The Aeneid

Pdf fan dd71f526917d6085d66d045bd94fb5b55d02a108dd45d836cbdd4abe2d4c043d Tap here to download this LitChart! (PDF)

The Gods and Divine Intervention Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Fate Theme Icon
The Gods and Divine Intervention Theme Icon
Piety Theme Icon
Rome Theme Icon
War and Peace Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Aeneid, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
The Gods and Divine Intervention Theme Icon

The gods actively intervene in the lives of the mortals, often using the characters like chess pieces to carry out their own power struggles. Juno hates the Trojans and does her best to stop Aeneas from fulfilling his destiny, even setting up the war that fills the second half of the poem. Venus tries to protect and help her son. Neptune just gets annoyed that some other god thinks he can mess with the ocean. Yet it's a matter of continued controversy whether the gods are meant to be fully-fledged characters, like superpowered humans with their own motivations, or whether they have a more symbolic role and act as a way for Virgil to enter into the humans' emotions and decisions. In many cases, it's difficult to tease apart where godly influence ends and human free will begins. Maybe Dido was too heedless in her passion—or maybe it was Venus's enchantment that made Dido too reckless in love. Maybe Turnus never would have wanted a war at all, without Juno's involvement. Or maybe there's no need to decide what comes from the god and what comes from the human, because even those acts of the gods are really just a way of poetically examining the irrationality of the human spirit.

In any case, within the world of the poem, the characters do believe in the gods. Faced with the constant, and sometimes invisible, intervention from the gods, all that mortals can do is pray for divine signs to guide them, try to get on the gods' good sides in times of difficulty, and appeal to seers and oracles to get a better view of the gods' desires.

The Gods and Divine Intervention ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of The Gods and Divine Intervention appears in each section of The Aeneid. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
How often theme appears:
Section length:
Get the entire The Aeneid LitChart as a printable PDF.
The aeneid.pdf.medium

The Gods and Divine Intervention Quotes in The Aeneid

Below you will find the important quotes in The Aeneid related to the theme of The Gods and Divine Intervention.
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. 

A+

Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other The Aeneid quote.

Plus so much more...

Get LitCharts A+
Already a LitCharts A+ member? Sign in!
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.

Book 10 Quotes
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
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.