Tag Archives: Fate

In Book VII of the Aeneid, Aeneas sends a few of his men on a diplomatic mission to speak with King Latinus, with the aim of convincing him to allow them to settle there peacefully. Latinus asks them,

“What are you seeking? What is it that has brought you
Across the cerulean waters to our shore?
Is it that you have lost your way, or was it
Tempests acting upon you (for we are told
That this has happened to many upon the deep),
That you have entered in, between our river’s
Banks, and harbored your fleet within our port?
Do not refuse our welcome. Remember that we
Latins are of the race of Saturn, who
Following in the ways of our ancient father,
Need no external laws to obey or be
Forbidden by; we act of our own free wills.” (7.265-76; tr. Ferry)

Perhaps picking up on this reference to the unfettered will, the emissaries stress that no error has brought them to Italian shores: they have chosen to go there:

When the old king had finished speaking, then
Ilioneus said these words: “O king, illustrious
Descendant of the line of Faunus, it wasn’t
A black storm of winter nor was it surging seas
That drove us this way, nor was it that we mistook
A reading of the stars or of a coastline.
We came of our own free will… (7.286-92)

This insistence is interesting, because it stands in direct contradiction to something Aeneas himself said earlier in the book, on not just one but two occasions. The first comes in book four, when he attempts to placate Dido after telling her he must abandon her. (I’ve previous written about this scene here.) There, he says:

“And now the messenger of the gods, whom Jove
Himself has sent to me, has come down here
Upon the blowing winds—I swear, it happened—
It was full daylight when I saw him coming
Toward me, coming through the walls, and with
My very own ears I drank in what it was
That the messenger of Jove was sent to tell me.
So you must cease your protestations now.
I go not to Italy of my own free will.” (4.499-507)

And, in book six, he again tells Dido (her shade, this time) that his leaving her was not a free action:

Tears fell from his eyes and he spoke tenderly,
And lovingly to her: “Unhappy Dido,
Is it true, what I was told, that you were dead,
And with a sword had brought about your death?
And was it I, alas, who caused it? I
Swear by the stars, and by the upper world,
And by whatever here below is holy,
I left your shores unwillingly. (6.625-32)

We have, then, an interesting discrepancy. Aeneas’ men appear to view the journey to Italy as a chosen destiny, while Aeneas himself more than once insists that it is forced upon him against his will. What explains this?

One might offer a deflationary explanation of the difference, on two fronts. First, in discussing free will, Ilioneus and Aeneas are actually drawing subtly different contrasts. For Ilioneus, the Trojans have come to Latium out of free will as opposed to out of miscalculation or the overwhelming power of, say, a storm. Here it is noteworthy that it is precisely a storm that drove the Trojans to Carthage. His point is that they aimed deliberately at that destination, and intend to stay there. In that respect, he is perfectly correct.

Aeneas, meanwhile, denies that he goes to Italy of his own free will because he draws a contrast between his desire (to stay with Dido in Carthage) and his destiny (to found a new settlement in Latium). In this case, too, what he says is true—though in this case it’s complicated, since he does also desire the destiny that has been promised to him (I discuss this further in the earlier post linked above). There is, nonetheless, a substantial part of his will that would, if given the chance, stay in Carthage, and he goes to Italy only because this part of his will is fettered by destiny.

A second way of deflating the difference is to recognize the pragmatics of these utterances. None is a bare statement of fact: each has a definite social purpose. Ilioneus seeks Latinus’ favor, and therefore has an interest in presenting the Trojans as self-possessed. Aeneas, by contrast, is attempting both to placate Dido and to escape judgment—both hers and his own—for abandoning her. Thus he seeks to distance himself, as much as possible, from his evil act.

Both of these deflationary readings—which are compatible and indeed reinforce one another—are undoubtedly true. They do not, however, give the complete story, and we miss out on a major aspect of the Aeneid if we rest content with them alone. What we miss is this: even though Ilioneus’ and Aeneas’ claims are, strictly speaking, compatible, since they rest on different notions of free will, they nonetheless do capture a real difference in perspective. Ilioneus identifies wholeheartedly with the decision to settle in Latium. Aeneas does not.

