Significance of the Aeneas – Turnus Conflict

The conflict between Aeneas, the Trojan hero and leader and Turnus, the Rutulian Prince and the leader of all Italian forces against the invaders is given towards the conclusion of the epic. It is, therefore, very much significant in the total scheme of the epic. The Aeneid is not a personal epic about Aeneas but a national epic, a glorification and exaltation of Rome and the destiny of the Roman people. The poem is concerned with the part Aeneas played in founding the Roman state. The purpose of Virgil in writing the epic has been achieved in its conclusion where the conflict between the two nation has been over and peace has been established.

Moved with pity at the death of hundreds of the innocent Trojans and the Latins, Aeneas proposes to the Latin embassy led by Drances to end the war by a single combat between him and Turnus. He points out to them that he and his people have no real quarrel with the Latins and so he suggests that his difference with Turnus might be settled by a duel between them. The ambassadors are deeply impressed by the wisdom of these remarks and return to their city. Thus Aeneas has scored a significant phase for victory in the war over his rival Turnus. Aeneas has been able to project his benign personality into the minds of the Latin people who were tired of war.

In the Latin Council Aeneas’ proposal had the desired result. A sharp division of opinion over the continuation of the war was immediately found. The old King Latinus emerges from his retirement and calls an assembly of the people. He proposes that peace be made with Aeneas and that a tract of land he granted to the Trojans. Under the leadership of Drances, the supporters of peace movement argue in the assembly. Turnus being cornered in the assembly violently criticizes Drances and his other opponents for cowardice and like a true hero offers to engage Aeneas in personal combat if this will settle their dispute.

The Latins were again defeated by the Trojans in the battle. Recognizing the dangerous situation in which the Latins now are, Turnus declares that the husband of Lavinia will be selected in a combat between himself and Aeneas. The proposal was agreed upon by both sides and the two armies met in the field. Latinus and Aeneas met in the field to arrange the terms of the duel. Their treaty is solemnized by oaths and sacrifices to the Gods. But it was not the wish of Juno that Turnus should be killed in the battle. So, she appointed Juturna, his sister to protect her brother in the battle. Juturna plays upon the sympathies of the Rutulian people and finally incites one of them to break the truce by casting a spear into the Trojan’s Ronk. Immediately violent fighting breaks out despite the efforts of the commanders and the battle continues in great fury.

Aeneas was shocked at the fresh violation of the peace plan. However, he joined with his soldiers to defend his men from the Latin attackers most unwillingly. Again, there was an attempt from both sides to halt the war and to decide the issue by a single duel. This time Jupiter forbids Juno to interfere any further. The will of destiny is supreme and cannot be interfered with. Juno grudgingly agrees but demands that the combined peoples of Latinas and Aeneas abandon the hated name of “Trojan” and that the ancient customs and rituals of Troy not be permitted to flourish in Italy. In these wars of Juno, the future of Rome and her people was reflected.

As decided, the duel starts and the Trojan hero Aeneas was decidedly the better of the two. Turnus hurls a huge stone at Aeneas and misses the target. Then Aeneas cast his spear and wounds the Latin hero. As he falls to the ground, all his soldiers and even the surrounding countryside groan in pity.  Turnus like a true hero excepts his defeat and the imminent death proudly and without complaint. But he requests Aeneas to give him a decent burial. The noble hero Aeneas is sympathetic to the last request of the fallen hero and is tempted to spare his enemy. But noticing the sword-belt of Pallas, his dear friend, he remembers his promise to Evander, Aeneas becomes enraged and kills him with his own sword.

The conflict between Aeneas and Turnus is very significant as it supplies the human reason for the ultimate victory. The poet has sought to justify them from the human standpoint because so long the Trojans had divine sanction and approval. This is done by his portrayal of the behavior of the two heroes, Aeneas and Turnus, during the crisis when the truce has been broken because of the hurling of a spear by a Latin. Aeneas tries to prevent the battle from breaking out again feeling that more fighting and bloodshed, would be useless. Turnus, on the other hand, takes advantage of the confusion, leaps into the hottest part of the battle and begins killing with all his energy. After this scene, there can be no more doubt about the morality of either side. Heaven and Earth joined to approve of Aeneas. There is no conflict for elegance between a leader who desires peace and justice and a leader who is blinded to all human values by a pathological hatred of his enemy.

At the very end of the epic, Virgil has glorified Rome’s destiny and martial progress by the defeat of Turnus in the duel. The victory of Aeneas symbolizes the victory of Rome over all his enemies.   


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