Destiny in The Aeneid
Fate, in the Ancient Greek and Roman world, was one of the great unchangeable powers that stand above even the gods in the hierarchy of supernatural forces. The Greeks and Romans thought that the Fates were three ancient women who spun the web of destiny together. Each man’s life is a thread, and the fates would draw it out and cut it as they saw fit. The gods themselves had to obey the Fates, for even they had golden threads. Fate plays a very large role in Virgil’s epic The Aeneid. Aeneas, the central character, knows from the beginning of his journey that he will ultimately found Rome. This is not to suggest that fate has chosen him in an arbitrary manner. Aeneas is destined to be great because he possesses great attributes.
Fate is a powerful force in the Greek and especially Roman eras, and it is the major theme in Virgil’s Aeneid. He is destined to outlive the Trojan War, lead his people on a long voyage, and ultimately create Rome. In this journey, however, Aeneas is forced to lose many people who are close to him. His wife, Creusa, must die so that he can leave Troy and eventually marry an Italian woman to start Rome. He also must leave his lover Dido for this same reason. Aeneas’ readiness to part with those who are so dear to him alludes to his acceptance to fate and it’s predominant role in his life.
Aeneas’ destiny profoundly affects the people in his life, usually in a negative way. His first wife, Creusa, dies while Troy burns. With Creusa dead in Troy, Aeneas is free both legally and morally to marry another woman when he finally does arrive in Italy. This is extremely important, because the Italians establish family lines through the mother, and Aeneas will need to marry an Italian princess in order for his descendants to found Rome in the future. His second lover, Dido, commits suicide because Aeneas leaves her. His father dies, so that he can tell him of his future descendants and their accomplishments. Lavinia’s father tears her from one betrothal and throws her into another without any thought to her feelings. Despite this, each person’s pain serves a specific purpose. Without these events, Aeneas may not have been able to continue his quest that eventually leads to the founding of Rome.
Although Aeneas could do nothing to change his fate, this does not mean that their characters had nothing to do with the turns their lives took. Aeneas succeeds by yielding his own apprehensions and desires to the demands of fate and his faithfulness to his people. Aeneas’ responsibility to his country makes him a great leader, and he is fated to succeed. Fate reflects the kind of person involved, perhaps too harshly or agreeably, but not without some justification.
Fate, in the Greek and Roman cultures, was a force of great power. Virgil presents a character whose life is touched irrevocably by fate. Fate isn’t fair; Dido and Creusa have tragic fates, even though they may not have done anything wrong. But someone’s fate may also reflect the kind of person involved. Virgil makes this point: fate may be inevitable, but it is not illogical. Those who are destined to be great are great because it is there nature to be extraordinary.
Destiny in The Aeneid