The Aeneid

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Virgil Character Analysis

Virgil often interjects in his story. Sometimes he addresses characters directly, other times he asks rhetorical questions or comments on the action. In this way, he acts as a character too—this is "Virgil as storyteller," becoming a part of his narrative like the ancient storytellers of the oral tradition, such as Homer.

Virgil Quotes in The Aeneid

The The Aeneid quotes below are all either spoken by Virgil or refer to Virgil. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Fate Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of The Aeneid published in 2006.
Book 1 Quotes
Wars and a man I sing.
Related Characters: Virgil (speaker)
Page Number: 1.1
Explanation and Analysis:

In many Greek and Latin epic poems, the first words of the work are meant to set the stage for what follows. Here, by beginning with the words "wars" and "man," Virgil immediately introduces both the context and the protagonist of his tale. Into a society beset by constant warfare, Aeneas will fulfill his own fate as well as, ultimately, bring an end to the conflicts with which the poem begins. 

Homer, the great Greek poet with whom Virgil would have inevitably compared himself, began both his Odyssey and Iliad by talking about the individual "men" that the poems would follow. By adding the general idea of war to this heritage, Virgil emphasizes the social implications of his tale. This will not only be a story of one man's heroic fight with or against fate: instead, it will be closely bound to the very history of the place where Virgil is now writing. 

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Book 4 Quotes
Rumor, swiftest of all the evils in the world. She thrives on speed, stronger for every stride, slight with fear at first, soon soaring into the air she treads the ground and hides her head in the clouds.
Related Characters: Virgil (speaker)
Page Number: 4.220-223
Explanation and Analysis:

Juno has created a storm to drive Aeneas and Dido together in a cave, where she presides over a wedding between them. Not long afterward, rumor begins to spread around the world regarding the shameful union between the two: they have shirked their duties as leaders in the interest of romantic love. Rumor is personified here, as important traits often are in the Aeneid: it is described as a timid but soon powerful woman, racing swiftly across the world even as she remains impossible to fully see or understand (just as people never know exactly where rumors come from or how true they are).

For Aeneas, there is an extra layer of shame to his marriage, since he knows that his fate is not to remain in Carthage with Dido, but rather to leave and continue his journey to found Rome. He cannot undo fate, of course - and if anything, it is Juno's intervention that has steered him away from his fate - but by remaining in Carthage he is tempting fate, suggesting that he can put it off rather than embrace it as his duty. This is thus one of the few cases in which Aeneas's piety is weakened by his individual desires.

Book 8 Quotes
He fills with wonder—he knows nothing of these events but takes delight in their likeness, lifting onto his shoulders no the fame and fates of all his children's children.
Related Characters: Virgil (speaker)
Related Symbols: Aeneas's Shield
Page Number: 8.856-859
Explanation and Analysis:

Venus has come down from the heavens to give Aeneas a shield forged by her lover, Vulcan. The shield (which bears some resemblance to the famous shield of Achilles described in Homer's Iliad) depicts on it many events and stories from the future peoples of Rome. This description thus gives Virgil the chance to portray what for Aeneas is the future, but for his readers is their shared past and collective memories. By inscribing those events on the shield, Virgil emphasizes that they were fated to take place, that indeed they were only waiting to be fulfilled while Aeneas sought to found Rome.

The bittersweet element of these depictions is that Aeneas, of course, will not live to see them fulfilled. He cannot understand what is depicted on the shield because it is his fate to lead his people to Rome, not to live in peace with them there. But because he is committed to a cause greater than himself, he is willing and eager to carry the "fame and fates" of all his descendants along with him, confident and happy for these future times.

Book 9 Quotes
Yet first the handsome Iulus—beyond his years, filled with a man's courage, a man's concerns as well—gives them many messages to carry to his father. But the winds scatter them all, all useless, fling them into the clouds.
Related Characters: Virgil (speaker)
Page Number: 9.361-365
Explanation and Analysis:

Nisus and Euryalus have volunteered to serve as messengers to Aeneas, as the Trojans find themselves besieged by Turnus and his men while Aeneas has gone off in search of Evander. The two boys have learned to be impressed and inspired by feats of bravery in war, and they're eager to join in. They understand that the task will be difficult and dangerous, but they most likely do not fully understand that they may well die in such a task. However, Ascanius, who has been left in charge while Aeneas is away, must accept his followers' offers in order to work together against a common enemy. Virgil intrudes in this narrative, as he often does, to make a broader point about the tragic discontinuity between human desires and divine fate: despite the messengers' best attempts, nothing can prevent what is fated to happen to them. 

