The Aeneid

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Themes and Colors
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The Gods and Divine Intervention Theme Icon
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LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Aeneid, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
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In the Aeneid, fate (or destiny) is an all-powerful force—what fate decrees will happen, must happen. It is Aeneas's fate to found a city in Italy, and so that he will do. Characters can, and do, have the free will to resist fate. But ultimately, such resistance is futile. Juno can delay Aeneas reaching Latium for a while, but not forever. Dido can get Aeneas to stay in Carthage for a while, but not forever. Turnus can fight Aeneas off temporarily, but not forever. And while, for the gods, resistance to fate seldom seems to have consequences, for mortals such as Dido and Turnus, efforts to resist fate end disastrously, suggesting that resistance to fate is seen in a negative light. Though the predestined fates may seem to kill the suspense of the storyline, there's a different kind of drama at work in the Aeneidwhether and how the characters accept their fates, and in the particulars of their journeys to fulfilling their fates.

The theme of fate also helps to link the story of Aeneas with the real-life time of Augustus Caesar, who ruled the Roman Empire when the Aeneid was written. Aeneas's destiny is to begin the civilization that will become Rome, and to begin the line of kings that will result in Augustus. Therefore, the poem endows Augustus's government with invulnerable, divinely sanctioned power: Augustus was fated to rule, in a destiny that stretches all the way back to his great ancestor! Anchises makes this point clear in the Underworld, when he shows Rome's future leaders to Aeneas. Fate justifies not only the poem's plot, but also Augustus's government.

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Fate Quotes in The Aeneid

Below you will find the important quotes in The Aeneid related to the theme of Fate.
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 3 Quotes
Search for your ancient mother. There your house, the line of Aeneas, will rule all parts of the world.
Related Characters: Apollo (speaker)
Page Number: 3.17-18
Explanation and Analysis:

Aeneas and his followers have sailed to Ortygia, a land under the guidance of Apollo, and Aeneas has prayed to the god for guidance. Apollo has largely stayed out of Aeneas's affairs before, but here his piety in humbling himself before the god, rather than presuming to know exactly what to do and how to act, prove impressive to Apollo. As a result, he does intervene, not just revealing to Aeneas his fate but giving him advice on what to do. Of course, the two are inextricable, since Apollo knows that Aeneas's fate is indeed to found Rome, but Apollo takes pity on Aeneas enough to want to steer him towards this fate more easily.

Indeed, this passage is composed of one part guidance, one part foretelling. Rome is described as Aeneas's "ancient mother," an interesting phrase that suggests that it is not something to be created out of nothing, but rather a place preexisting Aeneas's search, in close relation to his life and simply waiting to be discovered. Only once Aeneas can surmount the difficulties in his path and find this "ancient mother" will his house become the world's most powerful.

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 5 Quotes
You trusted—oh, Palinurus—far too much to a calm sky and sea. Your naked corpse will lie on an unknown shore.
Related Characters: Aeneas (speaker)
Page Number: 5.970-973
Explanation and Analysis:

Palinurus, a skillful navigator, has been put in charge of the fleet, but at night the sleep god causes him to doze off, and he falls overboard and drowns. As Aeneas takes over the navigation, he mourns Palinurus, recognizing that his beloved friend will not be able to have a funeral ceremony that does justice to his greatness. At the same time, Aeneas seems to believe that it is Palinurus's human weaknesses that contributed directly to his death - even as the interjection, "oh, Palinurus," underlines the fact that Aeneas's rebuke comes from grief and not scorn.

Aeneas does not, of course, know about the divine intervention that contributed to Palinurus's death. Although Aeneas often does recognize the greater forces of destiny that are directing his own and others' lives, he is also at times tempted to assign individual responsibility to people's actions. As he does so, he slips away from his devotion and forgets that there are broader powers inextricably entwined in human lives, even when they seem so autonomous.

Book 6 Quotes
…The descent to the Underworld is easy. Night and day the gates of shadowy Death stand open wide, but to retrace your steps, to climb back to the upper air—there the struggle, there the labor lies.
Related Characters: Sibyl of Cumae (speaker)
Page Number: 6.149-152
Explanation and Analysis:

At the Sibyl's cave, Aeneas asks her how he might go down into the Underworld in order to see Anchises again. Here, she offers a general piece of wisdom before agreeing to give Aeneas specific advice regarding how exactly he can enter the Underworld. For Sibyl and Aeneas, the Underworld is a physical place, the home of the dead. Because it is not meant for the living, it is extremely difficult to return from it (even if, according to this set of beliefs, it is not impossible to visit the land of the dead and then return). But there is also a metaphorical basis to the Sibyl's pronouncement: it may be easy to descend into darkness, but it is never as easy to regain the right and proper path. It will be a test of Aeneas's piety to see whether or not he is able to embrace his former devotion enough to accomplish this task in the Underworld before returning to tell of it in the world of the living.