To see why this is, consider Aeneas’ first speech to his men—not the first in time, but the first we encounter in the poem. Aeolus has, at Juno’s behest, unleashed a storm on the Trojans, and this has driven them to Carthage. Several ships appear to be lost, and it falls on Aeneas, as leader to the Trojans, “to ease their sorrow” (1.263):

“O my companions, O you who have undergone
Together with me, worse things than thise before,
The gods will bring this also to an end.
You who were there so close to Scylla’s frenzy,
Right in under her howling wailing cliffs,
And experienced the Cyclops throwing rocks,
Remember how brave you were. Be of good cheer,
Send fear away. Perhaps there will come a time
When you will remember these troubles with a smile.
Through many perils, through whatever mischance
We may encounter, our journey is toward Latium,
Where Fortune offers us a peaceful home.
There Troy will rise again. It is ordained.
Therefore endure, and expect a happier time.”
These were the words he used, though sick at heart;
His face simulates hopefulness and he
Endeavors to suppress his deep distress. (1. 264-80)

Here we see Aeneas attempting to cheer his followers, promising to them what the gods have promised to him. But it is a simulation, and to give this speech he must “suppress his deep distress.”

This shows Aeneas serving in one of his crucial roles in the Aeneid: he is a buffer. It is his job, as leader of the Trojans, to absorb all the doubts and uncertainties of the journey to found a new home, and in doing so to shield his followers from those doubts. Only in being forced to serve as such a buffer does Aeneas become the complicated man I love, the man both severed and inseparable from his fateful decisions.

Well, I am reading the Aeneid again (Ruden, this time). I was struck, as I read the fourth book, by a similarity that at first struck me as interesting though likely incidental, but that, as I read, came to seem more and more deliberate on Virgil’s part. In brief, I think Aeneas is, for Dido, a sort of Trojan horse.

Virgil gives the story of the Trojan horse in the second book. The Greeks build a massive wooden horse, with Greek soldiers hidden inside, then pretend to leave (in fact they hide on a nearby island). The Trojans, thinking the Greeks gone, come out to examine the horse, rightly suspecting some sort of ploy. Laocoön even throws a spear into the horse, eliciting a strange groaning sound. But a Greek youth is captured and brought before Priam. Pleading that he has escaped the Greeks, who wished to offer him as a sacrifice, he tells a fantastic tale that convinces the Trojans that the last thing the Greeks want is for the Trojans to take the horse to their citadel. Indeed, the Greeks made the horse so big precisely to prevent it from fitting through the entrances to Troy. This story is apparently confirmed when two snakes emerge from the sea and eat Laocoön and his sons, apparently a divine punishment for striking the horse with the spear. So the Trojans “cut the walls” (2.234) and bring the horse inside. At nightfall, of course, Troy goes up in flames, finished forever.

Abstractly put, the Trojans trust an apparent exile. On the basis of this trust, they weaken their defenses, taking into their city the very cause of their downfall.

What happens to Dido in book four? Just the same, more or less. Aeneas arrives at her city, and Jove softens Dido’s heart so that she accepts him. He tells, for two whole books, the sad story of his exile. The effect is to make Dido fall in love with him. Here we must back up, and revisit events from book one. There, we learned that Dido’s former husband was murdered, and that she has sworn never to love again, a vow she has until this point kept. Behind the scenes, however, Venus has swapped out Ascanius (Aeneas’ son) for Cupid, who breaches Dido’s defenses and makes her come to love Aeneas. Returning now to book four, Dido, against her better judgment, allows Aeneas into her hurt. But Fate impels him onward, and when he leaves, it drives her to suicide.

Abstractly put, Dido trusts an exile. On the basis of this trust, she weakens her defenses, taking into her heart the very cause of her downfall.

Are these mere loose parallels? At a high enough level of abstraction, anything can be made to seem similar to anything. What reason is there to think that Virgil intended these similarities? Or, if one distrusts intentionalism in interpretation, what reason is there to think that these similarities are salient to understanding Virgil’s poem?

