By Meghan Reedy

When Aeneas was speaking to his men in 198–207 he was certain that a god would give an end to the troubles they were experiencing, dabit deus his quoque finem (199). Over the course of following passage the idea of ends and limits resurfaces more than once.

In 223, et iam finis erat, we learn that, yes, the ending to this particular trouble, the storm and the mourning for the losses of the storm, has come. Was a god responsible? Yes, we know that the storm’s end was brought about by a deus, Neptune. But note that et iam finis erat begins a sentence introducing Jupiter. Neptune may be a god, but he is not the god, and—upon reflection—he did not give even that episodic ending to the Trojans. He calmed the sea because the winds were encroaching on his territory; and from the Trojans’ perspective there was an end to the storm, and Aeneas and his men had their fill of mourning, but this end wasn’t given to them. And the end to their troubles is still far in the distance, along with their destination, Italy.

Venus then takes up the issue of the Trojans’ ongoing misfortunes with Jupiter, who seems not to have noticed that Aeneas and the Trojans have still not reached Italy. Venus has a lot to say, but sums up her appeal in 241 using the same terms Aeneas used in 199 when she asks: quem das finem, rex magne, laborum?

Jupiter eventually uses these terms too in his reply, but by the time he does, he has shifted them significantly. In 278–9, after telling Venus about Mars and Romulus and Remus and the lupa, and how the Romans came to use that name, he says: his ego nec metas rerum nec tempora pono; imperium sine fine dedi.

To recap, then: Aeneas trusts that a/the god will give a limit to the Trojans’ misfortunes, their heavy burdens (malorum, graviora, 198, 199); Venus asks her father for an end to the Trojans’ toils (laborum, 241); but the only limit Jupiter speaks of is the one he will omit—he will give the Romans sovereignty without limit.

Each character uses the phrase in a way that is consistent with, and so reflective of, their own concerns and point of view. As for Aeneas, the matter of living through shipwreck and facing the hazards of arriving on a foreign coast, and the anticipation of further ocean voyages in a direction not clearly specified, weighs heavily upon him and upon the Trojans. Their perspective is understandably constrained to their human experience.

Venus’ central concern is Aeneas, and with him his Trojans—and she thinks of what they are doing as labor, as work that can be accomplished, perhaps the way Hercules accomplished labores. Once she has addressed her father (flatteringly), her first question to him is quid meus Aeneas in te committere tantum, quid Troes potuere, quibus tot funera passis, cunctus ob Italiam terrarum clauditur orbis? (231–3). She wants to know about her Aeneas; and her question suggests that she sees him (and the Trojans) as important enough, noticeable enough, that they may have done something to Jupiter (in te, 231) that merits an angry response from him. She brings this up from the opposite angle at the end of her speech, when she asks, hic pietatis honos? (253). His pietas is significant to her; she is outraged that this man’s pietas is not being respected as it should.

At this point she makes a brief reference to their destiny as progenitors of the Roman people in 234–6 (to which Jupiter will return). The remainder of her speech to Jupiter is devoted entirely to her concern over Aeneas’ and the Trojans’ current voyage. She lets him know that even though they have already suffered their fated defeat at Troy they are still being treated badly (eadem fortuna viros tot casibus actos insequitur), and here is where she asks her quem das finem… question—which she follows with an example to show that others have been allowed to find their way. She describes at length how Antenor has already beaten difficult odds, founded a city and lives in peace (Antenor potuit …, 242–9).

In closing, she drives home for him just how important the Trojans are to her, his own daughter, by identifying herself with them and their tribulations: nos, tua progenies, … navibus … amissis … prodimur atque Italis longe disiungimur oris (250–2).

Jupiter’s concerns are very different. There are two, and unequally weighted: he is concerned for his daughter, Venus; and he is particularly concerned for the long-range success of the Roman imperium. Aeneas and his band of Trojans are of interest only insofar as they touch on these other two.

His concern for Venus shows at the start of his speech and at the end. The first thing he says is parce metu, Cytherea (257); stop worrying, Venus. And he uses personal pronouns to emphasize her and her concerns, tuorum … tibi … tibi (257, 258, 261). But for the rest his focus is on the one part of Venus’ speech to him that was vague—Jupiter’s promise that they would become the Romans: Certe hinc Romanos olim … pollicitus, quae te, genitor, sententia vertit? (234–7). No, his says, neque me sententia vertit (260); and from this point he is off and running, telling her (fabor, 261) exactly what his/fate’s plans are for the future of the Roman people. As has often been noticed, he devotes not quite two lines to the labores that are Venus’ central concern, bellum ingens geret Italia, populosque feroces contundet (263–4). And it is wholly in keeping with his expansive vision of the whole Roman people’s future that he be interested not in the near term limit of the current generation’s little hardships, but in the limitlessness of what is to come.

Further Reading

Farron, S. 1989. “The Introduction of Characters in the Aeneid.” Acta Classica 32: 107–10.

Feeney, D. 1991. The Gods in Epic: Poets and Critics of the Classical Tradition, 137–42. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Harrison, S.J. 1996. “Aeneid 1.286: Julius Caesar or Augustus?” Proceedings of the Leeds Latin Seminar 8: 127–33.

O’Hara, J.J. 1990. Death and the Optimistic Prophecy in Vergil’s Aeneid, 128–63. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Otis, B. 1964. A Study in Civilized Poetry. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Williams, G.W. 1983. Technique and Ideas in the Aeneid, 138–42. New Haven: Yale University Press.