The Aeneid

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Themes and Colors
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The Gods and Divine Intervention Theme Icon
Piety 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.
Piety Theme Icon

Pietas is a Latin word that can be translated as piety or devotion, and refers to someone's dutiful acceptance of the obligations placed on them by fate, by the will of the gods, and by the bonds of family and community. From the first lines of the poem, Virgil describes Aeneas as being remarkable for his piety, and "pious" is the most-used adjective to describe Aeneas throughout the poem. Aeneas always places these obligations above his own feelings or desires. When the winds blast his ships and he wishes he had died defending Troy, he nonetheless pursues his fate. When Juno torments him, he is sad but not defiant. When Dido's love tempts him to stay in Carthage, he deserts her because he feels he must. To be pious does not mean to lack free will. In contrast, to be pious all the time is a choice, a difficult choice, and one that other characters do not make. Dido tries to thwart fate in order to preserve her love. Turnus refuses to accept that fate demands that Aeneas will marry the woman Turnus wants. For both characters, things end disastrously. In the Aeneid, it's only by being pious, by freely choosing to sacrifice ones own desires to the larger forces of fate, the gods, and family, that one can be heroic.

Yet it is worth noting that some scholars suggest that Virgil did not in fact view Aeneas as a perfect hero. What about his sneaky, unsympathetic departure from Dido? Why does he exit the Underworld through the gate of false dreams, instead of the gate of the true and pure? And why does the Aeneid end not with an image of Aeneas's leadership in his destined land, but with his frenzied murder of a defenseless man who begs him for mercy? Whether such arguments are the product of our modern society, which does not value the same things that Virgil's did, or whether Virgil himself saw a dark side to total piety, is a matter of continued debate.

Piety ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Piety appears in each section of The Aeneid. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Piety Quotes in The Aeneid

Below you will find the important quotes in The Aeneid related to the theme of Piety.
Book 1 Quotes
A joy it will be one day, perhaps, to remember even this.
Related Characters: Aeneas (speaker)
Page Number: 1.239
Explanation and Analysis:

Immediately after setting out to sea, Aeneas and his men had been beset by storms and chaos, a plague sent by Aeolus, the god of winds, following the wish of Juno. Having lost some of their men to the sea already, the group now rests on an island and takes stock of their situation. Aeneas attempts, here, to rally his men and encourage them, even while acknowledging the real pain and grief that they have already experienced.

This now-famous line suggests Aeneas's mature, critical distance to suffering. He does not let himself be overwhelmed by difficulties, but rather steps back and convinces himself and others that such difficulties serve a broader purpose. If, as he claims, the group is fated to ultimately succeed, they will look back on this moment as an inevitable step on the way to that final victory. Aeneas thus shows his willingness to remain devoted to a cause greater than his own personal grief or suffering, as well as a willingness to persuade others of the righteousness of this attitude.

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Even here, the world is a world of tears and the burdens of mortality touch the heart.
Related Characters: Aeneas (speaker)
Page Number: 1.558-559
Explanation and Analysis:

As he is led through the city of Carthage, Aeneas stops at a temple to Juno and examines a portrayal of the Trojan War, with some of his friends and fellow combatants depicted on the walls. Aeneas is incredibly touched by this depiction, recognizing that a struggle that had seemed so unique to him and his fellow fighters is actually known far away. While people tend to disagree on the exact meaning of this passage, what is certain is Aeneas's feeling of solidarity with people and societies that are not his own, and that indeed are far displaced from what he knows. He may well be affected by the realization that the suffering of the Trojan War is actually not at all alien to foreign peoples, because war and death are things that all people experience; but he is still moved to know that people far away care about what happened to him. Aeneas thus shows himself once again to be thoughtful and careful in judgment, always considering the broader meaning of symbols and actions.

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 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.

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. 

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.