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A-Hunting We Will Go…Or No? Hunting and Warfare in the Aeneid

Mary Clare Young

Christendom College

In this paper, I argue that Vergil presents an increasingly negative picture of the Trojan use of violence in the Aeneid, using the metaphor of hunting. By linking his descriptions of hunts together into a cohesive narrative thread, Vergil illustrates a deterioration in the Trojans’ use of violence through martial undertones in each hunt and connections between the hunts and subsequent war and destruction.

In order to present models of proper violence on which bases the hunts will be judged, I first discuss Anchises’ famous exhortation in Book VI and Hercules’ fight with Cacus, narrated in Book VIII. Both set the standard for the use of violence: in using violence, Aeneas, the Trojans, and the Romans must always defeat the proud, spare the submissive, and keep peace at the center. Then, I closely analyze each hunt in the Aeneid, beginning with the hunts of Books III and I, which occur after the Trojans land in the Strophades and Carthage, respectively. In Book III, both the hunt and the following scene where Aeneas and his men battle the Harpies abound in martial language, which paints each scene as a war, and Aeneas’ deer hunt in Book I also contains martial language depicting it as war; furthermore, each hunt points to subsequent destruction. Though both hunts are justifiable, the Trojans act with inordinate violence and fail to meet the standards of Anchises’ exhortation.  

These patterns are also found in the Trojan-Carthaginian hunt of Book IV and Ascanius’ hunt of Book VII.  As with the hunts of Books III and I, Vergil describes these hunts in martial language, uses verbal cues to connect all four hunts together, and links the hunts to subsequent destruction and war. These hunts further depart from Anchises’ standard, and they serve more selfish purposes. Especially problematic are Ascanius’ budding tendencies towards the wrongful use of violence.

At the conclusion of the paper, I examine the similes in Book XII where Turnus is likened to a hunted lion and a hunted deer. Though the connection between Hercules and Cacus and Aeneas and Turnus, respectively, may depict Aeneas’ killing of Turnus in a positive light, as Galinsky argues, I explain how the link between Turnus and Cacus is more of a contrast than a parallel. By the end of the poem, Turnus resembles more the “subiectus,” the submissive one whom Aeneas, per Anchises’ mandate, must spare. In addition, I discuss how base comparisons in the similes point to the moral baseness of Aeneas’ killing of Turnus, and how this act fails to meet Anchises’ exhortation to spare the submissive and keep peace in the end.

When these hunts are viewed collectively, there appears to be a plausible connection between the hunts and subsequent war or ruin, as well as the Trojans’ worsening tendency to inordinate and wrongful violence, a sobering tale that Vergil may have intended as a warning for Rome.

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Eta Sigma Phi

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