For one thing, the similarities are not merely abstract. Dido’s struggle between the choices of loving Aeneas or squelching that love mirrors the discussion among the Trojans over what to do with the horse. In both cases, better judgment appears to have the upper hand. Dido emphatically rejects her passion:

But let the earth first gape to its foundation,
Or the all-powerful father’s lightning drive me
To the pale shades of Erebus and deep night,
Before I shamefully break Honor’s laws.
The man who first was part of me has taken
My love. He ought to keep it where he’s buried. (4.24-29)

But this resolve is weakened when her sister, Anna, points out to her the advantages of having Aeneas and the Trojans as allies. Carthage is in a precarious position, and could use the strength. This doesn’t convince Dido (she doesn’t love Aeneas for his soldiers, as it were), but it does make “the spark of passion blaze” (4.53).

Even still, this might not be enough. Dido does not “marry” (she and Aeneas rather disagree over the appropriateness of this word) Aeneas until their encounter in the cave, to which they were driven by “the all-powerful father’s lightning.” Just as in the case of Sinon, mere words from mere mortals do not suffice. Divine intervention is needed.

Moreover, the very terms in which Virgil describes Dido’s succumbing to her passion—Anna’s words “made the spark of passion blaze”—foreshadow her downfall. For when she kills herself, and when Rumor spreads the news throughout the city, Virgil makes this comparison:

Long-drawn-out shrieks of grief and women’s keening
Brimmed from the buildings. Anguish filled the sky,
As if invading troops brought Carthage down—
Or ancient Tyre were sacked—and flames were scaling
The rooftops of the houses and the temples. (4.667-71)

After this passage, there can be no doubt that we are to read the fall of Dido as akin to the fall of Troy.

Of course, there are differences. Sinon is a liar, an extension of Ulysses’ trademark Greek cunning. He is in on the trick. In the case of Dido, however, Aeneas is unaware of Venus’ plot, and unaware that Dido loves him against her will. He is, in this sense, innocent. (In other senses, he is manifestly not.) We may sympathize with Aeneas in a way we perhaps don’t with Sinon, though, in my view, this scene should make us at least somewhat more understanding of Sinon: we should not dismiss him simply because his interests do not match up with the interests of the Trojans.

Regardless of how book four reflects on our assessment of Sinon, however, it certainly forces us to recognize an inherent terribleness in Fate, and even more so an inherent injustice in the way the gods set about ensuring that Fate. And that recognition is essential to Virgil’s method throughout the Aeneid. As much as he makes Aeneas admirable, he never makes him unambiguously so, and he certainly never makes Aeneas’ fate unambiguously good. It is merely Fate: good for Aeneas because he is the immediate beneficiary, good for the Romans because they are the long-term beneficiaries, terrible, and unjustly so, for nearly everyone else.


I imagine Virgil, as he wrote the Aeneid, found this challenge most vexing: how could he make interesting a story that is inexorably driven to a fated end that is known from the start? By this I do not mean the challenge of how to keep a story interesting when the ending is “spoiled” (as we call it nowadays), for that challenge is simply that of making good art in the first place (since good art is worth experiencing more than once). Rather, fate provides a more specific challenge. What fate threatens is the moral ambiguity that is at the heart of a good story. When a certain outcome is fated, approved by the gods, it becomes easy to judge all that approaches that outcome as good, all that obstructs it as bad.

Abstractly, the solution is that fate leaves a lot of leeway for how, exactly the outcome is reached. Certainly it can be complicated, and the hindrances are real. Moreover, fate is cruel and indifferent: those outside its path get thrown away with reckless abandon. Together, these create space for the needed ambiguity. The first allows for an indirect course, as others fight, with more or less success, against the dictates of fate. The second allows that they should be innocent in doing so.

That is the theoretical resolution to the problem, though of course it takes a great artist to achieve it in practice. Virgil is a great artist, and his handling of the story of Dido in Aeneid book 4 is an especially potent illustration. At the end of the book, Virgil puts it bluntly: “Her death was neither fated nor deserved” (4.812). Not fated, not an essential part of Aeneas’ course for Italy, and not deserved, for she was fundamentally innocent. In an epic full of large and small tragedies of the innocent, the death of Dido is probably the largest.

