Aeneid 1.157-222 Essay

By Meghan Reedy

In the simile that compares the Neptune calming the storm to a worthy and respected man calming a riot (1.148–53), the man is described using terms that have already been used of Aeneas: peitate gravem … virum in 151 recalls insignem pietate virum in 10. As discussed in an earlier essay, the simile picks up elements of what has come before and shows them to us in a new light.

The scene following the storm does something similar. The simile had compared Neptune calming the winds to a man who “soothes the hearts” of rioters: ille regit dictis animos et pectora mulcet (153). After the storm the exhausted Trojans come to shore in Libya (defessi Aeneadae … Libyae vertuntur ad oras 157–8). Aeneas hunts venison for everyone (180–196), and then, in line 197, addresses his men: dictis maerentia pectora mulcet. What Aeneas is doing here is similar in important ways to what the vir in that simile did: using words, dictis, and soothing hearts. But what he is doing is also different. In the simile the vir “governs their minds” with his words, regit dictis animos (153); but here Aeneas uses words only to allay distress, dictis … pectora mulcet (197). Also, the pectora being soothed need soothing for different reasons. In the simile they are raging and intent on mutiny, seditio saevitque animis … vulgus (149); but Aeneas’ men are grieving, maerentia pectora (197).

A look at what Aeneas actually says shows that he is far from identical with the pius vir of the simile. How does Aeneas soothe his men’s hearts? He uses two main strategies: reminding them that they have successfully endured hardships before, and encouraging them to remember that a peaceful outcome is promised by fate. He provides them two tools for overcoming their distress, two ways of shifting perspective so that the current distress can be seen as finite and manageable: compare this with what has gone before, so you’ll see it will pass like your other troubles did; compare this with the future, it will be better then. But his instructions also make it clear that this is all he can do. He does not indicate that he or they have any say in when or how the hardships will end: god will end them, dabit deus his quoque finem (199). Moreover, he instructs them to take control of their own minds and soothe their own sadness and fear: revocate animos maestumque timorem mittite (202–3). Similarly, though fate has shown them their destination, they need to keep themselves going in order to get there: durate, et vosmet rebus rebus servate secundis (206–7). It is in this context that he offers the poignant, heartening, melancholy thought that even this might be good to think back on someday, forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit (203).

Thus Aeneas’ power over his people in these words is tightly constrained. He cannot, this speech suggests, actually ease their grief, or end their difficulties, or get them to their fated destination. They must each do it for themselves, it turns out.

Aeneas’ all too human limitations are also clear when we compare him to Neptune, as in some ways the text asks us to do. After they come ashore Aeneas men’ find a protected place where the water is calm (aequora tuta silent, 164) and drag their salt-drenched limbs ashore (sale tabentes artus in litore ponunt). Achates starts a fire (Achates succepitque ignem foliis, 174–5). Then they make food (177–9), and while they do that Aeneas climbs a cliff, hoping to get a good view, but finding good venison instead (180–96). Here, surprisingly, are echoes of the storm itself, and of Neptune’s response to it. Aeneas’ men treat their grain in much the same way the storm treated their boats. It gets drenched in water (Cererem corruptam undis, 177), then pulled out (fruges receptas, 178) and broken on a rock (frangere saxo, 179). They also get ready to subject it to fire (torrere parant flammis, 179). Meanwhile, interea (180), Aeneas climbs the cliff (Aeneas scopulum … conscendit, 180)—and he is described doing so in terms that remind us of Neptune when he first felt that his domain was being disturbed. Neptune:

… graviter commotus, et alto

 prospiciens summa placidum caput extulit unda (126–7),

 and again at the close of the scene,

… aequore postquam

prospiciens genitor … (154–5).

Of Aeneas we hear:


prospectum late pelago petit (180–1),

and again just a few lines later,

Navem in conspectu nullam, tres litore cervos

prospicit errantes … (184–5).

In every case the form of prospicio starts a line. Neptune sees Aeneas’ wrecked ships, disiectam Aeneae toto videt aequore classem (128). He also sees that it was Juno’s doing (nec latuere doli fratrem Iunonis et irae, 130). Later (154–5), after taking a series of direct and effective steps to calm the storm (sic cunctus pelagi cecidit fragor, 154), he takes a last look at the water, now calm, before he rides off. But Aeneas doesn’t see anything. He is hoping that he can see even a little of what Neptune saw, Anthea si quem iactatum vento videat Phrygiasque biremes, aut Capyn aut celsis in puppibus arma Caici (181–3). That’s what he would like to see. But he doesn’t: Navem in conspectu nullam (184). Instead he sees, and is fruitfully distracted by, three deer and then by their herd, tres litore cervos prospicit errantes … (184–5).

The vir in the simile takes charge, stops a riot; Nepture has a clear view of the situation and can act. But Aeneas can only tell his dejected comrades that this too shall pass and tell them to keep their spirits up. How can anyone be that ideal vir after all? In 208–9, we see him struggle to take his own advice: as he gives his people what lukewarm encouragement he can, Aeneas is sick with worry, curisque ingentibus aeger; he puts on a brave face, and pushes down the pain, spem vultu simulat, premit altum corde dolorem.

This subtle characterization of Aeneas as a compassionate leader, and the proposing of ideals against which his hero (or any real person) falls short is in sharp contrast to the tenor and context of speech of Odysseus to his men in Odyssey Book 12, on which Aeneas’ speech is ostensibly modeled. Here Odysseus is trying to motivate his men, who have dropped their oars in terror at the sound of Charybdis in the distance (trans. Fagles):

But I strode down the decks to rouse my crewmen,

halting beside each one with a bracing, winning word:

‘Friends, we’re hardly strangers at meeting danger—

and this danger is no worse than what we faced

when Cyclops penned us up in his vaulted cave

with crushing force! But even from there my courage,

my presence of mind and tactics saved us all,

and we will live to remember this someday,

I have no doubt. Up now, follow my orders,

all of us work as one! You men at the thwarts—

lay on with your oars and strike the heaving swells,

trusting that Zeus will pull us through these straits alive.

You, helmsman, here’s your order—burn it in your mind—

the steering oar of our rolling ship is in your hands.

Keep her clear of that smoke and surging breakers,

head for those crags or she’ll catch you off guard,

she’ll yaw over there—you’ll plunge us all in ruin!’

So I shouted. They snapped to each command.

No mention of Scylla—how to fight that nightmare?

Odysseus’ relationship to his men is very different than that of Aeneas to his, and the two speeches repay much closer comparison than we have time to pursue here.

Further Reading

Johnson, W.R. 1976. Darkness Visible: A Study of Vergil’s Aeneid, 32–6. Berkeley: University of California Press. Compares Odysseus in Odyssey 10.156–184 to Aeneas in 1.180–197.

Leach, E.W. 1988. The Rhetoric of Space: Literary and Artistic Representations of Landscape in Republican and Augustan Rome, 27–42. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Nelis, D. 2001. Vergil’s Aeneid and Apollonius’ Argonautica, 73–5. Leeds: Francis Cairns.

Reed, J.D. 2007. Vergil’s Gaze, 175–6. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Discusses Aeneas’ “characteristically incomplete vision” in 1.180–189.

Sider, Aaron M. 2013. Memory in Vergil’s Aeneid, 78–80. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Discusses the O socii speech with relation to Roman ideas about cultural memory.

Staley, G.A. 1990. “Aeneas’ first act: 1.180–194.” Classical World 84: 25–38. Discusses Aeneas’ shooting of the stags.

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