I think that Aeneas, the protagonist in Virgil’s Aeneid, would be a modern-day hero because . . .
I am going to look at the scene where Aeneas kills the deer (Book I, Lines)
I am going to look at the scene where Aeneas wants to die in the battle of Troy because he wants to avenge his wife’s death. (Book II, Lines)
I am going to look at the scene where Aeneas kills Turnus. (Book XII, Line)
Aeneas as Hero
A hero is one who is courageous in the face of great danger or harm. A hero is one who has honorable qualities and has achieved great feats in life. These feats and qualities can seem almost god-like at times, not qualities and feats that any human could have. Aeneas, in Virgil’s Aeneid, is a hero because he displays the heroic leadership qualities of courage, fearlessness, and self-sacrifice. At the same time, however, Virgil creates Aeneas with human qualities, portraying him as a flawed mortal man despite his heritage of being only half-mortal. Yet, throughout the Aeneid, Aeneas displays great compassion and love for humanity.
Heroes must demonstrate the skill of leadership in order to be labeled “heroes.” Aeneas demonstrates his leadership skills in several ways. For example, in Book I, Aeneas leads his men to a “safe harbor,” after battle and being lost at sea, a “cavern with stalactites and a fresh spring / Seats cut from the live rock, a nymph’s dwelling” where “no cable was needed to moor a ship” (Book I, lines). However, Aeneas’s leadership demonstrates itself because this “safe harbor” looks anything but safe. It is a “stubble of thick woods threatens darkness / and terrible shadows” (Book I, lines). Aeneas knows this is an appropriate place to rest and recharge his soldiers. In fact, he took it upon himself to feed his men. He “climbed a high lookout to see / If anywhere he could spy more Trojan ships--” but instead he found “[t]hree meandering stags and a whole heard following them” (Book I, lines). The text notes that “in a flash” Aeneas had his bow and “sniped the leading stags” and that he “did not cease till he had brought down seven-- / Seven prime bodies—one for each of his ships--” (Book I, lines). Aeneas then takes the game back to his men.
At first, this scene does not seem much more than the men landed on an island and Aeneas shot some deer. However, there is more here. Aeneas is grieving the loss of his men and their ships, yet he demonstrates an ability to move forward, to save the rest of his fleet and men and provide them with refuge to heal and refresh. He provides an example he wants his men to follow. Here, he does not think of his own safety and health, but he thinks that his men need and deserve the rest and sustenance. Additionally, when Aeneas sees the stags, he has his bow “in a flash,” meaning that he was always prepared and ready for any occurrence (Book I, lines). Had his bow not been prepared and ready, he might not have shot the deer, and he could not have provided his men with food. Again, this demonstrates his leadership ability: an ability to be prepared for any inevitability and an ability to be forward thinking.
Courage and self-sacrifice are other qualities of leadership that Aeneas displays. Numerous times throughout the poem, Aeneas displays courage. Indeed, in Book II, Aeneas awakens from a dream and moves out into the city of Troy to destroy the Greeks; he does this, in fact, to his own potential harm. “I put on my armor,” he says, “it seemed a noble thing to die in battle” (Book II, lines). This, then, is another mark of a leader. One who is fearless and one who self-sacrifices for others is a leader. Aeneas displays self-sacrifice when Aeneas returns to the camp after slaughtering the deer; he knows his men feel hopeless and helpless. Despite “mask of hope,” he wears on his face, he tells his men, “Cheer up my friends, fear not! / One day you will look back on these memories / As pleasant memories” (Book I, lines). Here he is encouraging his men in light of his own despair and grief. Indeed, a leader must display the characteristics he wants his followers to display.
However, the leadership skills of courage and self-sacrifice for Aeneas come differently than they would come for mortal men. As the son of a goddess and a mortal, Aeneas has a divine and regal heritage, one that provides him significant benefits in life. He has a physical presence unlike that of his men, and his intelligence is far superior to that of other mortals. As Virgil writes in Book I, “For she who bore him / Breathed upon him beauty of hair and bloom/ of youth and kindled brilliance in his eyes” (Book I, lines). While his looks and strength were god-like, he has a mortal side; he has an ability to love and be loved.
Aeneas lost his wife, Creusa, in the battle at Troy. His desire is to return to find her, but her ghost tells him to move on. He, then, sacrifices her memory for the future of Rome. In an interesting twist, Dido sacrifices her dead husband’s memory when she lusts after and then Aeneas as her lover. To Aeneas’s leadership skills of order and control, Dido represents an opposite: passion and volatility. Aeneas wants these characteristics for himself, but he remembers his duty: the building of Rome. Aeneas sacrifices his desire for Dido and a life without war in order to maintain his responsibilities.
Sometimes, however, this act of self-sacrifice is performed as a ritual, not a real act of unselfishness. When Aeneas kills Turnus in Book XII, for example, it is not for the betterment of the nations. Aeneas is moved by Turnus’s pleas to live (Aeneas is half-mortal, after all), yet he sacrifices his humanity (his compassion) for the win that would kill Turnus. Turnus states, “This is my due . . . I make no appeal / Use what your fortune proffers” (Book XII, line ). Turnus is giving up. This softens Aeneas for just a moment. As Virgil notes, Aeneas’s “eyes darted about, his right had stayed suspended. / And now it was, yes now, that Turnus’s plea / Working upon him might have wheedled him” to let him live (Book XII, line ). However, the belt of Aeneas’s friend Pallus was visible on Turnus’s shoulder, and this snapped Aeneas back into focus. A leader, therefore, would not let emotions sway him from his goals or from what is right. Aeneas then kills Turnus: “he plunged his sword / In fury deep into his enemy’s heart” (Book XII, Line).
These few examples demonstrate how Aeneas, in Virgil’s The Aeneid, is a hero. He displays leadership in the forms of self-sacrifice, courage, and fearlessness.
Virgil. Trans. Patric Dickinson. The Aeneid. New American Library, 1961. Print.