Others, I have no doubt, will forge the bronze to breathe with suppler lines, draw from the block of marble features quick with life, plead their cases better, chart with their rods the stars that climb the sky and foretell the times they rise. But you, Roman, remember, rule with all your power the peoples of the earth—these will be your arts: to put your stamp on the works and the ways of peace, to spare the defeated, break the proud in war. — Anchises
Related Characters: Anchises (speaker)
Page Number: 6.976-984
Explanation and Analysis:

At this crucial moment in the epic poem, Anchises shares with Aeneas the defining characteristic of the Romans, the goal toward which Aeneas and his followers should strive as they seek to find Rome and found their nation there. "Others" may well include the Greeks, who would for a long while compete with the Romans in terms of cultural and political prowess: here, for instance, Anchises refers to armor-making, sculpture, rhetoric, and astronomy. But what will distinguish the Romans will be a power and graciousness in war that no other peoples have embraced.

Even as the Romans grow powerful, Anchises says, they will never become ruthless or cruel. As a result, they will deserve even more their status as the greatest people of the world, since their moral strength backs up their political and martial might. Anchises thus justifies the establishment of Rome, even with all the suffering and difficulties that still lie in its way, by the moral superiority that the Romans are fated to espouse.

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 10 Quotes
Fortune speeds the bold!
Related Characters: Turnus (speaker)
Page Number: 10.341
Explanation and Analysis:

Turnus is cheering and encouraging his men in advance of the battle they will wage against Aeneas and his followers. As they prepare to fight, Turnus assures them that fate will be in their favor if they are brave and bold. This is one of the most famous lines in the Aeneid, and it is often interpreted as if it was supposed to be Virgil's own opinion, as opposed to a line from a character's mouth. In fact, Turnus's opinions on fate are hardly standard. He seems to be saying, in fact, that fortune can change depending on individuals' actions and characters.

The Aeneid is, in general, much more skeptical about this possibility. Virgil often stresses, indeed, that fortune and fate exist on an entirely separate plane from the desires and actions of individuals. It is this belief in the close connection between the two that will ultimately lead to Turnus's downfall, and emphasize once again the superiority of fate over human desires.

Each man has his day, and the time of life is brief for all, and never comes again. But to lengthen out one's fame with action, that's the work of courage.
Related Characters: Jove (speaker)
Page Number: 10.553-556
Explanation and Analysis:

Pallas has prayed to Hercules to help him, but Jove has ordered the war to go on alone, with the results to be left up to fate. Here Jove comforts Hercules, even though his words might not seem all that reassuring. Jove stresses the brief, ephemeral nature of human life - a quality that contrasts with the immortality of the gods, who have an entirely different definition of life. While all the gods live forever, Jove does suggest that there is one way humans can attain immortality: by showing courage and strength in action, so that they are remembered long after their death. He suggests that Hercules need not worry about intervening in favor of Pallas, since fate will decide in his favor.

Book 12 Quotes
I shall not command Italians to bow to Trojans, nor do I seek the scepter for myself. May both nations, undefeated, under equal laws, march together toward an eternal pact of peace.
Related Characters: Aeneas (speaker)
Page Number: 12.225-228
Explanation and Analysis:

Even as Aeneas prepares for battle against Turnus, brave enough to embrace this fight heroically, he is mindful enough of the larger goals that he is pursuing to look past his own individual actions. He knows that the founding of Rome lies at the end of all this warfare, and he hopes that such a goal will still be possible even if he falls. Aeneas dismisses the usual terms of defeat, that is, the complete submission of the conquered enemy to the winners, and he also hopes that the Latins will be similarly gracious. Once again, Aeneas thinks beyond himself and shows pietas, great devotion to the cause that he is fated to fulfill.

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.

Go no further down the road of hatred.
Related Characters: Turnus (speaker)
Page Number: 12.1093
Explanation and Analysis:

After a long, drawn-out battle between Aeneas and Turnus - and between the gods who are directing the actions of both of them - Aeneas finally has his enemy on his knees, and must decide whether to kill or to spare him. Here, Turnus begs Aeneas to spare him. He seems to suggest by his words that Aeneas will act out of free will: it is up to his individual conscience to direct his next move. Of course, we as readers know that there are many more characters at play here than the two soldiers facing each other. However, we are certainly not meant to see Aeneas as passive or lacking any will of his own. Guided by fate, Aeneas must nonetheless choose how to respond to his own fate, knowing as he does that he is tantalizingly close to the goal that has defined his life.

Decked in the spoils you stripped from the one I loved—escape my clutches? Never—Pallas strikes this blow, Pallas sacrifices you now, makes you pay the price with your own guilty blood!
Related Characters: Aeneas (speaker)
Page Number: 12.1105-1108
Explanation and Analysis:

Aeneas has carefully considered Turnus's pleading words, and he initially seems undecided. However, as soon as he catches a glimpse of Pallas's belt, which Turnus wears as a triumphant trophy, Aeneas's decision is made. His loyalty to his friend will trump any sense of mercy or forgiveness that he may have.

Here as elsewhere, Aeneas is forced to choose between competing interests - piety versus individual choice, mercy versus loyalty. Even the pietas for which Aeneas is so well-known, however, does not entirely help him here: part of devotion is, for him, remaining steadfast towards others whom he loves. Although the Romans will be known for their mercy and graciousness to those they conquer in war, Aeneas does not set such an example by the way he kills Pallas. And many critics have grappled with and debated about the way the Aeneid ends here, in hate and not in joy or reconciliation.

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.