Aeneas is the protagonist, or main character, of the Aeneid
. He is the son of Anchises, a Trojan prince, and Venus, the goddess of love. Virgil portrays Aeneas as a Trojan hero; a warrior who will lead his people to safety, found a new Trojan state, and establish order in his and his countryman's lives. Aeneas is the embodiment of Roman virtues: He is the dutiful servant of fate and of the gods, he is an exemplary leader of his people, and he is a devoted father and son. He demonstrates appropriate pietas
— devotion to one's family, country, and mission. Aeneas's character possesses human qualities as well. He is presented as a flawed mortal man — a man with feelings.
In his role as dutiful servant of fate and of the gods, Aeneas never loses sight of his goal. Aeneas is "a man apart, devoted to his mission, a dedicated man." He tells Dido that he is "duty-bound." Aeneas faces adversity without ever losing faith in the will of fate. For example, his faith is reinforced when he sees the temple Dido built to honor Juno, "Here for the first time he took heart to hope / For safety, and to trust his destiny more / Even in affliction." In Book II, Aeneas and the Trojans perform funeral rites for Polydorus and Aeneas seeks counsel from the gods when the Trojans are leaving a country and when they arrive at a new one. Aeneas receives Apollos's prophecies through other gods. For example, the Penatës, or Trojan hearth gods, tell Aeneas to sail for Italy, the Harpies's leader, Celaeno, speaks about Apollo's instructions to her to tell his future, and Helenus also receives his revelation from Apollo. After hearing the prophecies, Aeneas is determined to fulfill his mission despite obstacles that might hinder his progress.
Throughout Book VI, Virgil reinforces that Aeneas's future is fated despite the hardships he must endure along the way. To enter the underworld, Aeneas must present a golden bough from a tree, which he can do "easily, if you are called by fate." Aeneas breaks a bough from a tree without difficulty. Later in Book X, Aeneas is described as "the God-fearing captain" because his aim with his spear is steady. Because Aeneas is submissive to the gods, he will win in battle and will ultimately reach his goal — to build a city where he and his fellow countrymen can live peaceful, ordered lives.
Aeneas easily fulfills the patriotic role as leader of his people. He provides for his people when they find a safe harbor on the North African coast of Libya by making sure they have food to eat, and he comforts and motivates them by reminding them of their destined homeland. In Book III, Aeneas becomes more comfortable with his role as leader. When he is in Thrace, Aeneas tells, "I plotted out / On that curved shore the walls of a colony — / Though fate opposed it — and I devised the name / Aeneadae for the people, my own." By dividing the land into homesteads, Aeneas attempts to bring order and security to his people. Even though Polydorus advises Aeneas to leave Thrace, he first consults other leaders of the people before making a decision; he does not abuse his power.
Aeneas's people never question his judgment; they consistently acquiesce to his decisions, for example, during the athletic games when Aeneas declares Euryalus the winner of the foot race in spite of Salius being tripped by Nisus. Aeneas gives gifts to all the participants and exhibits his savvy as a leader by saying all the right things at the right time. When the Trojans reach Lavinia, Aeneas continues to act as the good ruler. He sends gifts to Latinus and makes plans for a new orderly city. All he asks Latinus for is "A modest settlement of the gods of home, / A strip of coast that will bring harm to no one, / Air and water, open and free to all." Virgil portrays Aeneas and his people as peaceful.
In Book IX, when Aeneas is away in Pallenteum, his spirit and leadership controls the warriors under his command. Even in his absence, his rule is respected. Aeneas, a brave warrior, never allows his emotions to cloud his sense of duty. He realizes that as leader of his people, he must fight Turnus so he can provide his people with a new city they can call their own.
The role of the good father and son is evident in Aeneas's character. Virgil describes him in Book I as "father Aeneas" and "fond father, as always thoughtful of his son." Aeneas is deeply respectful of his father and is devoted to his son. During the fall of Troy, Aeneas carries his father on his back and holds his son's hand as they make their way to the rendezvous point. In Book III, Aeneas's paternal responsibilities are expanded to include his son, the Trojans in his care, and the future of the Roman race.
Aeneas celebrates the anniversary of his father's death by making sacrifices to the gods and holding athletic games. He maintains a deep respect for his father even after Anchises's death. When Aeneas visits the underworld, the pietas he has for Anchises is evident. His father, returning his love and respect, asks Aeneas, "Have you at last come, has that loyalty / Your father counted on conquered the journey?" Later the notion of pietas is evident in Aeneas's son who assumes responsibility for rousing the warriors. He respects Aeneas's role as leader and makes every attempt to follow through with Aeneas's duties. The love that exists between fathers and sons, the ideal of pietas, is perhaps the most emotional bond portrayed in the Aeneid.
Virgil endows Aeneas with human qualities, portraying him a flawed mortal man. In Book I, he experiences overwhelming grief when he cannot find his wife Creusa during the fall of Troy and he feels discouragement when his fleet is struck by a storm. In Book II, Aeneas is uncertain about the course of action he should take. Later in Book IV, Aeneas is torn between his love for Dido and his need to fulfill his mission.
Throughout the Aeneid, we see Aeneas as a sensitive, compassionate man. He is sympathetic and loving towards his people. Aeneas exhibits deep feelings for humanity.