The Aeneid


Book I

Summary Book I

This rivalry between the gods looms over the narrative of the Aeneid so heavily that at times the story seems to be less about the deeds of the mortal characters than about the bickering of the gods, who continually disrupt and manipulate events on Earth. One of the Aeneid’s main themes, though, is that for both gods and mortals, fate always wins in the end. Aeneas is destined to settle in Italy, and not even the unbridled wrath of Juno, queen of the gods, can prevent this outcome. Jupiter, whose inexorable will is closely identified with fate because he is the highest of the gods, sees to it that his overall plan comes to pass. When Juno has Aeolus torment Aeneas, it is necessary for Jupiter to take sides, so he assists Venus. In fact, Jupiter’s occasional intervention on Venus’s behalf, to Juno’s great frustration, sets the general pattern for the Aeneid.

Whereas Juno attempts to defy fate to satisfy her own anger, Aeneas reveals in his first speech in the epic, delivered to his crew upon their landing in Libya, his ability to suppress his own emotions and will in pursuit of his fated duty. Virgil tells us that Aeneas has “contained his anguish” and “feigned hope” in order to rally the morale of his crew by reminding them of past hardships and future glory (I.285286). He is incapable of emotional self-indulgence. For Aeneas, fate, although promised, demands certain actions and sacrifices. It requires the virtue known as piety, which entails placing his service to fate—his divine mission to found a new city in Italy—above all else in his life.