The Aeneid

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War and Peace Theme Analysis

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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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War is everywhere in the Aeneid. The Trojan War begins Aeneas's journey by forcing him from Troy, and war concludes his journey on the fields of Italy. The characters constantly contend with the possibility of violence, giving gifts and forming alliances to try to avert it, or proving their bravery by rushing into it. And these wars are never purely tactical, fought just to gain land or power or wealth. Instead, the wars are often the results of personal, petty things, like insults or grudges. The Trojan War begins because of three goddesses' squabble about who's the most beautiful. The war in Italy begins because Turnus gets mad that a stranger is marrying the girl he likes, with Juno fanning the flames for a whole host imagined slights. These frivolous-seeming beginnings lead to warfare that offers the chance for glory, but which Virgil also regularly depicts as brutal and senseless, separating mothers from sons and sons from fathers.

Yet in Anchises comment in the Underworld that Rome will have the unique ability to spare the conquered (in extreme contrast to what the Greeks did to the defeated Trojans), the Aeneid suggests that the Romans, through Aeneas, will bring something new to war—that they will wage war in order to create peace.

War and Peace ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in The Aeneid related to the theme of War and Peace.
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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A woman leads them all.
Related Characters: Venus (speaker)
Page Number: 1.442
Explanation and Analysis:

Aeneas and Achates, traveling through the woods, have come across Venus in disguise, who tells them about another leader who led a group out of danger and into safety. This time, though, it was a woman - Dido - who did so, and who went on to found the city of Carthage. We have already learned that Aeneas is fated to go on to found the city of Rome: here, Venus reveals that there is precedent for such an act of strength, of drawing peace out of war. Venus thus stresses that Dido is at least an equal to Aeneas - a surprising sentiment in a culture in which leadership in war is restricted to men. 

Book 2 Quotes
I fear the Greeks, especially bearing gifts.
Related Characters: Laocoon (speaker)
Page Number: 2.62
Explanation and Analysis:

Aeneas has begun to tell the long story of the Trojan War to his companions, including Dido, in Carthage. Here, he begins with the tale of the Trojan Horse, a hollow "gift" from the Greeks that actually hid warriors inside it. Laocoon, a priest, actually warns the Trojans that the Greeks may well be deceiving them. Given the mutual animosity and suspicion between the two peoples, Laocoon urges his fellow men to be vigilant and not to let down their defenses. Laocoon's words remind the listeners that the Trojans and Greeks lived in a constant state of uncertainty and insecurity, never knowing when an all-too-fragile peace might be interrupted.

Book 6 Quotes
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 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.

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
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.

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.