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In Virgil's The Aeneid, the gods and goddesses play a very vital role and their actions are unique. The gods and goddesses determine the destiny of mortals, including the protagonist Aeneas, who draws much attention from the gods, especially since his mother, Venus, is the goddess of love. The rest of the gods and goddesses seem to bicker between each other, but they interweave mortals into their problems, either helping or harming mortals, just to avenge their rival. The gods and goddesses in The Aeneid use their abilities to either harm or help Aeneas on his quest to found the city of Rome in Italy, but ultimately, the entire journey cannot be controlled by the gods or goddesses. Destiny had already taken a hold of Aeneas during his journey and nothing could change his destiny.
The gods in the Aeneid are more interesting than the mortals with whom they appear so fascinated because they have distinctive personalities and take surprising measures to see that their wishes are achieved. Interestingly, although the gods and goddesses do have the power to manipulate the manner in which events occur, they cannot change the ultimate outcome because destiny is supreme. The king of the gods and goddesses is Jupiter, the Roman counterpart to Zeus and who is able to overpower any of the other gods, and he also has supreme control. The other gods and goddesses cannot act against his will forever since Jupiter supports destiny. However, the most that the other gods and goddesses can do in opposition to Jupiter and destiny is to postpone the outcome temporarily.
The Aeneid involves much divine intervention, which is apparent as soon as the poem begins. Juno has always despised the Trojans ever since the "Golden Apple" incident, where Paris, a Trojan had to pick the fairest woman out of Juno, Venus and Minerva. He eventually chose Venus, the mother of Aeneas, who promised him the most beautiful mortal woman on earth, Helen. Juno had also despised the Trojans ever since she had heard a rumor that the Trojans would destroy her favorite city, Carthage. Since Juno despised the Trojans, her anger was taken out on Aeneas. She is the first goddess to intervene, as she persuaded Aeolus, the wind god to conjure up a storm, to destroy Aeneas' fleet while he is on his way back to Italy. In Book 4 of the Aeneid, Juno persuaded Aeolus that he should "buttered on the waste of sea those Trojans left by the Greeks and pitiless Achilles, keeping them from Latium" (Virgil 4). However her plan fails because Neptune, the sea god, manages to calm the storm and Aeneas is left with only seven ships and his fleet takes refuge at an African port, Libya. The scene is a clear example of how the gods and goddesses are able to intervene with the lives of mortals so easily, even if they do not have the supreme power to change their fate. The gods and goddesses are still able to manipulate the mortals like puppets for their own purposes.
The goddess Venus intervenes several times in the poem. She first intervenes with Jupiter on behalf of Aeneas and his men. In Book I on lines 315-318 of the Aeneid, Venus asks Jupiter, "what in the world could my Aeneas do, what could the Trojans do, so to offend you that after suffering all those deaths they find the whole world closed to them, because of Italy" (Virgil 11). She wanted to know why Jupiter would let Juno continue to torture the Trojans and her son just to get her revenge for the Trojan War and the eventual fall of Carthage in the future. Venus also inspires another divine intervention that has life-altering effects on Dido, the Queen of Carthage. According to Book I on lines 895-901, "Our Lady of Cythera, however, pondered new interventions, a new strategy: that her young godling son, Desire, should take the face and figure of Ascanius, then come and use his gifts to make the queen infatuated, inflaming her with lust to the marrow of her bones" (Virgil 27). Venus makes Dido fall in love with her son, Aeneas, so that he would be welcomed into the city, without having to wage a war against Carthage. Then Juno arranges for the consummation of the queen's love so that Aeneas would be in Carthage for good and unable to each Italy, found Rome and destroy Carthage. Juno's plan started one day when Dido, Aeneas and her court were out hunting and Juno brought a storm down upon them, sending them scattering for shelter. She arranged for Aeneas and Dido to end up in the same cave together. Dido, who is enflamed by Cupid's arrow, makes love to Aeneas and during the whole conflict, it is very interesting to note that Venus is the goddess of love and Juno is the goddess of marriage. The fighting between the two goddesses could simply mean that love and marriage do not always necessarily mix well.
Juno, the goddess of marriage and Jupiter's wife, plays a significant role in the Aeneid, although she is portrayed as quite juvenile at times. She tried to avenge the Trojans because of two distinct reasons: the 'Golden Apple' incident when Paris chose Venus instead. Secondly, once she learns that Rome is founded by Aeneas, her favorite city Carthage will be destroyed. She intervenes in the poem several times to try and stop Aeneas but her plans are futile. However, Juno is not all bad because she takes pity for the first time after Dido commits suicide. According to Book IV on lines 959, "almighty Juno, filled with pity for this long ordeal and difficult passage, now sent Iris down out of Olympus to set free the wrestling spirit from the body's hold" (Virgil 121). Some people would be able to see that she wasn't all totally heartless from her actions with Dido's spirit, but that she was just misguided. Although she takes pity on Dido, Juno is still trying to stop Aeneas from reaching Italy and founding Rome, so she makes it difficult for Aeneas throughout the poem.
