Roman Civilizations: the Death of Turnus

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John Johnson
April 30, 2012
Roman Civilizations
Paper 3

The Death of Turnus

What is the correct way to approach a friend’s dishonored death in Roman society? To avenge or to forgive? The great warrior Aeneas was presented with this problem in the final lines of the Aeneid, and ultimately killed an evil enemy. Throughout the epic he displays virtues of courage, strength and piety. He is the hero who is destined by the gods to save and lead his people to settle in a new land. His final act of slaying his enemy Turnus is a controversial scene, which has provoked some debate over the necessity and morality of such a deed.

Virgil introduces his epic with the phrase “of arms and a man I sing.” This opening line suggests the general foundation for the story- which is that surrounding Aeneas, the main character, and the many wars that he would rage throughout its telling. As a result of those wars many men died, especially comrades of Aeneas, but the encounter between Aeneas and Turnus is particularly worthy of discussion. In spite of the large scale battle that was going on amidst them, the 2 warriors engaged in a one-on-one battle until Turnus realized he was doomed to be conquered by Aeneas and begged to be spared for the sake of his grieving father. While Aeneas paused to consider his plea, he quickly withdrew this thought and thrust his spear into Turnus’ chest upon seeing him boasting the sword-belt of his fallen comrade like a trophy. The mere fact that Turnus begged for mercy in the face of death does not deem Aeneas’ act a bad one. He was in the midst of a large-scale battle that he passionately promoted, was wounded and was helpless to Aeneas’ intentions at that point- what other choice did he have than to beg?

The Aeneid as a whole was a tale of battles, war and such struggles in the efforts that would one day lead to the founding of Rome. Fighting and killing were prominent aspects of both the story and the history it is based on....
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