After long battle, Turnus realizes that he has been vanquished by the more-powerful Aeneas. He lowers his eyes in defeat and begs Aeneas to save his life, or at least send his dead body to his family. Says Turnus, "I stretch my hands to you, so the men of Latium have seen me in defeat. Lavinia is your bride." That is, the land of Italy is now Rome. And then he continues: "Go no further down the road of hatred."
|Luca Giordano, Enea vince Turno|
Aeneas pauses for a moment, swayed by his natural desire to be compassionate. But at that moment, he looks down at Turnus's body and sees his dead friend's sword-belt. He calls it a "keepsake of his own savage grief." All of Aeneas's sense of reason and duty fly out of him as passionate anger takes over. Aeneas, "flaring up in fury, terrible in his rage," plunges his sword into the body of Turnis below him. "Turnus' limbs went limp in the chill of death. His life breath fled with a groan of outrage down to the shades below."
So ends the Aeneid.
(All quotes in today's post are from the the Fagles translation.)
In my last post, Aeneas leaves Dido in Carthage, despite his love for her and her pleas for him to stay with her. It is only by abandoning his passions in the name of duty and self-control. But here at the end of the epic, in its very final sentences, Aeneas gives in to his passionate rage and kills Turnus.
Instead of some wrapped-up Disney movie ending, we get the kind that sends us to the cafe for long conversations about what it all means.
In general, Virgil's epic glorifies the war, despite his acknowledgment that war always requires sacrifice. Although it is possible that a cool-headed Aeneas might have decided that the risk of letting Turnus remain alive might have been too great a threat to Rome. But Aeneas is not at all cool headed in this moment of slaughter. And at least if we are to believe him, Turnus accepts that he has lost and is ready to accept his defeat completely in his desire to create peace. Aeneas cannot accept this move. Losing the people he loves--certainly Turnus and perhaps Dido as well--causes such deep sorrow for Aeneas that he can no longer respond with compassion and humanity.
When he rejects the voice of passionate love, Aeneas causes the death of his beloved Dido.
When he listens to the voice of passionate anger, Aeneas causes the death of not only Turnus but he cuts off all chance of true peace.
Out of Aeneas's uncontrolled rage comes Empire. Is Empire ever created in any other way?