But let us begin with the gods, returning to Dido only after an interlude. In the first book of the Aeneid, Juno established herself as a breaker of contracts, unleashing the winds that drove Aeneas to Carthage. As a result, afraid that the fierce Carthaginians would be inhospitable to Aeneas and his crew, Venus sent Cupid to make Dido infatuated with Aeneas. This is really a terrible act. Yes, it protects Aeneas. But it also causes Dido, through no fault of her own, to break her scrupulously kept vow never to remarry, in honor of Sychaeus, her murdered husband. Venus callously strips her of her honor and, in the end, her life.

The struggle between Juno and Venus continues, with Juno proposing to have Dido and Aeneas marry. Her aim is twofold, to strengthen Carthage and protect Dido (Dido is a favorite of hers) and to keep Aeneas out of Italy. In making this proposal, she confronts Venus with a bitter charge:

“An outstanding victory! What a memorable display
Of divine power by you and your little boy,
Two devious deities laying low a single woman!” (4.109-11)

What any fairminded person reading this passage must recognize is that Juno is entirely justified in this accusation. In making his reader recognize this, Virgil captures genuine moral ambiguity: even the person (or god) furthering fate can be in the wrong, can be cruel and worthy of being despised.

Despite the insult, Venus assents to Juno’s proposal, but secretly she schemes. While we don’t know quite what happened in the cave with Dido and Aeneas, it is clear that Dido emerged convinced that they had married, while Aeneas was content to consider it merely a torrid affair. I suspect Venus was behind this trickery.

Eventually, fate comes calling, and Aeneas must leave Dido behind. Recall that, in her love for Aeneas (thrust upon her against her will), she has broken the vow that was the backbone of her strength (if not happiness). There is thus a real sense in which he is all she has left. Naturally, she is upset that he is leaving. The speech in which he attempts to pacify her is a masterpiece. I give it in full:

………………………………………….“My Queen,
I will never deny that you have earned my gratitude,
In more ways than can be said; nor will I ever regret
Having known Elissa, as long as memory endures
And the spirit still rules these limbs of mine.
I do have a few things to say on my own behalf.
I never hoped to steal away from your land
In secret, and you should never imagine I did.
Nor have I ever proposed marriage to you
Or entered into any nuptial agreement.
If the Fates would allow me to lead my own life
And to order my priorities as I see fit,
The welfare of Troy would be my first concern,
And the remnants of my own beloved people.
Priam’s palace would still be standing
And Pergamum rising from the ashes of defeat.
But now the oracles of Gryneian Apollo,
Of Lycian Apollo, have commanded with one voice
That the great land of Italy is my journey’s end.
There is my love, my country. If the walls
Of Carthage, vistas of a Libyan city,
Have a hold on you, a Phoenician woman,
Why do you begrudge the Trojans
A settlement in Ausonia? We too have the right
To seek a kingdom abroad.
………………………………….The troubled ghost
Of my father, Anchises, admonishes me
Every night in my dreams, when darkness
Covers the earth, and the fiery stars rise.
And my dear son, Ascanius—am I to wrong him
By cheating him of his inheritance,
A kingdom in Hesperia, his destined land?
And now the gods’ herald, sent by Jove himself,
(I swear by your head and mine) has come down
Through the rushing winds, ordering me to leave.
I saw the god myself, in broad daylight,
Entering the walls, and heard his very words.
So stop wounding both of us with your pleas.
It is not my own will—this quest for Italy.” (4.378-415)

This speech is a mire of ambiguity. Aeneas just doesn’t know what he wants to say. He starts by attempting to tell her how much their relationship means to him, though he doesn’t seem to realize that the fact that he is leaving undermines this. This carries him for a few lines, but then he cannot help but try to explain himself, to make his course seem justified. In doing so, however, he ends up disowning, twice, his own destiny: “If the Fates would allow me to lead my own life” and “It is not my own will—this quest for Italy.” How much more must it wound Dido to find that it is not even a competing passion that sunders them, but simply a grudgingly accepted duty? Aeneas also attempts one more sympathetic justification (should he cheat his son of his inheritance), but this, too, likely wounds more than it helps, for Aeneas has not even given Dido a son of her own.

