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How Can an Ordinary Man Grant Immortality?

Throughout Greek literature, the divine has always played a significant role in the development of the mortal world. In The Aeneid of Virgil, it is clear that though the story takes place on earth, the central plot revolves around the actions of the immortal. The gods, knowing they cannot alter fate, interfere and create havoc in the human world, manipulating individuals for their own selfish purposes. This godly intervention strips the humans of their rights and reduces their identities to mere puppets to the gods. Though Virgil’s story serves as a glimpse into the founding of Rome, petty arguments between the gods drive the discovery of this civilization and as a result, undermine the grandiosity of the creation of one of history’s greatest empires.

The first instance of godly intervention is seen when Neptune takes control of the rising storm caused by Aeolus’s winds. As Aeneas’s ships are swallowed by raging waters,“Neptune speaks and, quicker than his tongue,brings quiet to the swollen waters, setsthe gathered clouds to flight, calls back the sun.Together, then, Cymotho? and Triton,thrusting, dislodged the ships from jagged crags…the god himself takes up his tridentto lift the galleys, and he clears a channelacross the vast sandbank. He stills the seaand glides along the waters on light wheels.And just as, often, when a crowd of peopleis rocked by a rebellion, and the rabblerage in their minds, and firebrands and stonesfly fast– for fury finds its weapon– if,by chance, they see a man remarkablefor righteousness and service, they are silentand stand attentively, and he controlstheir passions by his words and cools their spirits:so all the clamor of the sea subsidedafter the Father, gazing on the watersand riding under cloudless skies, had guidedhis horses, let his willing chariot run.” (I. 200-220)Just as an orator is able to calm a rebellious crowd, Neptune takes control and is able to pacify the calamity caused by Juno’s recklessness using his words. Through Neptune’s actions in Book I Virgil illustrates the power of the gods in the human world and their ability to manipulate even the wildest of mortal domains, nature. Like Neptune, other gods such as Juno, Rumor, and Venus all meddle with human lives. However, unlike Neptune, Virgil presents the other gods as malicious forces, constantly causing trouble for Aeneas and his men.

Though Aeneas is the protagonist, Virgil presents his story as a result of Juno’s irrational rage against Paris and the inevitable downfall of Carthage. It is told that the “causes of her bitterness, her sharp savage hurt, had not yet left her spirit; for deep within her mind lie stored the judgment of Paris and the wrong done to her scorned beauty, the breed she hated, and the honors that had been given ravished Ganymede” (I. 36- 44). Juno, insulted by Paris’s actions, and scared of her city’s fate, was angered even more and as a result, Aeneas’s destiny to discover Rome was delayed by a series of struggles and difficulties caused by Juno’s rashness. As a result of Juno’s interference, Aeneas, who was once seen as a fearless war veteran, is reduced to Juno’s human puppet that she constantly manipulates and toys around. Furthermore, before we are even introduced to Aeneas as a character, Virgil utilizes the first hundred or so lines to tell Juno’s story. In this way, instead of framing the story around Aeneas’s remarkable journey as he finds his way to Rome, Virgil centers the story over a petty battle of beauty between Juno and Ganymede. Consequently, the founding of Rome loses its grandeur and is overshadowed by Juno’s absurd obsession over her beauty.

Similar to Juno, gods like Rumor, Venus, and Mercury also intrude in the lives of mortals, playing with the humans and treating their world as the gods’ own personal dollhouse, all the while unaware of the consequences of their actions. Juno and Venus team up and stage a seemingly coincidental meeting between Aeneas and Dido, secretly hoping that they will fall in love and marry. Simultaneously, Rumor “filled the ears of all with many tales. Such reports the filthy goddess [scattered] everywhere upon the lips of men. At once she turns her course to King Iarbas and his spirit is hot, his anger rage at her words” (IV. 250-261). Ultimately, the enraged King Iarbas urges Jupiter to interfere and as a result, Jupiter sends Mercury down to earth. Mercury is able to persuade Aeneas to leave Dido and resume his journey to discovering Rome. After Aeneas obeys Mercury’s orders, Dido cries out to Jupiter “O, Jupiter, you let him go, a stranger who mocked our kingdom!” (IV.814-815). Abandoned and heartbroken, Dido ultimately kills herself. By letting the gods force Aeneas to fall in love with Dido and subsequently make him leave her, Virgil strips Aeneas of his free will and ability to act on his own behalf. Instead, Aeneas is seen as a rag doll whose emotions and ambitions are at the mercy of the whim of the gods.

Similar to Aeneas, Turnus is also tricked by the gods time and time again. Juno persuades Allecto to make both Turnus and Amata crazed with rage in an attempt to block Aeneas from founding Rome. Allecto not only does as she is told, but claims she “shall do more: [she] shall compel the neighboring towns to war by rumor, inflame their minds with love of insane Mars, that they assemble from all sides with aid; and [she] shall scatter arms across the fields…there is enough of fear and fraud; the causes of the war are firm; they now fight hand and hand” (VII 722-729). Like Aeneas, Turnus is emotionally manipulated by Allecto and as a result, is irrationally driven into causing a bloody battle between the Latins and the Trojan. Though a war rages throughout Latium, Juno and Venus spend their time arguing about accusations made towards one another while Jupiter ultimately decides to leave the humans be and allow them to fight on. It is clear from the gods’ actions that they have no regard to the aftermath of their actions. Instead, the gods waste their time arguing about insignificant issues while human lives are being taken in a war that the gods started in the first place.

Though certain gods such as Neptune are seen as mediators of war, most gods in the Aeneid are not. By centering the story on rash decisions made by the gods and petty arguments in the immortal world, Virgil takes away the free will of mortal characters. Virgil illustrates time and time again the susceptibility of humans to godly manipulation and intervention. Juno and Venus trick Aeneas into falling in love then leaving Dido while Allecto tricks Turnus into raging war against the Trojans. In a sense, Virgil undermines the independent nature of human beings and reduces the mortals to mere dolls, forever at the hands of the gods. Furthermore, Virgil presents important conflicts in the mortal world as consequences of rivalries between the gods. Consequently, the struggles leading up to the founding of Rome are reduced to the aftermath of foolish bickering among the gods and as a result, Rome and its founders are stripped of their nobility and splendor.

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