Theme is a pervasive idea presented in a literary piece. Themes in The Aeneid, a masterpiece of Virgil, are aplenty. Not only does the epic present the dilemma of fate, but it also demonstrates the bright and dark sides of human nature such as barbarism and killing as well as munificence and piety. Some of the major themes in The Aeneid are discussed below.
Themes in The Aeneid
Fate is one of the major themes of the epic, The Aeneid, governing the whole epic, as well as the whole life of the protagonist, Aeneas. His determination to lay the foundation for his son and generations to come is to be fulfilled at every cost. Despite obstacles and divine challenges thrown by Juno, Aeneas does not waiver in his resolution and continues to move forward. These challenges do not deter the fate to be fulfilled. Even at times, Jupiter has to intervene to stop the gods from delaying Aeneas from achieving his goals. Since it has been decreed by Jupiter himself, other gods cannot stop it from happening: as shown by the depiction on the shield Vulcan builds, it has been decreed by Fate that Aeneas is to build the Roman Empire.
Divine intervention in human affairs is another major theme of the epic, The Aeneid. Some of the gods and goddesses are so interested in human affairs that they come down to directly impede the progress of some, or to facilitate others, trying to avoid what Fate has predestined for them. When the fight between Venus and Juno reaches its pinnacle for intervening in the affairs of Aeneas and his progress, Jupiter calls the council of gods on Mount Olympus. The gods then discuss the fate of Turnus and Aeneas. In fact, wherever Aeneas encounters obstacles, the gods intervene in one way or another. For example, Venus is hellbent on helping her son, while Juno’s hatred for the Trojans prompts her to obstruct Aeneas’s efforts.
Patriotism or love for one’s motherland is another major theme of the epic, The Aeneid. The very purpose of writing this great epic is to appeal to the Romans to work for the greatness of the Roman Empire founded by Aeneas, himself a great hero. Not only does the epic refer to the destiny of Aeneas, but it also refers to the Romans to be the progeny of the great people like Anchises. When Virgil was writing this epic, Caesar Augustus ruled the empire; Virgil mentions this twice in the course of the epic. The reference to the heirs and the predecessors is not only appealing to the Romans but also the common readers, exposing the real intentions of Virgil. Thus, the epic lays the groundwork for exciting patriotism among the common Romans.
The humanity of the characters is another major thematic strand of the epic, The Aeneid. Although there is intervention from deus ex machina and gods and goddesses siding with one character or another, there is a clear distinction between good and bad characters. Aeneas has been painted a virtuous hero despite having some shortcomings; this character development shows Virgil’s skill in creating authentically human characters. On the other hand, Turnus is a bad character who is also human but has more flaws than Aeneas. Aeneas’s shortcoming of showing passions for Dido shows his human character, too, while another human flaw emerges when he flies in panic from Troy.
Familial relationships are another major theme of the epic, The Aeneid. The epic highlights the father-son relationship through the portrayals of Anchises and Aeneas, Ascanius and Aeneas, and then Pallas and King Evander. Aeneas’s determination to fulfill his destiny seems more a concern of a father for his son, Ascanius. In fact, his rise aided by the advice of his father, Anchises, too, is a familial concern which also demonstrates the Romans’ respect for their ancestors – a tradition set by their forefathers. That is why Aeneas continues paying homage to his father even after his father is long dead. On the other hand, though Mezentius is an evil character, his lamentation over the death of his son shows a deep familial bond that wins the sympathy of the audiences.
Despite having connotations of righteousness in the existing semantics, piety here means devotion to one’s cause and priority to perform obligatory duties. That is why Aeneas is referred to as pious at various places in the epic, which is another significant thematic strand of the epic. The reason is that Aeneas always chooses to perform these obligatory duties before doing anything else and fulfilling his desires. When he meets Dido and falls in love with her, he feels that he must leave her to fulfill his obligations first, which he then does. Even when his determination wavers after facing blasts when defending Troy, he still wishes to die doing so.
War and Peace
War and peace are other major themes of the epic, The Aeneid. In fact, it is the very first theme that Virgil introduces in the opening lines of the epic. Human values, too, are associated with war and peace. Aeneas’ life begins with war when he is forced to go into it in Troy and then it concludes with the Trojans’ arrival in Rome. Although war is not the ultimate aim of the Trojans, constantly shifting loyalties, possibilities of violence, quest of human values, and search for grandeur are some of the features that invite wars. Moreover, there is always a divine intervention to incite wars such as the fight among three goddesses. However, peace is the ultimate end as Anchises advises his son to spare the defeated party.
Destiny of Rome
The destiny of Rome is another theme of the epic. The author has beautifully and deliberately used the figure of Aeneas to write about the foundations of the Roman empire. Virgil has inserted various references from the history of Rome and its rise, and the Romans being comprised of generations of great heroes. In this connection, the shield of Aeneas shows the love of Virgil for Rome. The Romans’ parade in the Underworld is another example that the Roman history resonates in the mind of the author to make it prominent.
Avenging the death of a loved one is another important theme of the epic. It is not until the end of the epic, though, that we see Aeneas engage in an act of vengeance. When he is reminded of his slain friend, Pallas, whom Turnus wore as a trophy in the past, he becomes enraged enough to exact revenge for the death of his friend.
Predictions and their fulfillment is another major theme of the epic. The prediction comes at different places and in different forms such as dreams, visits of dead persons, omens and signs, divine visits and messages such as Aeneas’s visit to the Underworld, and then Jupiter’s prediction to Venus that Aeneas would rule the Romans for three years.