Vergil's Aeneid is the great epic of Roman literature. It was written to celebrate the past glories of the Roman people and to show their direct link with the time of Augustus, whose reign as first emperor of Rome ushered in a new age of glory for the Romans.

Augustus was the name assumed by the Octavian after he received the title of princeps (leader or first citizen) bestowed upon him by the Roman Senate in 27 B.C. Octavian had been the only remaining leader after the defeat and death of Anthony. As Augustus, the first emperor of Rome, was peace at home, although the Romans continued to extend their empire abroad. Augustus wished to raise cultural standards and to revive the old Roman morality which had fallen very low by the time the empire was established. To accomplish his purpose of glorifying Rome and her way of life Augustus used two methods: 1) writers like the poets Vergil and Horace and the historian Livy were encouraged to establish Rome's greatness both past and present. 2) beautification of the city including many new buildings as well as remodeling and embellishment of the old ones. Rome became a city of marble.

The Aeneid is divided into twelve books written in the epic meter for Greek and Latin poetry, dactylic hexameter. The first six books resemble Homer's Odyssey. They tell of the wanderings of Aeneas from the time he leaves Troy until he arrives in Italy. The last six books, with their many accounts of the battles fought by Aeneas and his men to found a home in Latium, resemble the Iliad. Although the Aeneid uses Homer's poems as a model, it is Roman in thought, mood and message.

Note well the epic devices used by Vergil: (Not only for Bk. I; for the for the entire reading of the Aeneid.)

In media res

Invocation to Muses


Epithets: fidus Achates (trusty Achates)

Pius Aeneas (good Aeneas); magnanimus Aeneas (noble Aeneas)

Infelix Dido (unlucky Dido); miserrima Dido ( unhappy Dido)



Divine machinery

Similes: some reminiscent of Apollonius of Rhodes, others of Homer.

Some brief others long.

Notice: How often the word fate, or destiny, or fortune, appears.


Compare: with Homer and Apollonius the following in Vergil:

The Laws of Hospitality

Feasting and banqueting

Entertainment, e.g., the minstrel and his song

Games, e.g., funeral games

Religion: prayer, sacrifices

augury, omen, oracle, auspices, magic


Pathos: lacrimae rerum ( lines 461-462)


Characterization: Aeneas, Dido, Turnus /Aeneid/

Achillles, Andromache, Hector /Iliad/

Jason, Medea /Agonautica/

Element of Love


Note: the link of Rome with Troy

The variety of name for Italy, Trojans, etc.

Book I

The main purpose of the Aeneid is to celebrate the growth under Providence of the Roman Empire and Roman civilization: the mission of its hero, Aeneas, being to carry on a contest in Italy, crushing the resistance of its warlike tribes, giving them customs and building them cities.

Bks. I-VI contain the preparation for this achievement: II, III, V being episodes, while I and IV are, as it were the opening act of the drama, in which Aeneas, the future lawgiver of Italy, is brought into contact with Dido, the queen and founder of Carthage, thus foreshadowing in legendary form the great crisis of the Punic Wars.

Bk. I introduces the subject and the hero, and the supernatural machinery by which, as in Homer, the action of the epic is worked out. The wrath of Juno against Aeneas, like the wrath of Poseidon against Odysseus, brings about the storm which drives Aeneas to Carthage. The friendship of Venus for her son is pitted against the hostility of Juno. In a conference with Jupiter she extracts from him a prediction of the great destinies of Rome; and then sets herself to counteract Juno's designs. Aeneas, landing at Carthage, is received by Dido with hospitality like that of Alcinous (cf. Odyssey VII), and blandishments like those of Calypso: the various details being for the most part suggested by, but happily varied from Homer. The book closes with the commencement of Dido's fatal passion, and her request that Aeneas will tell the story of the fall of Troy and his own subsequent adventures.

N.B. Lines 1-11 Invocation- Summary- Epic Question

12-33 Flashback: cause of Juno's anger

223-253 Venus questions Jupiter about his promise that the imperial race of Rome should come from Aeneas and his descendants.

254-296 The fatum, Jupiter's answer to Venus: history of Rome from Aeneas

335-371 Flashback: Story of Dido, Pygmalion, Sychaeus, Carthage.

372-336 Autobiography of Aeneas. (Cf. Odyssey IX)

441-493 Decoration of the temple of Juno tells the story of Troy

Guide Questions

Book I

1. How does Vergil follow the epic tradition at the beginning of his poem?

2. Why did Juno hate the Trojans? How did she seek revenge?

3. What land do Aeneas and his men reach after the storm at sea?

4. What is the connection with Roman history?

5. Describe the meeting of Venus and Aeneas. Does this scene recall anything in The Odyssey?

6. How does Jupiter's speech to Venus link Rome's past with her present?

7. How does Aeneas feel when he first sees the city of Carthage?

8. Dido says to Aeneas that her fate has been like his. In what ways have their fate been similar?

Book II: Aeneas' "nuit spirituelle" or "dark night of the soul."