Aeneas’ thought process here is eminently understandable, on two levels. It is understandable, first, because the experience of bungling an explanation of oneself to those one has wronged is common. Second, Aeneas is trying to translate the commands of the gods into reasoning understandable to humans. And he just can’t do it. He tries to connect it to normal human motivations. If Dido, a Phoenician, can have her Carthage, why can’t Aeneas have a settlement in Ausonia? And doesn’t his son deserve the best Aeneas can give him? But even as he makes these arguments, he undermines them, forced to admit that “It is not my own will.” Aeneas’ fate makes him something inhuman, and in following it he takes on its callous indifference. Yet within him still beats a human heart, and his passion persists. His fate thus divides him in two: not only Dido, but also Aeneas is a victim of the gods. And that, perhaps, is the epic’s deepest and most painful moral ambiguity.

Aeneas is the hero of the Aeneid, the final victor after the bloodbath of Book XII, but he is not the central figure in that book. That would be Turnus. Not that Aeneas is not omnipresent, but it is Turnus who earns my sympathy.

This is, of course, a subjective judgment, a reflection of the peculiar course of my own experience, but it is a testament to Virgil that it is possible. A myth that would encompass life – that is, a myth that would serve its function as myth – must be large. The central plot, in this case the course of Fate that drags Aeneas onward, the destiny “for whose sake I could endure / Hard days and many” (XII.238-39), provides a skeleton and a first route of entry for the reader, but it is the side alleys, the divagations, that provide the pockets of deep meaning in which the myth proves its worth. It is no accident that on a first reading I saw in Aeneas a model for myself, while on my second and now my third readings I have found myself increasingly alienated from Aeneas and drawn to secondary characters: Creüsa, Dido, Turnus.

At the center of it all is, once again, the question of merit. Finally, Aeneas and Turnus are to fight one another, one on one, to decide the war. Drancës had suggested this course of action in book XI and Turnus roundly shut him down, but Turnus is now open to the idea. In prophetic but misdirected words, Turnus boasts:

……………………………………………….This time
His goddess-mother, she who, when he runs,
Hides him in womanish cloud, who hides herself
In empty phantoms—she’ll be far away. (XII.73-76)

He does not realize how soon these words will turn back their sting upon their utterer. But first the peace treaty Aeneas and Latinus plan to sign must be disrupted – by Juno of course. Anxious yet again to extend the life of Turnus at the cost of his glory, she urges his goddess sister, Juturna, to stir the troops to war. She does so by exploiting their fear that Turnus is outmatched, that a decision on the basis of merit will fall in favor of the Latins. With just a gentle prod, Juturna spurs Tolumnius to break the peace before it can begin, and the war returns.

Juturna, meanwhile, disguises herself as the driver of Turnus’ chariot, keeping him far from Aeneas. He mows down scores of named and nameless Trojans and their allies, empty kills that do not add to his glory. Aeneas, meanwhile:

Must I go on, awaiting Turnus’ whim
To face and fight me once again in battle,
Beaten already as he is? I think not.
Countrymen, this town is head and heart
Of an unholy war. Bring out your firebrands!
Make terms, this time, with a town in flames! (XII.776-81)

(This, incidentally, is one of the reasons why I find myself distant from Aeneas by the end of the peom. Though undoubtedly a smart tactical decision, there is something inhuman about a man who has seen his own city in flames and yet can do the same to another.)

