The Aeneid and Interdependence of the Sexes
Verse eighteen of Genesis chapter 1 of the New International Version says, “The LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.'” When God speaks, he recognizes the boundaries of the single man’s abilities by implying that the man needs help. In The Aeneid book II, by Virgil, the city of Troy is besieged by the Greek army, and ultimately falls due to Greek deception. The story is recounted by the character, Aeneas, who, after trying in vain to hold off the Greek army, runs from the city with his family. Using Aeneas, his mother, and Creusa, Aeneas’ wife, Virgil attempts to communicate to the reader how both sexes are each capable and proficient at certain things, and how on their own, they lack competence in certain areas.
However, his message also hints that Troy was a male dominant society at the time. Virgil identifies flaws in the male character in a male dominant society, exposing in its place the strength of the female character. When Aeneas witnesses the sacking of Troy, he runs and meets Helen, who is hiding in a shrine. Aeneas becomes captured in a moment of anger when he realizes that the reason that Troy fell to the Greeks is because she refused to return to Sparta with her husband. Aeneas is about to strike Helen, when he sees, “A vision of my lovely mother, radiant/In the dark night, a goddess manifest,/As tall and fair as when she walks in heaven./She caught me by the hand and stopped me:–‘Son,/What sorrow rouses this relentless anger,/This violence? Do you care for me no longer?/Consider others first, your aged father,/Anchises; is your wife Creusa living?.
.. It is not for you to blame the Spartan woman,/Daughter of Tyndareus, or even Paris./The gods are the ones, the high gods are relentless,/It is they who bring this power down, who topple Troy from the high foundation… Fear not a mother’s counsel.'” Aeneas’ conversation with his dead mother shows the mistakes of the male character through Aeneas’ blind rage, which is only contained by a scolding from his mother.
In this way, Virgil also shows the strengths of the female character. Although his mother is not able to physically compete with him, Aeneas’ mother possesses capability in intelligence and shrewdness which she uses to guide Aeneas to a more productive path. Essentially, Virgil explores the fact that men, though physically capable of accomplishing tasks, can be impulsive, and are not always as astute as women may be. On the other hand, while Virgil identifies vices in men, he also recognizes weakness in women. After Aeneas’ meeting with his mother, he goes to find his father, and passes unharmed through Troy to find him.
Aeneas means to take him, his son, and wife and flee to the hills. At first, his dad refuses to leave, but in the end decides to follow Aeneas. Aeneas says, “Climb to my shoulders, father,/It will be no burden, so we are together,…/Iulus, take my hand; Creusa, follow/A little way behind. Listen, you servants!/You will find, when you leave the city, an old temple…And that’s where we shall meet, one way or another’…Something or other took my senses from me/In that confusion. I turned aside from the path,/I do not know what happened then. Creusa/Was lost; she had missed the road, or halted, weary,/For a brief rest.
I do not know what happened,/She was not seen again; I had not looked back,/Nor even thought about her, till we came/To Ceres’ hallowed home.” Aeneas’ narration illustrates the stereotypical view that men possess greater strength than women. When Creusa is not traveling by Aeneas’ side, and left to fend for herself, she is lost, and never seen again. Using Aeneas’ flight from Troy, Virgil shows how when a woman is not accompanied by a man, she is not strong enough to survive. The view is sexist and favors men, yet is further supported by the rest of Virgil’s words.
The frantic escape from Troy also exhibits evidence that Virgil’s Aeneid is set in a male dominant society. When Aeneas prepares his family to escape Troy, he lifts up his father on his shoulders, takes his son by the hand, but deliberately commands Creusa to follow a little way behind, instead of keeping up with the rest of the family. It is no coincidence that the family traveling with Aeneas is all comprised of men. When Aeneas tells Creusa travel alone, behind the family, she receives unequal treatment. Although it may appear that Creusa is mistreated in only a small manner, Aeneas’ gesture contains bigger implications: Creusa is not the sole person whom Aeneas tells to walk behind him. Aeneas also instructs his servants to walk behind him and meet up with him later.
Aeneas’ two commands place Creusa and his slaves on an equal level, which portrays his own wife as just another one of his servants. The view that Virgil gives Aeneas about women is discriminatory, and places men in the superior place. It is the view that men are superior which makes Aeneas sexist, and hints that he probably lived in a male dominant society. Essentially, Virgil explains through Aeneas’ family how in order for men and women to be capable of all tasks, they will need each other’s help. Aeneas’ meeting with his mother demonstrates the particular shrewdness of women, and careless behavior of men. Aeneas’ escape from Troy shows the sexism of his time, where Virgil depicts women as unable to survive without a man to protect them.
Additionally, women are exhibited as in the ranks of a servant, and inferior to men. Ultimately, Aeneas’ experiences in the Trojan War which illustrate that even the most capable man may need guidance, is supported by the timeless Bible; man was not made to be alone, and was designed to be in need of a helper.