reaches Italy and will always be remembered as the ancestor of Romulus and Remus. Dido may have the power to rule, to lead refuges to a new world, and to give the Trojans the means to repair their ships, but she is ultimately just an obstacle to Aeneas's journey. The Trojan women may have the power to lead a revolt, but they do not have the power to actually stop the journey, and they are portrayed as weal and foolish beside the athletic and heroic men. Finally, Amata may be a powerful queen and mother, but Turnus makes it clear that she is not equal with men, she is not seen as one whose opinion matters on the affairs of war. In addition, she is seen as the primary obstacle in the way of Aeneas's attaining his fate without the loss of so many lives. In fact, it can be argued that her intervention is what is responsible for Turnus's death.

Thus, while they may seem to hold positions that are equal with men, Virgil's Aeneid suggests that women are part of a low society in both Trojan and Latin culture. While hardly a man stands in the way of Aeneas's attempt to satisfy the value of fate in Trojan culture, many women do, fueled by the desire of Juno, a female deity. Because of this, readers ultimately see women as antagonists, hinderers of men's affairs, betrayers of their cultures, and members of a lower position in society. Thus, Virgil's…

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Works Cited

Virgil. The Aeneid. Trans. John Dryden. 19 B.C.E. The Internet Classics Archive. MIT. 3

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