The Aeneid: Metaphor Analysis
Imagery of Walls and Fire
Certain images recur again and again in the Aeneid, underlining the themes of the work. Aeneas seeks "walls"-"Give walls to the weary and family and an abiding city" (Book 3, lines 85-86), he prays, hoping to rebuild Troy and carry on the worship associated with the city. Walls symbolize all the peace and security and continuity that allow human beings to live well. Then there are the forces that destroy walls, above all expressed in the ever-recurring images of fire. Troy is engulfed in flames. The passion that is described again and again as burning in Dido will lead to the destructive force of Carthage, which almost destroyed Rome. Fire sparks from Turnus, as he resists the peace that will allow Aeneas finally to build his walls. Fire is everywhere associated with furor, which can be translated as madness, rage, or frenzy, and Jupiter promises Venus in Book 1 that the time will come when wars will cease, when Rome will rule a world at peace, when the gates of war will be closed, and within them Furor will be bound forever. But in the world Virgil paints, furor repeatedly breaks out, and Juno and the Fury Allecto, whom she calls up from the Underworld, are images of furor as much as fire is, embodiments of all that fights against destiny and the peace that is destined to come.
The other most striking images in the poem are the epic similes, comparisons in which the vehicle (the metaphoric word to which the subject is compared) is so fully developed that it almost takes on a life of its own. Some of the epic similes compare men in battle to animals, as Homer does in the Iliad, but with much more emphasis on ferocity and savagery. Two of the best known similes, however, are very different from anything in Homer.
The first occurs in Book 1, and describes Neptune as he calms the sea and orders the winds back to their cave, thwarting Juno's desire to destroy Aeneas and his fleet. This is a rough paraphrase: Just as often when the common people are stirred up to rebellion and furor arms them with stones, and then if they see a man worthy of veneration for his pietas and his service to the state, they are silent and give him their whole attention, and he is able to bring them to order and soften their rage, so the sea subsided, after Father Neptune rode by (Book 1, lines 148-156). It is a completely Roman image, and it embodies the Roman vision that the right kind of leader can master the power of furor, as Virgil hoped Augustus would be able to, as Aeneas, according to some readers, is able to in the end.
The second example is given as the fourth in the "top ten quotations"-here is the translation again for ease of reference: With such words [Dido] prays, with such lamentations
the most wretched sister speaks and speaks again [to Aeneas]. But he is not
with any lamentations, nor does he hear any voices gently;
the fates oppose [it], the god stops the man's kind ears.
And just as when an oak [is] mighty with ancient strength,
[and] the Alpine north winds with their blasts, now from this side, now from that,
strive against each other to uproot it, and high
branches strew the ground from the shaken trunk,
[the tree] itself clings to the crags, and as high as it reaches with its top to the
high in the air, so deep it reaches with its root into the Underworld;
not otherwise the hero is assailed by voices from this place and that,
and in his great breast he feels grief;
[yet] the mind remains unmoved; the tears fall useless.
(Book 4, lines 437-449)
Here the hero Aeneas again plays a very Roman role, able to withstand grief in himself and others when his destiny demands it. Also, the tree, with its roots reaching deep into the Underworld, seems to foreshadow Aeneas's descent into the Underworld, where he will gain the strength to withstand the storm of war, as he here withstands the storm of passion.