Juno first intervenes to stop Aeneas from reaching Italy in Book 5 on lines 780-784 when she send her messenger Iris down to the beach where the women were watching the men play games by the tomb of Aeneas' father. "Saturnine Juno sent her Iris down from heaven, exhaling winds to waft her far to the Trojan fleet. Juno had plans afoot, her ancient rancor not yet satisfied" (Virgil 146). Then Iris under the disguise of aged Beroe incited the women of Troy to set fires to the ships so that Aeneas' men would have to build their new city in Sicily instead of on Italy. The men tried to save the ships but they were unable to put out the raging flames. Aeneas prayed to Jupiter to save his fleet in Book 5 on lines 890-896, "Almighty Jupiter, unless by now you loathe all Trojans to the last man, if divine kindness shown in ancient days can still pay heed to mortal suffering, grant that our fleet survive this fire, father, even now: at the last moment save the frail affairs of Trojans from destruction" (Virgil 149). Jupiter makes it rain and the rain puts the fires out, except for four of the ships were saved from the burning. That scene showed the status of the mortal who has to pray to the god for his destiny in which he has no choice.
Once Aeneas and his men finally leave Libya, he finally arrives in Italy and Juno has still not satisfied her anger against the Trojans. Since she was unable to prevent them from reaching Italy, she vowed to at least delay the founding of Rome and cause them more pain. Juno intervenes by sending Iris to Turnus in Book 9 of the Aeneid. Iris tells Turnus that Aeneas is not in the Trojan camp and urges him to take the opportunity to attack. According to Book 9 on lines 9-13, Iris tells Turnus that "Turnus, what no god would dare to promise you-your heart's desire-the course of time has of itself brought on. Leaving his town and ships and followers Aeneas journeyed to the Palatine Court of Evander" (Virgil 259). Iris also told Turnus on lines 18-19 in Book 9 to "break off this lull, strike at their flurried camp, take it by storm" (Virgil 259). Turnus offered prayers of thanks, happily obeying the goddess who sent him this news. Juno also intervenes in Book 7 when she puts herself squarely against the fate and for the first time she openly admits that she cannot win and yet that does not change her determination to make Aeneas' life miserable in the least. In Book 7 on lines 422-428, Juno says that "I am defeated and by Aeneas. Well, if my powers fall short, I need not falter over asking help wherever help may lie. If I can sway no heavenly hearts I'll rouse the world below. It will not be permitted me-so be it-to keep the man from rule in Italy" (Virgil 206-207). Juno still hates the Trojans and her hated just grows when she is defeated by Aeneas once he reaches Italy safely.
Juno intervenes when she sends the goddess Allecto, one of the Furies, down into Latium to incite anger against the Trojans in Book 7. Allecto first goes to Queen Amata, the wife of Latinus, and turns her against the proposed marriage of their daughter Lavinia and Aeneas. Allecto then goes to Turnus, the King of the Rutuli and the chief antagonist of Aeneas. Allecto inflames his anger at the idea of losing Lavinia and having to bow to a Trojan king. So Turnus gathered together his army and prepared to drive the Trojans out of Italy. The fighting only begins when Ascanius, a Trojan, is hunting in the woods and kills a stag that was the favorite pet of Latinus herdsmen, due to Juno's trickery. The other shepherds call for the hunter to be found so Ascanius called for the support of the Trojan ranks. A few Latiums are killed in a brief skirmish and the shepherds go back to King Latinus and demand that he launch an attack on the Trojans. Latinus tried to refuse but his court and even his wife called for war, so Latinus had no choice since he could not stop the gods. So Latinus lets Turnus gather a large army with some of Italy's greatest fighters as captains in order to fight the Trojans. Juno can be seen as rather foolish because she is the wife and sister of Jupiter, who knows the line of fate which cannot be changed by destruction.
Jupiter, the supreme god, also plays a vital role in the Aeneid. Jupiter has complete control over the rest of the gods and goddesses. It is obvious that Jupiter has a bit of humor in the way that he leads Juno, his wife and sister on. For example, in Carthage, when Jupiter lets Juno manipulate the consummation of Dido and Aeneas, Jupiter knew full well that Aeneas would have to leave and eventually destroy the city of Carthage.
In Book 10, Jupiter summoned all the gods and goddesses, instructed them about the policy that they were to follow in dealing with the humans' on-going war. In Book 10 on lines 11-12, Jupiter says "I have forbidden Italy to engage in war with Trojans" (Virgil 293). Overruling both Venus and Juno, who argued in favor of the Trojans and the Latiums, respectively, he declared that there was to be no further divine intervention. The outcome of the war would be left to fate. In Book 10 Jupiter waived his rule against intervention and allowed Juno to save Turnus by creating a shadow-Aeneas as a diversion. On lines 875-877 of Book 10, Jupiter told Juno to "take Turnus off in flight, wrest him away from fate that stands before him. There is room for that much lenience" (Virgil 316). Turnus then mistook the fake Aeneas for the real man and pursued him on board a ship, which Juno then floats off to sea, preventing the Rutulian prince from risking his life in combat against his Trojan counterpart.
The arguments between the gods and goddesses in the Aeneid seemed to take up most of the plot, since they were the driving force of the poem. The intervention of both Venus and Juno revealed that the Aeneid was much more about their argument than about Aeneas himself. Aeneas just seemed to be a puppet that was strung along by what the gods and goddesses were doing and he did not seem to take the primary role in the Aeneid. The primary gods and goddesses in the Aeneid also manipulated the other lesser gods and goddesses such as Aeolus, Allecto, Mercury, Iris and Neptune into interfering with mortals on their behalf. It is apparent in several cases, such as in the beginning when Juno persuaded Aeolus to conjure up a storm which was counteracted by Venus, who made Neptune calm the raging sea. It is also apparent when Juno asks Iris to go and persuade the women of Troy to set fire to Aeneas' fleet and Jupiter sends Mercury to Aeneas in Carthage, telling him to continue on his quest and leave Carthage and Dido behind. So at points in the epic poem, it seems as if it is about the gods and their quarrels.