Disaster builds on disaster for the Latins, while Turnus “keep[s his] chariot in play / On this deserted meadow” (XII.899-900). Now, in one of the most sympathetic moments of the entire Aeneid, Turnus is haunted by an old insult. Drancës, who in Book XI had urged Turnus to face Aeneas one-on-one, to spare any further Trojan bloodshed. In so doing, he had mocked Turnus for fleeing this battle (this was Juno’s doing, and entirely against Turnus’ will, but Drancës does not know this). Turnus recalls this shame now: “Should I not give the lie to Drancës?” (XII.872)

And so, finally, after so much unnecessary death, Turnus will battle Aeneas. But it is not merit that will decide it. Instead Jupiter insists to Juno that now, finally, she must give up her protection of Turnus, must allow him to meet his fate. Jupiter further contrives to drive Juturna away from Turnus. And so we watch as Turnus is abandoned by the gods. His strength then fails him:

…………………………………….He said no more,
But looked around him. Then he saw a stone,
Enormous, ancient, set up there to prevent
Landowners’ quarrels. Even a dozen picked men
Such as the earth produces in our day
Could barely lift and shoulder it. He swooped
And wrenched it free, in one hand, then rose up
To his heroic height, ran a few steps,
And tried to hurl the stone against his foe –
But as he bent and as he ran
And as he hefted and propelled the weight
He did not know himself. His knees gave way,
His blood ran cold and froze. The stone itself,
Tumbling through space, fell short and had no impact. (XII.1218-31)

Here Turnus dies. Oh, to be sure, Aeneas must complete the kill, but this is the moment of decision. The gods are with Aeneas, not with Turnus, and there is nothing else to say. Perhaps Turnus would have lost on merit, but this is not for us to find out. The fragile fates again look elsewhere to ensure history keeps to its course.

And so the story ends. I do not celebrate Aeneas’ victory, the glorious future of his people. I weep for Turnus, a man forsaken by the gods.

So says Turnus (X.392-93), urging on his troops to attack Aeneas’ newly marshaled supporters as they arrive to support the besieged Trojans. The remainder of book X exists, so it seems, for the sole purpose of disproving Turnus’ words.

The book starts auspiciously enough. Morning dawns on Olympus, and the gods convene. Venus and Juno make their respective please. Jupiter adjudicates:

………………………………………I shall hold
Without distinction Rutulians and Trojans,
Whatever fortune each may have today,
Whatever hope may guide him; whether the camp
Lies under siege as fated for Italians
Or through Troy’s blunder, and through prophecies
Malign and dark. Neither do I exempt
The Rutulians. The effort each man makes
Will bring him luck or trouble. To them all
King Jupiter is the same king. And the Fates
Will find their way.” (X.147-57)

At long last, merit will have its due. Each will receive what his own deeds deserve. And how will the outcome of the war, so long ago decided, be ensure? “The Fates / will find their way.” Turnus’ cry is in just this spirit: Fortune favors those who through their daring merit her graciousness.

The constraint, the one constraint, is that the Fates must find their way. And with this it falls apart. Fate is not robust enough to tolerate the vagaries of merit. Even before Turnus utters his bold but ill-favored challenge, Aeneas receives the favor of the gods. As he returns to the battle, bringing newly recruited fighters, he is visited by old friends: his former ships, now converted to gods. In a direct parallel to the Nereids speeding the Scylla in the boat race (Book V), the Cymodocea speeds Aeneas along:

With her right hand she sped the tall ship onward,
Having the skill of it: the ship more swift
Than javelin or arrow down the wind
Took flight over the waves. (X.340-43)

Book V, as noted in an earlier post (linked above), is full of divine disruptions of merit, and this parallel foreshadows what is to come. A first, fairly minor disproof of Turnus’ claim actually cuts against Aeneas. As they arrive, Tarchon urges on the Etruscan ships:

Picked oarsmen, now give way with your good oars,
And lift the bow with every stroke, then split
This enemy land wide open with your beaks.
Let each keel plow the shingle. It’s all one
With me if we break up, beaching her here,
Once the dry land is under us. (X.407-12)

This rash bravado turns against him. All the ships land safely – “But not yours, Tarchon” (X.417). It is a mild case, for here Tarchon’s daring is foolhardy, but it is daring nonetheless, and Fortune does not favor it.

A second disproof also works in Turnus’ (short term) favor. He confronts Pallas, Evander’s son, whom Aeneas has sworn to protect:

………………..When he seemed near enough
For a spear-cast, Pallas opened the engagement,
Hoping his daring would bring luck to him,
Outmatched in power as he was. (X.635-38)

His daring does not bring him luck. But here one may protest that in this case, as in the case of Tarchon, we are dealing not with daring but with foolhardiness. It is surely possible that Fortune could favor the daring and not the foolhardy.