Book 11 Quotes
Camilla, keen to fix some Trojan arms on a temple wall or sport some golden plunder out on the hunt, she tracked him now, one man in the moil of war, she stalked him wildly, reckless through the ranks, afire with a woman's lust for loot and plunder…
Related Characters: Virgil (speaker), Camilla
Page Number: 11.914-918
Explanation and Analysis:

In his fight against the Trojans, Turnus has decided to enlist the help of Camilla, the queen of the Volscians, who is beloved by the goddess Diana and who is known for her nearly unmatched skill in war. Here, we see just how eager Camilla is to enter into battle against the Trojans (and at this point, against a particular soldier named Arruns, because of his beautiful armor), even though she has no real reason to do so. Her "woman's lust for loot and plunder" is meant to contrast with the heroic, ethically sound reasons for fighting that Aeneas and the Trojans espouse. They are pursuing the noble goal of founding Rome, and, as we have already learned, the Romans will be unique for their graciousness in war. 

In many ways Camilla exemplifies some of the greatest values of the time in her great battle prowess and strategic skill. That Diana admires her is a sign in Camilla's favor; but her bloodthirstiness is a sign that she can never live up to the high ideals of her enemies, the Trojans.

Book 12 Quotes
Now what god can unfold for me so many terrors? Who can make a song of slaughter in all its forms—the deaths of captains down the entire field, dealt now by Turnus, now by Aeneas, kill for kill? Did it please you, great Jove, to see the world at war, the peoples clash that would later live in everlasting peace?
Related Characters: Virgil (speaker)
Page Number: 12.584-589
Explanation and Analysis:

Just as peace was about to be made, an errant throw of an arrow relaunches the battle between the Trojans and the Latins. Aeneas, frustrated that he cannot reach Turnus and settle counts once and for all, kills as many as he can as he strives to find his enemy. At other points in the book, including the very beginning, Virgil has called upon the Muses to inspire his epic and to breathe force into his tale. Now, for the first time, he expresses skepticism that even the gods can make beauty out of such senseless slaughter. 

Virgil's words suggest a questioning of the idea of fate as a driving, meaningful force in life. Virgil's rhetorical question at Jove is despairing but also provocative, as he wonders whether it was just a whim to set these peoples at war (or even, perhaps, whether there is a guiding force directing these actions at all). Speaking from a later historical position, knowing that Romans would live in peace long afterward, Virgil shows himself to be part of the chosen nation of Rome, unique in its promotion of peace over war. Looking back at the destruction that preceded the founding of Rome, however, Virgil cannot help but remain aghast at the utter devastation that seemed to be motivated by little other than tragic chance.

Turnus's limbs went limp in the chill of death. His life breath fled with a groan of outrage down to the shades below.
Related Characters: Virgil (speaker), Turnus
Page Number: 12.1111-1113
Explanation and Analysis:

As the epic comes to an end, we know that the triumph of Rome's founding is just within the grasp of Aeneas and the Trojans. It is striking, then, that Virgil's work ends not with a triumphant scene of martial victory, or even any kind of joyful celebration, but with the painful final breaths of the Trojans's final enemy. Jove has reminded Hercules that the lives of humans are brief, and by lingering on Turnus's death Virgil reminds us of that lesson. He also reminds us that however he and other Romans may think of their land as one of peace and joy, there was a much darker beginning to their people. And this history did not come into being by chance, according to the logic of the epic: instead, all that was happened was fated to do so, unfolding according to forces larger than any one individual.

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Virgil Character Timeline in The Aeneid

The timeline below shows where the character Virgil appears in The Aeneid. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book 1
Fate Theme Icon
The Gods and Divine Intervention Theme Icon
Piety Theme Icon
Rome Theme Icon
War and Peace Theme Icon
Virgil begins with "Wars and a man I sing…" and says that he will tell the... (full context)
Book 4
Fate Theme Icon
The Gods and Divine Intervention Theme Icon
Virgil doesn't mention if the couple physically consummates the marriage, but he hints that they do,... (full context)
Book 7
Fate Theme Icon
The Gods and Divine Intervention Theme Icon
Piety Theme Icon
Virgil explains the history of Latium, home of the Latins (and future location of Rome). King... (full context)
Book 10
Fate Theme Icon
The Gods and Divine Intervention Theme Icon
War and Peace Theme Icon
...Turnus says that he'll get a proper tomb. Turnus takes Pallas's belt as a prize. Virgil foreshadows that in the future Turnus will wish he'd never touched Pallas. (full context)
Piety Theme Icon
War and Peace Theme Icon
Lausus cries out or his injured father, and Virgil praises Lausus's bravery as deserving lasting recognition. Lausus jumps in to protect Mezentius. Aeneas tells... (full context)
Book 12
The Gods and Divine Intervention Theme Icon
Piety Theme Icon
War and Peace Theme Icon
...and throws himself fully into the battle. He kills so many people so ferociously that Virgil wonders what god can even help him sing about all the slaughter. Virgil wonders if... (full context)