During a large portion of book II Aeneas undergoes a spiritual eclipse, a period in which he fails to comprehend the meaning of the reality of Troy's final collapse. The reason for this is that furor possesses him. Cicero described the state of consciousness in which furor is dominant as "a blindness of mind to all things -- mentis as conia caecitatem." The following significant events occur to Aeneas while in this state of mind:

(1) the dream apparition of Hector, urging him to flee

(2) the witnessing of Priams bloody death

Aeneas remains to fight despite clear indications in both incidents that it is the will of the gods that he escape to carry on the Trojan race. The furor that dominates him is here coupled with Homeric notions of duty and honor: Vergil here allows Aeneas to act only with a view to the narrow Homeric concept of the glory of death in battle. Later, after his "nuit spirituelle" Aeneas will accept greater leadership responsibilities and a new sense of honor.

(3) the chance meeting with Helen, on whom he prepares to take revenge, until his mother intervenes.

(4) the vision of his mother, Venus, in which he is clearly informed that the gods, and not merely men, were responsible for troy's downfall here. Venus' apparition points out to Aeneas not only his neglect of his family (the humas branch) but also, because Venus is here very closely associated with the gods, that Aeneas has neglected his duty to the family of the gods.

(5) the portent demanded by Anchises, and confirmed by Jupiter, brings an end to his doubts and a resolution to follow his fates.

By stressing Aeneas' heroism at the expense of his piety, Vergil allows for a dramatically important growth in Aeneas' character: it is only gradually that he comes to realize the futility of opposing the will of the gods, as it is only gradually that he ceases to be a second-rate war lord and becomes a leader worthy of founding the Roman race.

Aeneas himself tells the story of the fall of Troy, from partisan (noble Trojans and treacherous Greeks) and personal point of view.

N.B 1. Laocoon

line 49 quidquid id est, timeo Danaos et dona ferentes

("Whatever it is, I fear Greeks even with gifts.")

2. Sinon, the deserter and his tale (Cf. Dolon in Il. IX)

3. Calchas and the oracle: line 115 f.

4. The Palladium lines 145-198

5. The death of Laocoon and his sons 199-249

6. The detestation of Troy once the Wooden Horse gains admission:


Pyrrhus (Neoptolemus, son of Achilles) slays Priam after having slain Polites, son of Priam. Compare his action with that of Achilles.

Aeneas, Anchises, Creusa, Iulus


7. The flight of Aeneas

The ghost of Creusa and her prophecy: 780-783

8. Throughout this book notice the similes, e.g. lines 302-308

Guide Questions

Book II

1. How does the beginning of the book II follow the typical structure of an epic poem?

2. Describe the Greek plan for the siege of Troy.

3. What role is played by Laocoon? By Sinon?

4. How does Aeneas first learn of his mission?

5. When Aeneas leaves the city of Troy his is a true symbol of Roman piety. Why?

6. What particular scenes during the fall of Troy describe most vividly the terrible anguish of war and human suffering?

Book III: Aeneas continues with the account of his seven years of wanderings from Troy to Carthage. Nine major episodes are related:

(1) Polydorus is Thrace (suggested by Euripides' Hecuba)

(2) visit to Delos (original with Vergil)

(3) attempted settlement at Crete and the vision of the Penates

(Crete episode was suggested by Odysseus' great wanderings

Ody. 9-12; but the vision of the Penates is apparently original with Vergil).

(4) landing at the stropodes (suggested by Odyssey) and encounter with Harpies

(suggested by Apollonius Rhodius).

(5) Actium (original with Vergil).

(6) Buthrotum and the prophecy of Helenus (original with Vergil)

(7) passage from Epirus to Italy and the omen of the four white horses (suggested by Odyssey)

(8) encounter with Scylla and Charybdis (c.f. Odyssey)

(9) adventure with the Cyclops Polyphemus (C.f. Odyssey)

Throughout this book the relationship between Anchises and Aeneas and the role of Achises are of great importance. A singular pattern of behavior emerges in which Anchises gives the orders while Aeneas and his crew expedite them. The Apparent reason for this was Vergil's need to establish an ancient authority for the patriarchal orientation of the Roman family and Roman society in general. /See addendum on The Roman Family.

In Books I-III the technical terms for the legal head of a Roman family, pater potestatis, whose power and authority were absolute, recurs ten times. It is used Aeneas only three times, but of Anchises seven times: and it is never used of Aeneas until the death of Abchises. (Paterused of Anchises: 2.687: 3.9-10, 3.263-7; 3.525-529; 3.539-543; 3.558-560; 3.610ff; 3.708-713. Pater used of Aeneas: 1.580; 2.2; 3.716-718).

