For What Purposes Does Virgil Use the Supernatural in Book 3 of the Aeneid? Essay

In book 3 Virgil uses the supernatural influence plays a prominent role in unraveling the plot of the poem. Through this I mean the contributions of the supernatural powers are inevitable as it they direct most of the happenings in the poem. For example, Virgil uses the omen of the blood as the media to inform Aeneas’ character not to found a land in the city of the Thracians.

The first indication of the supernatural in Book 3 is the omen of the blood. As explained earlier, this omen suggests how unsuitable this land is for Aeneas to found his new city. Aeneas says, “Dark gouts of blood dripped from it and stained the earth with gore. The horror of it chilled me to my bone. I trembled and my blood congealed”. The image-conjuring effect of this sight on Aeneas described by Virgil emphasizes how horrible this sight is. Here the blood serves as a warning of the evil and calamitous nature of the land. This supernatural omen makes us aware of Virgil’s dramatic spectacle, as this particular incident would be shocking to both Aeneas and those who listened to this poem being recited.

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Rather than indicating possibilities of the doomed nature of this land, Virgil goes on to use Polydorus’ supernatural speech as a means of confirming it. This is done in the narration of Polydorus’ past experience on the land. Virgil, through this supernatural, gives information about the fall of troy. “He was losing faith in the arms of Troy and saw his city surrounded by besiegers”. Also, in Polydorus’ speech is the theme of hospitality, which is violated as it leads to the death of Polydorus. Virgil goes on to emphasize the importance of obeying the rules of hospitality by his philosophy through the character of Aeneas, “Greed for gold is a curse”. In addition, this omen is able to delineate Aeneas’ pietas as he takes it upon himself to give “Polydorus a second burial”

The third supernatural used in book 3 is the noise of the earthquake. This omen is used to give directions to Aeneas and all the other surviving Trojans in reply to his requests. “Send us a sign”, Aeneas says in desperation, which is followed by an immediate answer from Apollo in the “bellowing”. “Seek out your ancient mother. For that is where the house of Aeneas and his sons’ sons and their sons after them will rule”. The instant nature of the reply from Apollo put Aeneas forward as a very special character due to the fact that it is very irregular to receive such a prompt solution to difficulties and this also informs us of the respect he gains from the gods, which enhance his status.

Furthermore, unlike the previous direct orders from the supernatural, the gods subtly inform Aeneas on the unsuitable nature of Pergamea to be his new founded city with the use of the plague, which symbolizes miasma (pollution). It can be suggested that Virgil intended for this to echo the story of Oedipus to the Roman listeners as a similar plague occurs, which is also sign of evil. “There came a cruel, suppurating plague upon our bodies ….. It was a time of death”. The use of the word suppurating emphasizes the sudden outburst of the plague, which would therefore have been very dramatic to the Roman listeners. Also Virgil points out through Aeneas’ character that it is “his father” who “bade his retrace of his course back to across the sea to Phoebus Apollo”, which presents Aeneas’ slow-wittedness as he is unable to read into the oracles subtle omens.

Another way Virgil uses the supernatural is as a means of comforting Aeneas in his time of sorrow. Here, the Penates (the gods of the household) does this by reminding him of his kindness to them in the past and they also revealing to him that he is destined to “build great walls” for the surviving Trojans, so should therefore “rise with a cheerful heart”. The Penates also provide very direct orders for Aeneas to follow, as he and his father had misinterpreted the previous revelation from Apollo. This re-emphasizes to us, Aeneas limited intellect as once again, he has to be told what so do specifically, compared to all other legends of myth such as Odysseus, who was known for his quick- wittedness and his “way with words”. The desperation to found a city puts forward possibilities that Aeneas has not come to terms with his responsibilities as a leader and the founder of a new home for the Trojans. This is indicated by the fact that Aeneas’s body is “bathed in cold sweat” as portrays fear.

On getting to “the shores of Strophades”, Virgil, through Aeneas presents to us “the deadly Celaeno and the other Harpies”, supernatural characters. “They are birds with the faces of girls, with filth oozing from their bellies, with hooked claws for hands…”

The image- conjuring description that Virgil gives through Aeneas makes evident the horrible and terrifying nature of these creatures and this is reflected in Aeneas reaction as he says that “the blood of his comrades was congealed. “In this dramatic situation, Virgil is able to use the harpy, Celaeno, is able to serve as a means of evil and obstruction in fulfilling his destiny, as she curses him. “You will not be given a city… before a dead famine has come upon you, and the guilt of our blood drives you to gnaw round the edges of your tables”. In the battle between Aeneas’ comrades and the Harpies, Virgil is able to re-assure the listeners of Aeneas’ sense of control and quick-thinking as he “ordered his men to arm themselves to make war”, contrary to the previous perceptions.

In addition, Helenus, though a consultation of Apollo is able to serve as a form of direction and guidance top Aeneas and his comrades. He gives specific instruction to Aeneas on how to get to Italy, informing him of his forth-coming challenges. “You are wrong to imagine that it is a short voyage to Italy’. Helenus also assists Aeneas to avoid horror and any obstructions in fulfilling his destiny. He advises to take the “long course” rather than facing the “hideous Scylla”.

Virgil also presents the function of the supernatural in other characters apart from Aeneas, such as Anchises. By this I mean the occasion where he calls upon the gods to “blow upon us”. His prayers are immediately answered by the gods as a “breeze freshened and a harbour opened before us”. Virgil here uses this supernatural as a solution to their difficulty and a form of reassurance as it signifies that the “gods are still in their favour”. It also enhances the status of Anchises as it presents his character as respectable in the eyes of the gods.

Finally, Virgil is able to use the super natural as a means of reflecting on the legends of the past. Through the supernatural character of Polyphemus, the Cyclopes, Virgil is able to reflect on the story of Ulixes and his encounter, as he is now blind. This thereby serves as comparism to Aeneas skills as a hero and leader in the mind of the listeners. The description of the Cyclopes presents him as a very sympathetic as he is great pain, therby presenting Ulixes as mean and heartless. “He washed away with sea water the blood that was still trickling from his gouged-out eye, grinding his teeth in pain”.

In conclusion, I personally think that the contribution of the supernatural to Aeneas’ achievement in this book is inevitable as without them he would not have been able to have carried out any of his duties. However the dramatic spectacle and shocking nature of these supernatural are able to portray Virgil’s skills as a very good writer.

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