Aeneas: The anti-hero answers to providence



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This thesis presents an alternative reading of the character of Aeneas as an anti-hero in Vergil’s Aeneid. Such an approach offers a reconciliation of the traditional poles of criticism on the work: between the “optimistic” (pro-Augustan) and the “pessimistic” (anti-imperialist) positions. The Aeneid may be seen to simultaneously celebrate Augustan Rome while appropriately acknowledging the hardships of its costs. Vergil’s paradoxical characterization of Aeneas, a means to achieve this, is similar in design and purpose to the modern anti-heroic figure of postwar literature. The social trauma of World War II precipitated a fundamental questioning of accepted authorities and traditional values in general. The period of conflict leading up to Emperor Augustus’ consolidation of power, during which Vergil was writing, presents an analogous socio-political condition for a literary innovation of this kind. The study begins with a survey of Aeneas’ conduct in Book 2, which introduces all major aspects of his character. The destiny of Rome, and of Aeneas as its progenitor, is situated as the authority of the epic. This providence of the gods is given a voice through Vergil’s deployment of scenes of theophany and epiphany. An examination of these scenes throughout the epic reveals not a change in Aeneas’ character but an improvement of his relationship to providence. Aeneas’ perceived deficiencies of character derive from his disjunction from the Homeric archetype, on which he is modeled, and his early contravention of his divine directives. In contrast to the egoist motivations of Odysseus or Achilles, the success of Aeneas depends on his submission to providence and to his social responsibilities. The opposition suggests a program of simultaneous engagement and subversion of the traditional hero model of Homer.



Character, Aeneas, Anti-hero, Aeneid book 2, Providence, Epiphany, Theophany, Postwar literature