Turnus is a prince of the Rutulian tribe and the leader of the Latin forces who oppose the settlement of the Trojans in Latium. Like Aeneas, he is a physically superior warrior. He is Aeneas's antagonist, his chief enemy, and heroic counterpart.
Turnus's character as antagonist serves a similar purpose in the second half of The Aeneid as did Dido's character in the first half. Turnus's militant fury is the counterpart to Dido's erotic fury. Like Dido, Turnus is an individualist who follows his own will to the point of excess, and he is opposed in spirit to Aeneas who is dutiful and self-sacrificing. Intense pride and a desire for personal fame are Turnus's motivation. When he is aroused by the fury, Allecto, to stage war between the Latins and Trojans, thereby forestalling destiny (the settlement of the Trojans in Latium and Aeneas's marriage to Lavinia), Turnus's character flaws become evident. He is linked with disorder. He has a passion for war, and unlike Aeneas, he has a lust for bloodshed. Turnus "raised the flag of war," and instigates chaos amongst the people, "Then hearts were stirred by fear, then all of Latium / Joined in distracted tumult, and young men / Grew bloody-minded, wild."
Turnus is portrayed as "the rash prince" who lacks control. For example, after gaining entrance to the Trojans's camp, he passionately slaughters his enemies, consumed with his lust for blood. Blinded by his passion and lack of control, Turnus bypasses an opportunity to admit his troops to the Trojan camp and claim a decisive victory. Virgil notes: "And if the thought had come to the champion / To break the gate-bars, to admit his friends, / That would have been the last day of the war, / The last for Trojans. But high rage and mindless / Lust for slaughter drove the passionate man / Against his enemies." Turnus's reckless behavior prevents him from accomplishing what should have been his primary concern, defeat of the Trojans and marriage to Lavinia.
The violence in Book IX enables Virgil to portray the depravity, or corruptness, of Turnus's character. He appears to have no sense of justice or of what is morally acceptable as he flaunts the death of Nisus and Euryalus by marching amongst the people with their heads stuck atop spears.
In Book XII, Turnus's lack of control reaches its climax. Turnus is unable to control his emotional rage. His passion is described as "hot and unquenchable." Virgil compares Turnus's passion for Lavinia to that of Dido for Aeneas in the first half of The Aeneid. The more Turnus craves Lavinia, the more he wants to do battle. It becomes evident that Turnus's lack of emotional control clouds his military judgment. Virgil notes, "He did not know himself. His knees gave way, / His blood ran cold and froze."
Turnus's is the anti-hero, the character who, because of his disreputable behavior, is fated to die. His character behaves in a manner inferior to Aeneas's character. He defames the sanctity of death by stepping on Pallas's body after killing him and he acts dishonorably by removing the swordbelt from the dead man's body. Virgil comments on Turnus's behavior, "The minds of men are ignorant of fate / And of their future lot, unskilled to keep / Due measure when some triumph sets them high. / For Turnus there will come a time / When he would give the world to see again / An untouched Pallas, and will hate this day, / Hate that belt taken." Because Turnus's future has been sealed by fate, he dies as a result of his actions and Aeneas, and civic virtue, triumphs.