Pallas, however, is not foolhardy. He is making the best of a bad situation, a situation into which he has been placed against his will. For it was not Turnus he sought to battle, but rather Lausus, the similar young son of Mezentius. For no apparent reason,

…………………the mighty ruler of Olympus
Would not let them encounter one another.
Their fates awaited them, each at the hands
Of a still greater foe. (X.602-05)

I take it back – there is a reason. Fate calls them elsewhere. Here is the first indication that it is specifically fate that requires the disruption of merit. Merit, left undisturbed, would bring Pallas and Lausus together in an evenly matched fight to be decided fairly. Instead, it pits Pallas against Turnus (and, later, Lausus against Aeneas). Those who know how the Aeneid ends know how essential it is that Turnus should kill Pallas – or how inessential it is.

One final send-up of merit merits discussion here. As Aeneas seeks out Turnus on the battlefield, Juno and Jupiter discuss his fate. It begins with a taunt. In the opening debate, Juno had pointed out (fairly) how Venus supported the Trojans, and wondered why she was not allowed to do the same for the Latins. Jupiter now rubs this in her face:

Sister and wife, too, most delightful wife,
As you were thinking – not amiss, that thought –
It must be Venus who sustains the Trojans,
Not their good right arms in war, their keen
Combativeness and fortitude in danger. (X.851-55)

Jupiter assumes that his decree, that merit will decide the battle, let the Fates fall where they must, has been followed. But he has simply not been paying attention – not even to his own actions, in the case of Pallas. Merit and daring have had very little to do with the outcome. Juno was, and is, entirely correct. Jupiter’s sarcastic statement is thus doubly hurtful: first because it is true, second because it intends to be false.

But no matter Jupiter’s blindness – what of Turnus? Juno wishes to protect him. Jupiter allows her to extend his life, but not to save it. Juno, taking what she can get,

…………………………………..made her way
To the Ilian lines and the Laurentine camp,
Then made a bodiless shade of spectral mist
In likeness of Aeneas, weird and strange,
Adorned the image with Dardanian arms
And matched the godlike hero’s shield and plume,
Gave unreal words, a voice without a mind,
A way of walking, modeled after his. (X.892-99)

With this, Juno draws Turnus away from the battle against his will. And thus, through no fault of his own, Turnus is denied the reputation he deserves. He appears a deserter, though he desperately would return. How awful this is, how poorly Juno’s aid serves actually to help him, is foreshadowed in the Pallas episode. Pallas prays to Hercules to guide his spear, but Hercules is not permitted to do so. He can merely groan. Jupiter comforts him as follows:

…………………….Every man’s last day is fixed.
Lifetimes are brief, and not to be regained,
For all mankind. But by their deeds to make
Their fame last: that is labor for the brave. (X.650-53)

Pallas may die young, but he is at least acquitted by his bravery. This precisely is denied to Turnus by Juno’s intervention. What matters a few more days of life to Turnus (for that is all Juno’s trickery earns him) if they are bought the price of (apparent) cowardice?

Turnus, for his part, acquits himself. Undecided between suicide and jumping into the sea and swimming back to his troops, he attempts both three times each. And each time Juno, once again, denies him. What Turnus merits is not what Juno has decided for him.

This case is special, however. In the case of Pallas, we saw how Fate is fragile, unable to tolerate the unchecked operation of merit and reward. In this case, however, Fate is sufficiently robust: merit would bring Turnus and Aeneas in conflict, and Aeneas, would, presumably win. (I here deliberately overlook the actual facts of their encounter in book XII. I save that for another post. To appearances, at least, Fate is in this instance robust.) Indeed, Juno’s intervention merely stalls Turnus’ fate, but does not change it. And yet merit is, once again, disrupted.

Whether by Fate itself or by some divine will constrained by Fate, somehow or other merit is disrupted. Whatever else it is, the Aeneid is not, particularly, a story of heroic deeds justly rewarded.