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The Role of Women in the “Aeneid” by Virgil Essay

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Updated: Feb 6th, 2022


The “Aeneid” is one of the most prominent pieces of literature written by the ancient poet Virgil. The poem depicts a variety of different characters, each with their ambitions and inner struggles. The main hero, Aeneas, is driven out of his home after the destruction of Troy and travels the world in his quest to reach Italy. When discussing the “Aeneid”, the important role women play in the story can be noted. By realizing the role women play in the poem, one can gain an understanding of how the authors of old used supporting characters to shape their stories and protagonists. Women can be used for a variety of purposes in ancient literature: some of them are presented as seers and oracles, warriors and queens, loving wives and mothers.

In Virgil’s poem, however, the most prominent women are mainly introduced to advance the plot and enhance the character of Aeneas. Several female characters are present in the Aeneid that directly impacts Aeneas’s journey. They can influence Aeneas both positively and negatively, some of them helping the man, and others hindering his progress. The more obvious examples of this are Dido, Venus, and Juno. Aeneas’s mother serves as a positive force that tries to help the man on his journey, motivated by her love. Juno acts out of anger and spite, seeking to complicate the hero’s life, and Dido is compelled to advance the story by her affection for Aeneas. This paper will discuss the roles of these three women in the story and describe how they are used to push the narrative forward.


Queen Dido is relatable to the reader and her emotional and psychological struggles are undeniably human. As a character, she represents the values that are opposite of Aeneas’s. While the man is determined and steadfast in his goal to reach Italy, Dido places more emphasis on her desires and happiness. The queen of Carthage accepts Aeneas and his people into her city after their journey through the Mediterranean Sea comes to a halt. Dido grants favor to the man and welcome the wandering trojans by throwing a banquet. A recently widowed woman, she is still grieving the passing of her beloved Sychaeus. Through the orchestrations of Juno and Aeneas’s mother, Venus, the queen forgets about her dead husband and falls madly in love with the hero. They spend a night in a cave together, being unofficially wed there.

The woman puts her needs first, preoccupied with her feelings for Aeneas instead of focusing on expanding her land. Thinking that the man was in love with her, she assumed he would abandon his duty and stay at Carthage. Aeneas’s subsequent departure leaves the queen distraught and ashamed. With the love that clouded her vision gone, she feels remorse for not staying faithful to her late husband. Because of all the emotions, she feels about being abandoned, the woman commits suicide and curses the Trojans to be in eternal conflict with Carthage. Dido’s love is one of the temptations Aeneas has to overcome to reach his destination. The queen is used as a barrier, a challenge between Aeneas and his set goal. Her inclusion provides the story with higher stakes and tension, allowing the reader to feel like the main character has chosen out of his free will.


Venus, the mother of the main character and a goddess, is another female character that significantly influences Aeneas’s journey. While not being one of the main characters, she has an important role during several pivotal points of the poem. Venus safeguards Aeneas from danger and offers him helpful insights in time of need. Being a powerful deity, she uses her influence to help her son overcome various challenges and survive on his way to Italy. When Juno summons a storm on the sea to drown Aeneas and his men, Venus pleads with Neptune to quell the bad weather ensuring the safety of the hero’s crew. She, together with Juno is also responsible for making queen Dido fall in love with Aeneas. The goddess decided to work together to reach their individual goals: “whereby one woman’s trapped by the tricks of two gods” (Virgil, 83). Venus has also appeared before Aeneas and given him advice or led him away from danger. Her care for her son has severely lessened the impact of Juno’s interference on the man’s journey and allowed him to safely arrive at his destination. In regards to the “Aeneid” as a story, Juno’s inclusion is used as a way to resolve conflicts and explain how the hero can escape the more dangerous situations he finds himself in.


The last character that deserves a mention is the goddess of marriage, Juno. The goddess attempts to hinder Aeneas’s journey by presenting various obstacles on his path. Her spite for the Trojans comes from not being chosen as the most beautiful by Paris, and she channels her anger to compromise the well-being of Aeneas and his men. She intervenes with the domain of Neptune to stir up a violent storm on the sea, attempting to break the hero’s ships.

Juno is also involved in setting Aeneas up with queen Dido and inciting Trojan women to burn the ships at their stop in Sicily. The goddess is an agent of discord and utilizes various methods to stall or kill Aeneas. Juno herself realizes the futility of her efforts and the inevitability of the hero reaching Italy, which, however, does not stop her from trying to cause him as much trouble as possible (“The Aeneid. Quotes. Fate”). Her influence on the main character helps him grow stronger through overcoming adversity, shaping his character on the way. For the narrative itself, Juno is used as a source of conflict that allows the author to raise the stakes even when the outcome of the story is pre-determined.


Women fulfill a variety of roles in the story of “Aeneid”. Some of them aid Aeneas on his journey, others only exist to stand between the man and his goal. Venus, the protagonist’s mother, is a source of guidance and help for Aeneas, who is often faced with dangers outside of his control. She is used as a tool to resolve conflicts that are difficult to end otherwise. Dido, on the other hand, works in her interests in trying to convince Aeneas to stay with her. She works for the sake of her happiness and suffers from being deceived and abandoned. The woman is used to characterize Aeneas and make the reader doubt his devotion to his destiny. Lastly, Juno serves as the element of surprise, a person that does not seek to change the outcome but to influence the road to it in a major way. Knowing the limits of her abilities, she recognizes the fate of Aeneas as set in stone, nevertheless attempting to make his life worse. Her influence gives the hero several obstacles to overcome and gives the story its substance.

Works Cited

Virgil. Translated by Anthony Kline, 2002. Web.

SparkNotes. Web.

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