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Endings Notes

Classics Notes > Virgil’s Aeneid Notes

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Provide an analysis of the end of the Aeneid with a view to the question whether the killing of Turnus is to be seen as the final victory of the powers of irrationality The end of the Aeneid is a difficult thing to do because it is complicated and rather abrupt. It does not give the aesthetic ending that the Iliad does and positively moves away from an ending which would have lost its power if there had been further books detailing the reconciliation which we know is coming anyway. Juno and Jupiter are now concordant about where fate is heading so nothing other than that will happen, in short there is no need for a longer ending. Nevertheless Virgil still created an allusive and challenging ending. The final act of the entire Aeneid is deeply morally troubling, even for the most ardent supporters of Aeneas. He seemingly ignores his own moral growth which has been an arduous progression from the furious man in book two and the principles lay down by his own father in book 6 to spare the defeated. The furor of the old Aeneas appears to flair up when he sees the baldric of the fallen Pallas, whom he had sworn to protect. "Aeneas as soon as his eyes drank in the trophy, that memorial of cruel grief, ablaze with fury and terrible in his wrath." Virgil's words carry the weight of moral admonishment and he appears to be almost disappointed in his own hero's reaction; even though he wrote it, he must have felt that this course of action was somehow inevitable and necessary due to the character of Aeneas. Furthermore his final words are ones which are filled with bitterness and the way he repeats Pallas' name shows he is so mindless with grief and rage that he stumbles on it. "Pallas it is, Pallas who sacrifices you with this stroke, and takes retribution from you guilty blood! So saying, in burning rage he buries his sword full in Turnus' breast." The word Virgil uses is fervidus, which is surely significant because it is not furiens. This is perhaps an indication that this is not the anger of book two but is something different borne out of very different motivations and emotions. However true this may be, Aeneas still has to answer the charge of irrationality here and it must be considered how much he is actually in control of his emotions and actually chose to kill Turnus or whether he simply could not control himself. His behaviour in earlier books, particularly after the death of Pallas would indicate a disturbing and unwelcome answer to that question. He has been mad before, to the point where a few of his actions have been highly dubious; if he is still simply acting for these reasons then it is entirely possible that it was simply irrational anger which accounts for the killing of Turnus. A notable example is Lausus, a much younger man who is killed while trying to defend his father Mezentius at the end of book 10. At this point Aeneas is so consumed by anger he mocks Lausus as he kills him for his paternal pietas, the very characteristic which defines Aeneas. Once he has done the deed he is consumed with regret, "But when Anchises' son saw the look on that dying face- that face so strangely pale- he groaned heavily in pity, and stretched out his hand, as the likeness of his own love for his father entered his heart." If he is able to be so irrational that he can kill someone here and then deeply regret it is not impossible that he feels exactly the same way a few lines after the end of the poem; and no-one could deny if he was thinking

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