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The Aeneid

The Aeneid

by Virgil

Fate and Free Will Quotes

How we cite our quotes:

Quote #7

(Juno):
"It will not be permitted me--so be it--
To keep the man from rule in Italy;
By changeless fate Lavinia waits, his bride.
And yet to drag it out, to pile delay
Upon delay in these great matters--that
I can do: to destroy both countries' people,
That I can do." (7.427-433)

Compare this quotation with the first one for this theme. Notice any connection? That's right: if there's anything Juno can't stop talking about, it's how, even though Fate says the Trojans are going to found an awesome empire, she's determined to make things difficult for them.

Quote #8

Knowing nothing of the events themselves,
He felt joy in their pictures, taking up
Upon his shoulder all the destined acts
And fame of his descendants. (8.989-992)

These lines illustrate Aeneas's reaction after receiving the armor made for him by the god Vulcan. (In case you don't remember, the shield is decorated with many scenes from future Roman history.) Do you think the fact that the future is already, in some sense, written (OK, engraved) means that Aeneas acts without free will? Or is it more complicated than that? Does the fact that Aeneas knows "nothing of the events themselves" change anything?

Quote #9

(Jupiter):
"If a reprieve is asked
From imminent death, more time for the young man
Before he falls – if so you understand me
Take Turnus off in flight, wrest him away
From fate that stands before him. There is room
For that much lenience. If some greater favor
Lies hid in your mind beneath your prayer,
If you imagine the whole war affected,
Changed by this, you cherish a vain hope." (10.872-880)

These lines echo a concept of Fate that recurs many times in the Aeneid: even though the general pattern is determined in advance, there is some leeway in how things actually play out. What makes Jupiter's words a bit different is that they come from the horse's mouth; from this speech, Jupiter sounds like the guy who enforces the rule of Fate, and gives permission for small divergences from the overall plan. We say "enforces" because Jupiter isn't the one who decides what's fated; that job falls to the three goddesses known as the Parcae, who spin out fate like a thread, as the beginning of the poem tells us: "so the Parcae spun" (1.35). Virgil's original audience would have been familiar enough with Homer to hear this line as a contrast with the beginning of the Iliad, which attributes the entire story to "the will of Zeus." Zeus, of course, is the Greek version of Jupiter. What do you make of Homer and Virgil's different perspectives on fate and the king of the gods?

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