The son of Venus and Anchises and the father of Ascanius, Aeneas is the protagonist of Virgil’s poem, but he is an unusual hero. He is not particularly adept in battle, as Achilles was. He is not particularly resourceful, as Odysseus was. In fact, he is often somewhat clueless. He repeatedly makes mistakes, particularly in the first half of the poem: He founds cities in the wrong places, he misreads oracles, he stumbles and hurts people and fails. He is often pictured not in glory, but in despair: “he suffered profoundly in war to establish a city” (Book 1, line 5).
Perhaps most challengingly of all, particularly to the modern audience, Aeneas does not seem to have much free will. He is defined by his piety (Latin: pietas)—that is, by his subservience to the gods, to (the idea of) the Roman state, and to his family. At every turn, he subordinates his own will to that of the authorities, often hurting others (and himself) in the process.
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However, this trait makes Aeneas a uniquely Roman hero. His obedience to the will of the gods, even when he does not understand their plans, eventually guides him to his destiny in Italy.