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Leadership Notes

Classics Notes > Virgil’s Aeneid Notes

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How effective a leader is Aeneas in Books 2,3 and 5?
There is no overall impression of Aeneas as a leader in these three books; he is man unaccustomed to such great responsibility at the beginning of book 2 and he must gradually learn what it takes to become a good and effective leader. In books 2, 3 and 5 the majority of this transition is shown, with the 'complete' Aeneas arguably not shown until later in the Aeneid. Aeneas starts in book 2 as, in theory, the commander of the Trojan army after Hector's death, with it presumably passing to the next most worthy warrior. Virgil presents this in very vivid terms by the appearance of the bloodied ghost of Hector who delivers to him the message that the city is lost and that he should flee. The key moment is when he hands to him the gods of the city and so in effect control over the very heart and essence of Troy. Aeneas from this moment is in total control of the fate of his home city and people and is charged by its former prince to find it a new home. This is a huge task to be given to a man who has had little influence in this sort of leadership, obvious from the fact he is not present at the discussion of what to do with the horse and that he lives in a house which is notably removed from the rest of Troy. The simile and the action which immediately follows are very revealing about this aspect of his character. He is compared to a worried shepherd who watches with horror as a mountain torrent washes over his flocks and fields. Instantly he is in a vague way the shepherd (later referred to as pater Aeneas) who has a deep care and love for his people, but this is not expressed through the reality of his actions. The rashness of his subsequent frantic actions show he is not ready for such a great burden of leadership yet, nor can he accept or know just what this entails. "Frantic I seize arms; yet little purpose is there in arms, but my heart burns to muster a force for battle and hasten with my comrades to the citadel. Frenzy and anger drive my soul headlong and I think how glorious it is to die in arms!" The emphasis here is very much on the madness, the frenzy and the irrationality which has consumed him completely. These are obviously not the characteristics which would make an effective leader; such behaviour would probably not even make an effective warrior, as Coroebus shows later when he simply manages to get himself killed. This is a powerful feature of this book and in a way deeply worrying, if Aeneas cannot overcome such a violent furor he would not be able to effectively lead his people. This is why the presentation of Aeneas in book 2 is certainly not one of a good leader. It is his stock reaction to any crisis which emerges throughout this book and there are several strong examples of this. As he initially enters the combat he gives a rousing speech to his men, which is obviously an ability of a good leader, but it comes at a wholly inappropriate time, so that it could not be said to be effective leadership. This is because of the content of the speech in which he says, "Let us die and rush into the battle's midst!
One chance the vanquished have, to hope for none." This may be good if this were the final battle and they were vanquished, but Aeneas has just been told that this is only the beginning for him; he does have a hope for the future but talks as if he had none. This forlorn hope, described as ravening wolves, which he now leads all die because of this fatal error in judgement on his part. If he had taken time to formulate a clear plan, surely something a good leader can do in a crisis, he could have saved these men and used them

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