Fate, Flight, and Falsehood: A Note on Aeneas

Servius, Commentary on Vergil’s Aeneid (1.2)

“The phrase ‘by fate’ (fato profugus) pertains both to the fact that Aeneas is fleeing, and to the fact that he comes to Italy. Vergil was right to add ‘by fate,’ lest Aeneas seem to have deserted his fatherland on account either of some crime, or of desire for a new country to command. The word ‘fugitive’ (profugus) is properly used of one who wanders from his own land, as if driven far away. Many, however, define ‘fugitives’ as those who wander from their own land after being driven away by necessity; as soon as they have found new lands, they are no longer called ‘fugitives,’ but ‘exiles.’ But both of these are false. For the word ‘fugitive’ has even been read of one who has established himself in a new country, as in Lucan’s ‘Fugitives from the ancient race of the Gauls, the Celts mixing their name with the Iberians.’ And the term ‘exile’ is used even of one who is still wandering, as in Sallust’s ‘those who wander in no certain exile.’ To be sure, Vergil does not just idly call Aeneas ‘fato profugus’- he derives this from the learning of the Etruscans. Indeed, there is a book about the letter of Etruscan law written in the speech of Tages, in which is written ‘he who descends from perjurers should be banished by fate, and should be a fugitive (profugus)’. Further, Aeneas derives his lineage from the perjurer Laomedon, and indeed says in another passage ‘long ago we paid with our blood for the perjury of Laomedon’s Troy.'”

fato profugus ‘fato’ ad utrumque pertinet, et quod fugit, et quod ad Italiam venit. et bene addidit ‘fato’, ne videatur aut causa criminis patriam deseruisse, aut novi imperii cupiditate. profugus autem proprie dicitur qui procul a sedibus suis vagatur, quasi porro fugatus. multi tamen ita definiunt, ut profugos eos dicant qui exclusi necessitate de suis sedibus adhuc vagantur, et simul atque invenerint sedes, non dicantur profugi, sed exules. sed utrumque falsum est. nam et profugus lectus est qui iam sedes locavit, ut in Lucano “profugique a gente vetusta Gallorum Celtae miscentes nomen Hiberis” (4.9), et exul qui adhuc vagatur, ut in Sallustio “qui nullo certo exilio vagabantur” : adeo exilium est ipsa vagatio. quidam hic ‘profugus’ participium volunt. sane non otiose fato profugum dicit Aeneam, verum ex disciplina Etruscorum. est enim in libro qui inscribitur litterae iuris Etruriae scriptum vocibus Tagae, “eum qui genus a periuris duceret, fato extorrem et profugum esse debere” . porro a Laomedonte periuro genus ducit Aeneas, siquidem alibi ait “satis iam pridem sanguine nostro Laomedonteae luimus periuria Troiae” .

One thought on “Fate, Flight, and Falsehood: A Note on Aeneas

  1. Pingback: On Intention (part 2) | Thily Fin

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