Nationalism streams through out Vergil’s “Aeneid.” It wraps itself around Vergil’s character Aeneas and influences the choices, sacrifices, and places that Aeneas goes. Jonathan Wheelwright states that nationalism can “create harmony, link our past to our present and give a people a sense of identity,” and this can be seen in the life of Aeneas (2005, p. 1).
When Troy is invaded by Greece, Aeneas’ first desire is to fight for the glory and preservation of his people. He states, “to arms was my first maddened impulse […],” and this shows how Aeneas was “maddened” by what the Greeks are doing to his people and all he can think of is saving his people of dying with them. To die for his country would be an honor and he stated, “meeting death was beautiful in arms” (Virgil, 1999, p. 44). Aeneas is unable to join his countrymen in battle though because, as William Anderson explains in his book “Art of the Aeneid,” his fate is to found a new Trojan homeland and would become more than a man, but Rome itself (2005, p.10). Also, the gods do not allow Aeneas to join battle because of this fate, and because of this, Anderson states the “gods do not permit [Aeneas] to die, with conventional heroism, fighting for Troy and home country” (2005, p. 9).
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The decision to leave Troy is one that Aeneas must live with forever. He carries with him the memories of his lost men and searches for a new homeland, a new Troy, for the survivors with him to live in. His desire is to find a homeland for his people where, they may live in peace. When he recalls to Dido and the people of Carthage the event at Troy, he describes that violence and destruction of the Greeks. He also describes the horror in which King Priam and his son were murdered (Virgil, 1999, pp. 51-52). During this reflection, Aeneas shows his connection to Troy and his commitment to his people. Aeneas commitment to his countrymen causes him to give up his own personal desires: a marriage to Dido and a homeland in Carthage. Anderson states, “Books One and Four describe the temptation created by Dido and Aeneas’ reluctant decision in the end to break away from her,” which further supports that Aeneas puts the destiny of his people above his own desires (2005, p. 34).
Aeneas regrets hurting Dido and the tragic outcome of her life, but his commitment is to his people above himself. Anderson shows how Aeneas puts his people above himself when he states that during the Trojan War “Aeneas played no important part,” does individualize himself, and there is even a reduction of the personal “I” (2005, p.38). Whereas, as the story progresses, Aeneas’ experiences are made clear to the reader and “we are made aware if his role as leader of the Trojan destiny” (Anderson, 2005, p. 38). Aeneas sees that he will never have the comfort he desires, and “only responsibility and the assurance that his actions advance new Troy” make his sacrifices worth while (Anderson, 2007, p. 41). Because of this, Carthage will never be his homeland, Dido will never be the wife promised to him, and Vergil uses this turmoil to bring Aeneas to a braking point, which allows him to abandon his connection to “old Troy” and devote himself to finding the new Troy the gods promised him (Anderson, 2005, pp. 43-44).
The Greek and Trojan War brought Aeneas a fate that he did not always like, but, as the ghost of his wife prophesized, Aeneas’ fate would bring “glad peace, a kingdom, and a queen […]” (Virgil, 1999, p.60). Aeneas states that because “no help or hope of help existed” he “[…] resigned [himself], picked up [his] father, and turned [his] face towards the mountain rage,” and left Troy the way the gods had planned (Virgil, 1999, p. 61). It seems, in the “Aeneid,” that whenever Aeneas forgets what the gods have foretold, they remind him, and his destiny once again takes precedence because of the “[…] expectations of [his] heir, Iulus, to whom the Italian realm, the land of Rome, is due” (Virgil, 1999, p. 105). Aeneas struggles with his destiny, but when it comes down to it, the nationalism Aeneas feels for his people keeps him searching for a new homeland and peace.
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