The Aeneid Motifs Motifs

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The Aeneid

  • Motifs


  • Motifs are recurring structures or events that help to develop the text’s major themes. A knowledge of key motifs is crucial to a developed discussion of The Aeneid.


  • Both prophecy and prediction recur throughout The Aeneid and often help move the plot forward.
  • They take many forms, such as dreams, visits from the dead, signs and omens and direct visits from the gods themselves.
  • These clues about the future propel the characters forward, towards their fate as they try to interpret what is to come.


  • Though the characters do not always understand prophecies or misinterpret them, Virgil’s audience hears the predictions with the advantage of hindsight.
  • As the readers who are aware of Aeneas’ future, we are put in a similar position to the gods, aware of where all the prophecies are leading the characters.


  • In The Aeneid fire symbolises both destruction and desire or love. Often Virgil connects these two concepts – love and destruction together through his imagery of fire.
  • Paris’ desire for Helen ultimately leads to the fires of the siege of Troy.
  • When Dido confesses her love for Aeneas to Anna, she mentions the signs of an old flame returning


  • Dido discusses her previous marriage in terms of a torched flame, however, the new love ignited in Dido’s heart by Cupid, is never regulated.
  • The torch that represents the institution of marriage and controls the power of flames is not present in Dido and Aeneas’ relationships because contrary to what Dido believes, they never marry.


  • The flames that Dido describes and feels do not keep her warm but rather consume her and Virgil highlights what he sees as the destructive nature of love.
  • When Dido chooses to take her own life Virgil describes her as being enflamed and driven mad by her love for Aeneas.
  • In addition to this, fire-based language is used throughout The Aeneid, particularly when describing the fury of Juno, Dido and Turnus.


  • Avenging the death of a loved one, or any wrong, is an important motif in The Aeneid.
  • The biggest example of this is at the end of the pic when Aeneas, having decided to spare Turnus, changes his mind when reminded of the slain Pallas, whose belt Turnus wears as a trophy.
  • It would be considered dishonourable and disloyal to allow Pallas’ death go unpunished.


  • Vengeance is also seen in less noble forms in The Aeneid. Dido’s suicide can be seen as an act of revenge on Aeneas and one of her last acts alive is to curse him.
  • The Harpies act out of vengefulness when they curse the Trojans for having killed their livestock.
  • Similarly, the struggles of the gods against one another are often motivated by spite and revenge.
  • Juno’s aggression towards the Trojans is largely motivated by Paris’ judgement of Venus as the fairest goddess, over Juno. She wreaks revenge upon all the Trojan’s for her own bruised ego.


  • The gods use weather as a force to express their will and temperament.
  • The storm that Juno sends at the start of the book symbolises her rage.
  • Venus, on the other hand, shows her affection for the Trojans by bidding the sea god, Neptune to protect them.
  • In Book IV, Venus and Juno plot to isolate Dido and Aeneas in a cave by sending a storm to disrupt their hunting trip.

Founding a New City

  • The mission to build a new city is an obsession for Aeneas and the Trojans.
  • In book II Aeneas tells the story of Troy’s destruction to Dido, who is herself in the process of founding a new city.
  • In book III Virgil relates several attempts undertaken by the Trojans to lay foundations for a city, all of which are thwarted by plague or omens.
  • Aeneas also frequently uses the image of their future city to inspire his people when spirits are starting to flag.

Essay Question

  • Trace the course of fury and its accompanying fire-based language as used in The Aeneid.
  • Discuss fury in the characters of Juno, Dido and Turnus. What is it’s role in the book? Include an analysis of the fury of Aeneas in the final book.

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