Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Whether Aeneas should have killed Turnus

Whether Aeneas should have killed Turnus.

          “Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death and judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.” Addressing Frodo Baggins’ wish that the creature Gollum had been put to death, these lines were spoken by the wise wizard Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings. Gandalf cautioned Frodo against assuming he possessed the wisdom to determine life or death, and the wizard’s words are relevant to a situation at the end in Virgil’s Aeneid. In the Roman epic, the Trojan Aeneas was fighting his arch-rival, Turnus, a man as dangerous as a bear, in single combat, to determine the outcome of a bloody war between Italians and the Trojans. Aeneas, after some delay, finally disarmed and wounded Turnus, who yielded victory to Aeneas. Aeneas contemplated sparing Turnus’ life, but ultimately decided to kill him after recognizing the belt of Pallas, one of Aeneas’ allies, and victim of one of Turnus’ combats.

     While it is widely accepted that both Aeneas and Turnus agreed to fight to the death, only some believe that Aeneas should have killed Turnus, whereas others believe the Aeneas should not have killed Turnus. Yet, Aeneas should have killed Turnus for three reasons: Aeneas killed Turnus in battle, Turnus slew many in the war, and Ascanius needed a future in Rome.

     The first reason why Aeneas should have killed Turnus was that Aeneas killed Turnus in battle. First, Aeneas and Turnus met on the field of battle, acting not as individuals, but as representatives of their respective peoples. Thus, the conflict was not merely personal, but also carried an impersonal aspect of embodying warring nations, which precluded Turnus’ death from being considered murder. Second, Turnus was also the aggressor in the war and commander-in-chief of the forces who attacked the Trojans, whereas Aeneas was the defender in war and the recipient of the attackers who assailed the camp,  thereby making Aeneas’ action self-defense. Third, Turnus’ death brought a swift end to a costly war, making it also expedient to kill Turnus.

     The second reason why Aeneas should have killed Turnus was that Turnus slew many in war. In the first place, being driven by his lust for war and destruction, Turnus killed a great many Trojans and their allies in his quest to destroy Aeneas. Unless stopped, Turnus might have killed more men repeatedly, and Aeneas might have fought him continually. In the second place, Turnus was also a friend and ally of Mezentius, a ruler as revolting as a rancid raisins. A prince such as Turnus who protects and tolerates the tyrannical oppressor of the Tuscans threatens the greater stability of the region. Finally, The point is only further strengthened by the fact that Turnus’ actions brought about much disorder to the region on account of his war with Turnus, and endangered the lives of not only the soldiers who fought with him, but the women and children of the Latins, who were drawn into the conflict.

     The third reason why Aeneas should have killed Turnus was because Ascanius needed a future in Rome. The future Rome granted to Aeneas and the the Trojans required a unified Trojan and Latin people that was not likely to be possible unless Turnus were dead. Just as anything with two heads must be a monster, so would the Latin people be with both Turnus and Aeneas vying for leadership. Secondly, Turnus’ death prevents him from siring sons who could continue to serve as a counter-weight to Aeneas and his family down through the centuries. Finally, Rome is Ascanius’ inheritance, not Turnus’, and so if only for the sake of granting quieter days to his son should Aeneas have killed Turnus.

     Yet, as Gandalf reminded the furry-footed Frodo, even the wisest of men may err in judging matters of life and death. Some do contend that Aeneas should not have killed Turnus because it was dishonorable, and because it was unpopular. Some consider it dishonorable because it is an act of revenge for the slain Pallas, because it made Aeneas no different than Turnus, and because Venus had previously warned Aeneas to rule his rage. Yet this counter-argument is not relevant since these actions happened in a time of war between two combatants fighting a previously agreed upon fight to the death.

     The second reason some give as to why Aeneas should not have killed Turnus is that it was an unpopular action with many influential people and groups. Firstly, the Latin people greatly admired Turnus and followed him into battle against the Trojans, and the Latin queen, Amata, also greatly loved him. Secondly, Turnus’ sister, Juturna, was very upset with her brother’s pending death that she attempted to intervene and delay Aeneas’ victory. As a nymph, Juturnal wielded supernatural power and could have become a great nuisance to Aeneas. Thirdly, Juno, a goddess as spiteful as Iago, favored Turnus and, as goddess of the home, desired Lavinia to wed him, not Aeneas. However, these reasons are insufficient because the Latins and the gods were fickle and inconstant.

     While some say that Aeneas should not have killed Turnus because it was dishonorable and unpopular, these reasons are not adequate because Aeneas killed Turnus in a time of war, and because popularity with fickle people is not a good basis for making decisions.

     In conclusion, Aeneas should have killed Turnus because Aeneas killed Turnus in battle, Turnus slew many in the war, and Ascanius needed a future in Rome. This issue matters to Romulus, the founder of Rome. If not for the death of Turnus, there may not have been a Trojan-Latin people from which Romulus could spring and found Rome.

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