Symbolism in the Aeneid

Symbolism - Shmoop

  • Created by: Chloe
  • Created on: 29-05-12 15:46


  • In the Aeneid, fire symbolizes unbridled energy, for good or ill. 
  • On a literal, instead of symbolic, level, fire imagery features prominently in the destruction of Troy. 
  • As a symbol, the "fire" in Dido's veins represents her passionate desire and love – which ultimately leads to her destruction. 
  • That said, when Aeneas is "enflamed" by the images of Rome's future shown to him by Anchises in the underworld, this symbolizes his newfound enthusiasm for his mission. 
  • Fire symbolizes both destruction and ****** desire or love. With images of flames, Virgil connects the two. 
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  • Gold in Virgil's poem symbolizes what is special, hidden, and rare.
  •  This can be seen in the golden bough stashed away in the deepest, darkest corner of the forest, which only the designated person (Aeneas) can take to guide him in the underworld. (Though, of course, there's that whole ambiguity over whether it comes off the bough of its own accord, or whether he has to ****** it off.) 
  • Through the motif of the "Golden Age" which faintly persists in the civilization of the Arcadians on the future site of Rome, it increases the sense of the Trojans' homeland as secluded and important. 
  • You can see how significant it is when Virgil tells us that Caesar Augustus is going to bring about a new golden age – he's going to make the rarest and most special thing available to everyone.
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The Golden Bough & The Gates of War

The Golden Bough

According to the Sibyl, the priestess of Apollo, the golden bough is the symbol Aeneas must carry in order to gain access to the underworld. It is unusual for mortals to be allowed to visit the realm of the dead and then return to life. The golden bough is therefore the sign of Aeneas’s special privilege.

The Gates of War

The opening of these gates indicates a declaration of war in a tradition that was still recognized even in Virgil’s own day. That it is Juno rather than a king or even Turnus who opens the gates emphasizes the way immortal beings use mortals to settle scores. The Gates of War thus symbolize the chaos of a world in which divine force, often antagonistic to the health and welfare of mortals, overpowers human will and desire.

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The Trojan Hearth Gods & The Weather

The Trojan Hearth Gods

The hearth gods of Troy, or penates as they are called in Latin, are mentioned repeatedly throughout the epic. They are symbols of locality and ancestry, tribal gods associated specifically with the city of Troy, who reside in the household hearth. Aeneas gathers them up along with his family when he departs from his devastated home, and they symbolize the continuity of Troy as it is transplanted to a new physical location.


The gods use weather as a force to express their will. The storm that Juno sends at the beginning of the epic symbolizes her rage. Venus, on the other hand, shows her affection for the Trojans by bidding the sea god, Neptune, to protect them. In Book IV, Venus and Juno conspire to isolate Dido and Aeneas in a cave by sending a storm to disrupt their hunting trip, symbolizing the rupture of normal social codes as well. Greek and Roman mythology has a tendency to make its symbols literal in this way—to connect the seen (a storm, for example) with the unseen (divine will) causally and dramatically.

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