What role does fate play in the "Aeneid"?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Fate is everything in The Aeneid. In writing his epic, mythologized account of Rome's origins, Virgil wanted to convey the message that Rome's rise to greatness and world domination was by no means accidental: it was always fated to happen; it was the will of the gods. In founding the new city on the Tiber, Aeneas is fulfilling a divine mission. Though he still has some degree of leeway in carrying out his numerous heroic deeds, the overall shape of his mission has been pre-determined by the gods. The gods, in their infinite wisdom, have decided that Rome must be founded, and the noble Trojan warrior Aeneas is the mortal instrument they've chosen to put their plan into effect.

Individuals can certainly defy fate, but only for a relatively short time. No mortal can hold back the tide of fate forever. So Aeneas can dally for a while at Carthage, to spend more time with his lover Dido, but before long, he must be on his way, embarking upon the next stage of his mission. Though everything that happens in The Aeneid may have been fated by the gods, each individual can still exercise free will in how they react to the inexorable forces of fate. And it is in the reactions of the various characters to their fate that much of the human drama of The Aeneid is to be found.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Further to the previous answer, the inevitability of the rise of Rome does indeed underscore the entire story of the Aeneid. However, whether intentionally or otherwise, Vergil brings out the cruel cost in human terms of this destiny's fulfilment. A number of characters, but principally Dido in the first half and Turnus in the second half of the epic, seem much more human and attractive as flesh-and-blood people than Aeneas himself and of course they are tragic figures in the classical tradition. It is one of the problems that Vergil set himself in telling the story: his 'hero' was going to appear to be simply an instrument of fate rather than a believable human being. The jury is still out on whether he successfully resolved this difficulty, but every time I read the bleak ending of Book 12 I am inclined to think that Vergil could see very well that the Roman power that he was apparently celebrating in the Aeneid also had a very dark and pitiless core.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In The Aeneid, fate is the driving force that underscores the actions of Aeneas.  Fated to start the Roman Empire by becoming the father of Romulus and Remus, Aeneas must reach Italy.  He is destined or fated to reach Italy, his fate which is determined by Jupiter or assisted by Jupiter.  Jupiter tells his daughter Venus:

"Know, I have search'd the mystic rolls of Fate:
  Thy son (nor is th' appointed season far)"
Who, full of Mars, in time, with kindly throes,
  Shall at a birth two goodly boys disclose.
  The royal babes a tawny wolf shall drain:
  Then Romulus his grandsire's throne shall gain,
  Of martial tow'rs the founder shall become,
  The people Romans call, the city Rome." (Pg. 7)

As Aeneas makes his journey, lesser gods interfere with his passage.  Juno who does not want Aeneas to reach Italy,  tries to get him to stay in Carthage by having him fall in love with Queen Dido.  To remain on course for his fate, Aeneas has the help of both Jupiter and Mercury, the later informs him of his destiny or fate and he leaves Dido, she then kills herself.  Aeneas remains loyal to his fated destiny.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the relationship between fate and the gods in the Aeneid?

Virgil's Aeneid deals with the fate of Aeneas after the fall of Troy. Book 1 is a key place to look to determine the relationship between fate (Latin fatum) and the gods.

In Aeneid 1, Venus, after seeing Aeneas shipwrecked on the coast of northern Africa, namely Carthage, asks her father Jupiter whether he has changed his mind about what will ultimately happen to Aeneas and the surviving Trojans. Venus had understood that the following would take place:

Surely you promised that at some point, as the years rolled by,

the Romans would rise from them, leaders would rise,

restored from Teucer’s blood, who would hold power

over the sea, and all the lands. (A.S. Kline translation)

It seems to me that Venus' statement implies that Jupiter had the power to change Aeneas' fate.

Jupiter, in turn, responds that nothing has changed and that "your child’s fate remains unaltered." He says that Venus will still see come to pass all the things that "I promised".

So, from these passages it appears that, in theory, Jupiter had the power to alter a person's fate, but that he does not do so.

From Jupiter's speech here in Aeneid 1, we also have the image of fate being written down in a scroll ("unroll the secret scroll of destiny") and we get the impression that Jupiter has access to that scroll.

Thus, just as in modern times we have a person who is the executor of another person's last will and testament, we might compare Jupiter to the executor of a will, which has been decreed by fate. Even though, in theory Jupiter could alter what has been decreed, he will not do so.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on