The Aeneid

Is Aeneas a Good Warrior?

'I sing of arms and of the man, fated to be an exile', begins Virgil, and it is on precisely the issue of this man of arms that critical debate in recent years has tended to centre. Scholars continue to disagree on whether or not Aeneas is presented as a good soldier, although the question itself is certainly far from black and white, complicated by the culturally relative nature of terms such as 'conflict' and 'courage', as well as by the rather oblique definition that 'good' itself holds. In this essay I will attempt to resolve these complexities and ambiguities by juxtaposing Aeneas against the Roman and Homeric ideals of the warrior, exemplified by Aemilius Paullus and Odysseus respectively. I will argue that Aeneas meets the criteria set by neither model and that, ultimately, he is an emotionally unstable, morally dubious and even an incompetent military leader.

However, the very fact that he is the protagonist needs to be stressed: his character is necessarily sympathetic, dynamic and intricate. My intention is not to assert that Aeneas is a villain or a coward; he is quite obviously neither of these things and such an interpretation of the Aeneid, a text rich and ambiguous in meaning,...

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