Turnus, Horses, and Libertas

Patricia A. Johnston

Brandeis University

Libertas occurs only five times in Vergil's works—twice in the first Eclogue (1. 27, 32), where Tityrus explains to Meliboeus why he went to Rome instead of the local town to sell his sheep, and three times in the Aeneid.  In Aen. 6.821 we learn that Lucius Brutus, the first consul, who overthrew Tarquinius Superbus, punished his own children 'in behalf of libertas' (pro libertate) when they tried to instigate new wars; and in Aen. 8.648 the descendants of Aeneas are said to have 'rushed onto the sword pro libertate'.  But the third and last occurrence of this word is in Aen. 11.346, when the Latin Drances, always hostile to Turnus, is addressing Latinus and implies that Turnus represses his fellow-Latins' free speech: det libertatem fandi, 'let him grant freedom to speak.'

If we consider Vergil's use of the adjective liber, however, which Vergil uses almost as sparingly in the Aeneid  and Georgics, we find that it is used often in context of or in reference to Turnus and/or to horses, with which he, like Homer's Hector, tends to be associated, as for example in Aen. 11.493, where Turnus is compared to a horse that has finally been set free.  In this presentation I will examine the philosophical and political implications of these occurrences in Vergil.


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