A/N: This is my undergraduate university Classical Civilisation dissertation. It achieved one mark off a Distinction (alas!). Word cap: 11,000.
"The heart that can no longer love passionately, must with fury hate…" –Jean Baptiste Racine
The story of Turnus is, above all, a story of tragedy. It is a tale of lost futures, shattered hopes, cheated love, madness and passion.
I will begin by revisiting Turnus' background to set his character in context. Appearing in the second half of the Aeneid from Books VII to XII, Turnus, leader of the Rutuli, was the primary suitor of Lavinia, daughter of the Latin king. King Latinus' wife Amata was confident that the young lovers would be joined in marriage as soon as possible, and thoroughly approved of their union. However Aeneas, whose journey we have followed for the last six books, had already been prophesied to several times concerning his own destiny, which involves marrying a foreign bride: Lavinia.
It could be said that from the moment Aeneas lands on the shores of Italy, Turnus becomes the villain of the poem. Or perhaps not villain, but antagonist would be more fitting, as we shall see. Turnus opposes Aeneas, and therefore the creation of Rome, and as a result he must be eradicated. Virgil could easily have made this character no more than he appears – an obstacle and a nuisance – but he doesn't. The aim of this dissertation is to focus on certain aspects of Turnus' character to find out why.
From my studies on the Aeneid over the last few years, I have ibecome increasingly aware of the division of power within the epic, and on which sides the characters typically fall. There are two chief categories which define this division: order/destiny against chaos/passion. It seemed clear to me that while the men of the poem could generally be grouped in the first category and women in the second, there was one major exception to this rule: Turnus.
Turnus is one of the few male characters whose chaotic 'feminine' characteristics appear to far outweigh his orderly 'masculine' ones. Once I became aware of this, the question of why arose. We may be sure that Virgil did not hurry his epic – we know that every line, every phrase was scrutinised to perfection according to his high personal standards. That Turnus exhibits so many female traits can be no coincidence. It is plain that by creating the character in this manner, Virgil was using him to pass on a message. His role is antagonistic, but the humanity Virgil instils in his character ensures that we do not, in fact, see him as merely 'the villain'. His futile struggle against the destiny of Aeneas and the will of Jupiter is reminiscent of Dido, the chief obstacle of Book IV. Both characters lend no practical purpose to the plot; their role is not one of story advancement, but narrative richness and character realism. Through them, Virgil reminds us that the world is not black and white, and that there is no objective right and wrong – only points of view. The reason that Aeneas triumphs is because the gods are determined for his destiny to be fulfilled, not necessarily because his nature is any more 'good' or 'right' than Turnus'.
The aim of this dissertation is to examine the character of Turnus, the connections he shares with the prominent women of the poem, and his alignment with chaos rather than order. I plan to do this in two main sections. The first will examine Turnus in relation to his mortal female counterparts (Amata, Lavinia, Camilla and Dido). The second section will be concerned with the idea of chaos vs. order, and the influence of the Divine in Turnus' last days. In doing so, I hope to discover the reasons why Virgil shaped this character as he did, and how doing so affects the reader's interpretation of the epic.