by E. Luke Skinner
Aeneas differs greatly from the heroes who preceded him. Where Achilles and Gilgamesh are ruled by their egos and emotions, Aeneas is ruled by his morality and sense of duty and honor. He’s the handbook for how romans should handle their problems and make their decisions. He’s the bright, shiny, and clean version of Odysseus that romans needed to see and identify with at that time. Aeneas is a glorification of the things that are necessary to make an empire powerful, and an obvious deconstruction of the story of Odysseus. Post-bellum Rome needed men who acted on their guts and duty, not men who thought about how to serve their selfish desires. And Aeneas is that man. Aeneas handles every situation by serving his duty first and his desires second. When he washes up on the beach at the start of Book 1, Aeneas must deal with the loss of a large number of his men. Where Achilles or Gilgamesh might’ve sulked for days on the beach morning his men, Aeneas acknowledges their loss but immediately sets to the task of caring for those men left to him. When Aeneas meets the young woman in the mountains, he is kind and courteous in the face of her exceptional beauty, where a different kind of hero would’ve tried to seduce the woman (and incurred Venus’ wrath). When Dido tries to secure him by the bonds of love, he puts his duty first and says he has to leave, even knowing how much this will hurt Dido. Aeneas never resorts to trickery or lies, he relies on honesty and honor, to take the easy way represented by Odysseus would be a greater failure of himself and of his duty than actual death. Aeneas never exhibits all-consuming rage, or pompous ego, despite being the kind of man who by Greek ideology who should’ve had. This is the purpose Vergil wrote this poem, why Augustus had it commissioned. To give Romans an idea of how to be Roman. A Rome full of men like Aeneas is the Rome envisioned by Jupiter in Book 1. That Rome is the one whose unity and discipline gives a strength that could exceed the gods’. A Rome full of men like Achilles or Odysseus had nowhere to go but down, as the kingdoms of the Greeks had before.