Student Question

In the Aeneid, does Venus know Aeneas must leave Carthage for Italy? Why did Venus send Cupid to Dido?

Quick answer:

1. Venus does not know that Aeneas's mission is to found Rome and her own son will be the ancestor of Augustus Caesar. 2. She knows that he is leaving Carthage and go to Italy, the land of his ancestors (the Trojans) but Jupiter is the all-knowing god. 3. The love affair between Dido and Aeneas helps readers to feel sympathy for both characters while they are separated from each other. 4. Cupid was sent by Venus to force Aeneas to leave Carthage in spite of his wishes and also remind him of his purpose in visiting Carthage.

Expert Answers

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Virgil adopts the Homeric system of theology, in which the Olympian gods, even Zeus/Jupiter are ultimately subject to the Fates (Μοιραι/Parcae) but often try to circumvent them, particularly in the short term. It is not always clear to them what is fated or whether that fate is subject to modification. In the Iliad, for instance, Zeus favors the Trojans and tries to assist them before finally accepting that Troy is fated to fall.

Aphrodite/Venus, a goddess particularly used to getting her own way, pities her son for his long, hard journey and thinks she may be able to arrange for him to stay in the luxury of Carthage. A solution which involves a love affair is, of course, always particularly agreeable to her.

Aeneas has to be reminded of his mission in book 4, and it is never clear what would happen if he chose simply to stay in Carthage. Jupiter actually has to be reminded to send Mercury to remind Aeneas of his mission in book 4. It is seldom a straightforward matter in the Aeneid to determine just what fate demands and when the demand will be made.

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