The Piety of Aeneas in Virgil's Aeneid

Essay by geerrCollege, UndergraduateA, November 2009

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The Aeneid is an epic poem written by Virgil from around 30 to 19 BC that tells the story of the founding of Rome. The protagonist and epic hero, Aeneas, is a Trojan captain who escaped the fires of Ilion to lead a group of refugees to establish the Latin race. This mission, designated by the gods and fate, involved a journey filled with hardships that Aeneas and his people faced with determination and adamant resolve. In particular, however, it is Aeneas' piety that is highlighted as his defining feature. It is crucial to note that, in ancient times, the Latin word pietas referred to not only religious devotion, but also devotion to one's family and country. Therefore, Aeneas possesses the values that were seen as most important in Virgil's era, and he serves as a vehicle by which Virgil both glorifies Rome and its founding and instructs the Roman people as to how they should carry out their lives.

Virgil's goal was to have the reader identify that high class of character with Rome itself and its leaders, in particular Caesar Augustus, the ruler of the empire at the time Virgil lived. During that period, Augustus attempted to revive the moral standards of Rome, which had deteriorated over the past generation. Like Aeneas, he is a leader that will bring prosperity to the Roman people. The poem is thus designed to glorify the emperor and explain the origins of Rome, all in the style of Homer's Greek epics.

Of the three major aspects of Aeneas' pious character, the duty one has to one's country rises to the foreground. As an accomplished and honored war hero, Aeneas is forced to take on the responsibility of leading the people to the promised kingdom of Latium. As decreed by the...