Aeneas in the Iliad:
The One Just Man

Bruce Louden

University of Texas, El Paso

Why does Poseidon, a Greek-partisan god, save Trojan Aeneas at the climax of his duel with Akhilleus (Iliad 20.291-340)?  Commentators often turn to the conjecture that 8th century aristocrats, claiming descent from Aeneas, account for his prominence, but P. M. Smith persuasively argues against this.  Nagy (1979: 265-75) conjectures that the episode is a confrontation between separate epic traditions of Aeneas and Achilleus, though we lack early evidence for a separate epic tradition for Aeneas.  A more persuasive explanation can be found by recognizing that Aeneas is a traditional figure with parallels outside of the Iliad

Though Greek warriors will sack the city, the Iliad, in the way of ancient myth, figures the destruction of Troy as an apocalypse (4.160-68, 13.622-25, 16.384-92, 21.522-24), a people who have committed offences, destroyed by wrathful gods.  Most apocalyptic myths feature a man who survives the destruction because the gods reward him for his piety.  Utnapishtim thus survives the deluge in Gilgamesh, Baucis and Philemon escape theirs, as Lot survives the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.  It is this traditional kind of figure, which Vergil will develop at length, in which the Iliad already casts Aeneas. 

Poseidon's reasons for saving Aeneas corroborate such a view.  He declares that Aeneas is éna€tiow (20.297), "guiltless," which Edwards (1991: 325) takes as a reference to Laomedon's having cheated Poseidon and Apollo.  Aeneas' descent is from Assarakos (20.215-40), whereas Laomedon, and therefore Priam and his children, are descended from Ilos.  As Poseidon implies, Aeneas is thus not tainted by the inherited guilt which affects most Trojans.  Declaring that Aeneas is fated to survive (20.302), Poseidon gives as an additional reason for saving him Zeus' wish to continue Dardanos' line (20.303-5).  Dardanos is Zeus' own son.  Aeneas is thus descended from a line Zeus favors more than Hektor's, much as Yahweh safeguards the line of Jacob in Old Testament myth. Apollodorus relates that the Greeks, when sacking Troy, spare Aeneas on account of his piety (Epitome V.21: diå tØn eÈs°beian).  These details, as well as other traits, confirm Aeneas' status as a "one just man."


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