Aeneas- An “Unheroic” Hero
Herois a word used to refer to an individual who is admired for theircourage or noble actions especially in doing something. As seen inthe text, heroic means a person who considers the morals, values, andinterests of other people before taking any action. Heroic is used torefer to the bold and courageous character of a person who isconsidered a hero. As seen in the book, Aeneas intention was to dogood and this is a heroic act, “Friends,we are all at home with suffering-Some worse than this—but god willend this too.” (Ruden7).Unheroic is a word used to refer to people or actions that do notqualify to be heroic. For example, Stahl considers Aeneas unheroicbecause of risking the lives of his army for the sake of the gods.(Stahl157). His devotion to the gods is seen in the text “Iam devout Aeneas, known in heaven.” Ruden 12).Itcan also refer to the lack of courage, which is one of the mostnotable characteristics of a hero. Heroic can also vary depending onthe mission and motivation that a person has in performing aparticular act. For example, heroic can be on a big or small scale.
However,the motivation of a person`s actions can be used to judge heroicactions. Heroes and heroines are selfless people who do things forthe sake of benefitting other people. If a person`s actions have aselfish aspect, then this is not heroic even if the results benefitother people. In most cases, Aeneas has the interests of his peopleat heart “Inits promised walls, and raise your brave Aeneas to the stars."(Ruden 8-260).
Thereis a huge contrast between the argument by Stahl and the elements ofThe Aeneid. Aeneas has shown himself consistently as a person whorespects human dignity and has made decisions based on morals.However, Stahl argues that Aeneas is unheroic because he is some kindof a puppet to the gods. Stahl also depicts Aeneas as a coward inwar “Theworld becomes a threat of instant death. A swift and icy terrornumbed Aeneas. He moaned and held his hands up to the stars and gavea cry: Three times and four times blessed are those who perished intheir fathers’ sight…” (Stahl 4). However, Aeneas wasvictorious in many instances, for example, (‘Aeneaswon these arms from conquering Greeks.’ My orders: man the oars andleave the harbor. With zeal they lashed the sea and swept across it."(Ruden 56-290).
Onthe other hand, there are many instances in The Aeneid whereby Aeneasis well portrayed as a hero. He accepts the prophecy of the gods eventhough the emotional impulses conflict with his fatedresponsibilities. He shows compassion to the sufferings and wearinessof his colleagues on the journey. By bearing his father on the backto take him out of Troy, Aeneas demonstrated heroism as well.
However,there are instances where Aeneas comes out as an unheroic character.He is seen to be "unheroic" because of his behavior "andall circumstances threaten men with death" (Stahl162). From this statement, Aeneas`s intentions were not for the goodof the people but for his own fulfillment when he killed otherpeople. Even though he was the greatest fighter, in most cases he was"unheroic” as seen in the following statements…“Thatlast night they told me the slaughtering Greeks had used up all yourstrength” (Ruden131-505). “Righteous Aeneas, at this contest’s breakup, strodetoward a grassy field that was surrounded by wooded hills, a naturalstadium for a racetrack. Thousands went there with the hero. He satdown in a raised seat in the center and offered prizes to entice thedaring of anyone considering the footrace. Competitorsconverged—Trojans, Sicilians…” (Ruden 99-295).
Itis important to understand that morals and dignity are an importantaspect of any heroic act. For example, Aeneas is seen to be moralregarding his judgment. However, he falls short of the expectationsof a hero in a number of instances because his actions are guided ormotivated by personal interests. For example, there is the case ofoffering human sacrifices. Killing of human beings is unheroic evenif it is enemies that were executed. The reason behind this is thatthe society has values and norms that must be upheld. Giving humansacrifices as an expression of victory goes against the societalvalues and morality.
Stahldepicts Aeneas as “unheroic” even for actions like adoring thosewho are dead. As seen in the book by Stahl, human frailty makesAeneas “unheroic”, as seen in the following text by Stahl,“Aeneas thinks of the brave men who are dead when he lives”. Thespeech that Aeneas gives is also seen by Stahl as “unheroic”.Stahl expresses that the passage Aeneas as living in the past… “Astrange speech for a hero to make especially a hero sailing towards anew world: Aeneas thinks only of the past.” However, what Aeneaswas doing was human since it is respecting the dead which is a commonthing in all societies. One can see that Stahl is critical towardsthe kind actions by Aeneas. It is paramount to note that being heroicdoes not have to be hardened but being understanding and realisticabout what happens in the world. Rather than seeing Aeneas asunheroic, I presume he is just being realistic and human to connectwith the world.
Ruden,Sarah. TheAeneid.Yale University Press, 2008.
Stahl,Hans-Peter. "Aeneas-An`Unheroic`Hero?." Arethusa14.1 (1981): 157.