Aeneid Book 6: More Optimistic than pessimistic?


Typed under timed conditions (30 minutes)

Using this passage as a starting point, discuss whether Book 6 of the Aeneid is more optimistic than pessimistic. (25)

Dido’s silence defo pessimistic…and there is further pessimism, where Aeneas himself becomes pessimistic at escaping the underworld and needs to be reminded by multiple people to leave. Such as one of his comrades…and his father

In this passage, there is undoubtedly much more pessimism than optimism. This is due to Dido’s silence and the way that she is deeply bitter and hateful of Aeneas, described as a “burning spirit” in her hatred of him. This creates pessimism as the reader knows there is no hope between this once perfect couple. This kind of pessimism can even be found in Aeneas himself in this Book. This is because he doubts he can escape the underworld and is often filled with a sense of dread because of it. Again, the reader starts to suspect that Aeneas will not be able to meet his fate, thus creating more pessimism. For example, his comrades and even his father have to remind him that he has a destiny to fill, giving him a pep talk to rouse his spirits again.

Aeneas, in the passage, is very sad and grieving. He pitied Dido with his “tears”, deeply grieving for his decision to leave her and viewing his fate much more bitterly. However, fate isn’t always portrayed as bitterly, for the future parade of Roman heroes is full of optimism and patriotism at the future glory of Rome. The centrepiece of the parade is undoubtedly Augustus, side by side with Romulus, thus a great optimistic juxtaposition of the founder of Rome, and the emperor to re-found Rome with newfound morality and peace. There is optimisim for the Roman reader, who looks with pride upon his empire. However, even this parade ends on a sad note, with the reference to Marcellus, who was meant to be an heir to Augustus, but at 19, tragically died. Thus, whilst this section is definitely more optimistic overall, it ends on a pessimistic note at those who come short of becoming the leading figure of Rome.

Arguably, optimism and pessimism varies depending on the location within the underworld in book 6. For example, there is great pessimism in the early limbo scenes. Both Aeneas and his men are fearful of the wailing spirits, and the strange noises amongst the woods. There is pessimism and speculation at what might get them. However, elsewhere in Book 6, there is great optimism in the fields of Elysium, where Aeneas even meets his father. This joyful reunion is definitely optimistic, and acts a key scene of relief from a period of pessimism and despair of the underworld.

Anchises prophecy and instruction to Aeneas can be seen optimistic and fateful of the founding of Rome. He gives specific instructions to Aeneas, in locating and finding the founding site of Rome. This is very optimistic as it looks forward to the glorious Roman empire as the Roman audience reading the Aeneid would find it. His words help to create a sense of optimism in the inevitability of Aeneas’ realisation of his fate. As a result of Book 6, Aeneas finally realises that he is truly destined to found Rome, with divine beckoning.

Aeneas is filled with a similar sense of pessimism in this passage, when he worries about not giving Palinurus a proper burial. He fears the wrath of Palinurus, after the wrath of Dido despite his supplicating words in this passage. Although, in response, Palinurus actually commends Aeneas’ piety and for at least building him a grave, even if his body was not recovered. Again, this helps to boost Aeneas’ optimism in this book, as he is now reassured and even encouraged by his comrade to move on to a much better fate than his. DEIPHOBUS

The philosophising of Anchises can be seen as optimistic. This is because he speaks of how the best souls who have been pious and heroic throughout their lives, can enter Elysium and live happily and freely. This is optimistic as it seems to suggests that Aeneas may too reach this place, if he achieves his fate. However, there is also a pessimistic tone because he highlights the repetitive cycle of life of those who do not meet the standards and thus are reborn on earth to suffer to further learn from their past mistakes. This creates a pessimistic atmosphere which lingers over Aeneas’ fate and acts as a threat and reminder to Aeneas’ piety.  Thus the philosophy here is both optimistic and pessimistic.

Overall, Book 6 is mostly optimistic, with the pivotal scenes of the future parade of roman heroes, as well as Aeneas realising and strengthening his fateful resolve. However, there are elements of pessimism that allow for contrasting of emotions, in the tragedy of Marcellus and in Dido’s tragedy.

Could have had:


  • Aeneas urges on his men, yet he is still gloomily turning over thoughts over trying to find golden bough
  • Aeneas worried at Deiphobus- not finding his body: showing piety and anxiety for comrades pg 129
  • Sybil predicts new threat is that of Turnus (not directly mentioned) and a new war and conquest. Juno too involved. Ref to Simois and Xanthus, Thybris flowing with blood pg 117


  • Deiphobus gives some emotional respite with Helen story and his murder: but also gives Aeneas kick up the arse he needed- telling him to enjoy a better fate than him
  • Of the land of joy; greaT heroes reclining in peace with swords planted in ground; Because it also looks forward to Augustus’ peace?
  • Sybil predicts that peril journeying at sea has ended,
  • Aeneas’ promises to Apollo pg 117: Building temple to Apollo on Palatine hill 28BC
    • Also existing religiosity such as festival days for Apollo. Ludi Apollinares: began 2nd Punic War
    • Augustus moves Sybelline books and priests to new temple of Apollo on Palatine



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