Characters of the Aeneid

Instructor: Kaitlin Oglesby

Kaitlin has a BA in political science and experience teaching.

The great epic of Roman literature, the 'Aeneid' features a number of characters who are known to students of history and mythology, as well as some who are introduced for the first time. They will be the focus of this lesson.

The Aeneid

Commissioned by Emperor Augustus to be the great epic tale of Rome, Virgil's Aeneid is the story of how Aeneas, a Trojan prince, was able to flee the city destroyed by Homer's Greeks and reestablish an even more powerful place in Italy. Along the way, Aeneas is helped and hindered by a number of characters. Some of them may be familiar to students of history or mythology, but others are unique to the story itself. In this lesson, we'll take a look at those characters, starting with the family of Aeneas, then moving on to those that both help and hinder his progress. We'll be sure to pay special attention to those that are mortal and those that are deities.

Family of Aeneas

Aeneas is the protagonist of the story, and is a proud son of Troy. At the beginning of the tale, he is taking part in the defense of Troy against the Greeks, and is awoken in the middle of the night to tell him to flee. He gathers his father Anchises and his son Ascanius, as well as his wife Creusa. However, the fires of the city claim his wife, who nobly tells him to go on to find new love by pursuing his destiny. Looking past the fact that it takes an incredibly selfless person to say that, you're probably wondering what makes Creusa so sure that Aeneas will find love. That's where his mother comes in. Having the goddess Venus as a mother, Aeneas finds that charm comes quite easily to him with future love interests.

Friends of Aeneas

But Venus is not the only deity that is looking out for Aeneas. While he tends to stay out of the fray, the king of the gods, Jupiter, is also eager to see Aeneas fulfill his destiny of establishing Rome. Therefore, while he doesn't go against his wife Juno with too much energy, he does provide some help on occasion. An example of this can be found with his brother, Neptune, the god of the seas, who finally grants Aeneas safe journeys. This is in contrast to that other great epic following the Trojan War, the Odyssey, in which Neptune makes the life of Odysseus - Ulysses to the Romans - miserable.

When Aeneas finally arrives in Italy, he meets two local rulers and their children. The first of them, Evander, immediately takes a liking to Aeneas, as does his son Pallas. Eventually, Aeneas will avenge Pallas' death. The other ruler is Latinus, who is a bit more laissez-faire about Aeneas, although he can see that since Jupiter supports Aeneas, it is a bad idea for a mere mortal to stand in his way. Much more interesting is Lavinia, his daughter, whom Aeneas wants to marry.

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