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Aeneas’ exclamation o terque quaterque beati (1.94) is immediately recognizable as an echo of Odysseus’τρὶς μάκαρες Δαναοὶ καὶ τετράκις (Od. 5.306), and this is perhaps why attention to this model has eclipsed an equally, if not in some ways more resonant model for Aeneas’ speech, namely Achilles’ prayer to Zeus when he is about to drown in the Scamander (Il.21.273-83). Though this parallel has long been recognized, it has not received much substantial analysis (Mackie 1988:19 and Highet 1972: 191 both make brief mention of it; Wlosok1967:13-20 offers more detailed insights). This paper will discuss similarities in Achilles’ and Aeneas’ speeches, both in phraseology and in sentiment,and will suggest that the evocation of this passage in which Achilles’ blames his divine mother for “lying” to him about his fate raises relevant related questions in the reader of the Aeneid.

Though Odysseus and Aeneas both wish to have died in battle rather than by ingloriously drowning, Aeneas’ demeanor is very different from that of Odysseus, a fact that bothered ancient critics(D. Servius ad loc.), who observed that Odysseus heroically addressed his musings “to his great-spirited heart” (πρὸς ὃν μεγαλήτορα θυμÏŒν, Od. 5.298), while Aeneas lamely“groaned…extending both hands toward the heavens” (ingemit et duplices tendens ad sidera palmas 1.93). The model for Aeneas’demeanor, as evidenced in both the groan and the posture of prayer, is instead Achilles who, realizing his fatal situation, “groaned, looking up toward the broad sky”(ᾤμωξεν á¼°δá½¼ν εá¼°ς οὐρανὸν εὐρύν, Il. 21.272) and complained to Zeus. This is not just an instance of Achillean moodiness; he is bitterly indignant because the immanence of his death appears as proof to him that the understanding of his fate given to him by his mother must have been a “lie” (ἄλλος δ’ οá½” τις μοι τÏŒσον αá¼´τιος ΟὐρανιÏŽνων,/ á¼€λλá½° φίλη μήτηρ, á¼¥ με ψεύδεσσιν á¼”θελγεν· / á¼¥ μ’ á¼”φατο ΤρÏŽων ὑπὸ τείχεÏŠ θωρηκτάων / λαιψηροá¿–ς á½€λέεσθαι ἈπÏŒλλωνος βελέεσσιν , Il. 21.275-8). Aeneas, too, has been laboring under the promise of a fate that, in view of his seemingly certain death at sea (1.91), must now appear to have been a deception. Though Aeneas does not dole out blame (nor, interestingly, does he ask any god for help, despite assuming the posture of prayer), recognition of the intertext gives the reader reason to wonder whether Aeneas feels at this moment that his goddess-mother is somehow to blame.

As the story progresses we see that Aeneas himself understands his mother’s role somewhat differently than it appears to the reader. He tells the “huntress” he started out with twenty ships, and with his mother “showing the way” (matre dea monstrante viam) he now only has seven left, and is lost in a deserted land, ignotus, egens, etc. (1.381-5). That he is implying that this is a failure on Venus’ part is confirmed by her annoyed response to complaints that we know she considers otherwise justified (she herself just lamented the injustice of his plight to Jupiter, hic pietatis honos? 1.253). After Venus reveals herself Aeneas accuses her of being as crudelis as Pygmalion (this, I argue, is the force of tu quoque, 1.407) in the false hope that she perpetually (totiens) dangles in front of him. The problem of totiens will be treated in a brief reassessment of relevant passages in Aeneas’ narration (2.620, 2.464-7; 2.745; 3.19) which help illustrate Aeneas’ (problematic) understanding of his mother’s role as an (unreliable) guide in his journey and protector of his fata.


  • Mackie, C.J. 1988. The Characterisation of Aeneas. Edinburgh.
  • Highet, G. 1972. The Speeches in Vergil’s Aeneid. Princeton.
  • Wlosok, A. 1967. Die Göttin Venus in Vergils Aeneis. Heidelberg.

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