How does Virgil treat instances of exile in the Aeneid? What does he say about the banishment from home and loved ones? What images, ideas, or poetic tools does he use?

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Virgil's Aeneid is very much an epic of exile. It is written in dactylic hexameter, the traditional epic meter of Greek and Latin, and echoes the form and incidents of the Homeric epics, in a way acting as a sequel to the Iliad and structural counterpart to the Odyssey, albeit from the Trojan viewpoint. As is the case with the Homeric epics, we see the extended use of epic similes and stories within stories, in which characters narrate the past in extended speeches, for example Aeneas' recounting of the story of the Trojan Horse to Dido. 

The opening of the poem situates it as a song of exile:

Arms, and the man I sing, who, forc'd by fate,

And haughty Juno's unrelenting hate,

Expell'd and exil'd, left the Trojan shore.

The first exile in the poem is from Troy. Although Aeneas would have preferred to stay and die in the fighting if needed, he is fated to survive the war and found the city of Rome. Therefore he leaves Troy on the day the city falls (urged on by the ghosts of Hector and his dead wife Creusa). After this initial exile, a period of extended wandering begins, with Aeneas discovering more about his fate. The angry goddess Juno blows them off course to Carthage where Aeneas meets Queen Dido, who falls in love with him. Despite this, the Trojans cannot make a new home in Carthage, but are exiled again, and compelled towards their destiny in Italy.

Although Aeneas mourns for Troy and clings to his Trojan identity, much of what motivates him and his men, as well as obedience to the gods, is to found a new Troy in Italy, which in some way will compensate them for the land that they have lost. Unlike many other exile poems, such as Ovid's "Tristia", there is no possibility of return, as the city of Troy has been destroyed. Even their temporary home of Carthage no longer could provide a refuge, because Dido committed suicide when Aeneas left her. Thus much of the sense of loss in the poem stems from the impossibility of return for the exiles, although that strengthens their will to found their new home in Italy.