In addition to functioning as the legal head of the family in Book III, Anchises acts to interpret the meaning of a revelation to Aeneas in each of the episodes (as he had in Book II, in interpreting the omen of the flames above Ascanius' head and the shooting star and thunderbolt).

Thus Vergil in Book III develops Anchises into a seer-- a guiding spirit-- so that the reader will understand better the role which Anchises plays in Books V and VI: Achises' powers of prophecy and interpretation are du, and which reached its fullness after life.

N.B. (1) Each of the nine episodes follows a pattern:

A. The sighting of new land, an approach to it and disembarkation

B. The performance of a sacrificial ceremony

C. The occasion of an Omen and/ or some kind of divine revelation

D. The interpretation of the above omen and/ or revelation

E. The departure, often made in haste or under great pressure.

(2) Importance of Apollo in this book (because of the strong emphasis on revelation)

(3) advice of Helenus

(4) the story of Achaemenides, left behind by Ulysses in the cave of Pollyphemus

(5) the death of Anchises in Acestes' western Sicilian kingdom

Guide Questions

Book II

1. How does Aeneas' encounter with Andromache function in developing the plot?

2. How does the tale of Achaemenides further the Roman attitude of the suspicion of things Greek? How does it foster the Roman stereo-type of a sinister Ulysses? Was it really necessary to Vergils plot? Explain.

3. What effect has Vergil achieved, if any, by allowing Aeneas to narrate his adventures in the first person, rather that have the tale narrated in the third person? Does it increase the poem's pathos?

Book IV:

The thread of the story, interrupted by the episode of Aeneas' narrative in Books II and III, is now resumed with the tale of Dido's fatal passion, already indicated at the close of BookI. The development of her love and its result are first described; Aeneas, too, is half-won by her stay, but is called away by the commands of Jupiter and the visions of his father's shade to fulfill his mission in Italy. He prepares to start, firm against the prayers and reproaches of the unhappy queen, who at last resolves on death; the steps by which she is driven to her end being worked out in the latter part of the book in the spirit of the ate ( ate is the self-destructive folly sent by the gods to punish one who is a sinner or who has in some way stepped beyond the desired human limits.) of Greek tragedy. The struggle of individual passion against the will of Heaven is the keynote throughout -- the same kind of struggle as is represented, for example, in the Ajax of Sophocles; and with the same sort of result, strange to our modern notions of wrong and right, in which the mere assertion of overwhelming power over human will, independently of any moral issues, is the end of all. The delineation of individual character is subordinate to the exhibition of the conflict of great forces; and the criticisms which modern feeling passes upon such an act as desertion of Dido are, from the point of view of Greek or Roman epic, beside the question. From that point of view it is no drawback to the heroic presentation of Aeneas, that, like Ulysses, he deserts her who has given him all that a woman can give; his only fault is in remaining when Heaven bids him to go. Nor, though Vergil in his powerful picture of Dido' grief and despair strikes a more modern note, and arouses or sympathy for the forsaken heroine, need we suppose that such was his in tention, or such the effect upon Roman readers. For them and him Dido was only right, an echo of the old cry "Delenda est Carthago" ("Carthage must be destroyed")

No part of the Aeneid is a better sample of Vergil's poetical power; and none exhibits more clearly his originality in the treatment of epic material. The passion of Dido is suggested by that of Medea in the Argonautica of Aollonius Rhodius; but whereas Apollonius dwells on Medea before her marriage, resigning Rome under the influence of enchantments stronger than her own, Vergil concentrates all his power on the description of Dido in her abandonment and despair, passing over the earlier stages of her fatal love.

N.B. (1) characterization and interaction of Dido and Anna.

(2) vivid description of the psychological effect of love on Dido: simisle line 69ff; 300-end of book passim.

(3) the scheming of Juno and Venus to arrange a " marriage".

(4) Description and personifation of Rumor 173- 197 ; note her appearance throughout the Aeneid; and compare with 2.93 (also Odyssey 24.412).

(5) Jupiter through Mercury reminds Aeneas of his mission .

(6) Dido and Aeneas. Conflict between love and duty. Lines 296-361; 362-392 cp. Medea and Jason in Argo pp. 156ff.

(7) Similes: Lines 401-407; 441-446.

(8) Dido resolves to die; death. Triform Hecate; famous lines: 509-570: Varium et / mutable semper femina ( "A varied and changeable thing always is woman")

(9) The passage in which Aeneas answers Dido's charges of leaving her is very significant to the entire work.

Aeneas' reply to her long harangue (4.305-330) does not come easily, but when he is finally able to summon up words, his reply is brief. Answering Dido almost point for point, he declares that he never intended nor ever did enter into marriage with her; if Troy were still standing, his first concern would be there, but since Italy is the land to which he must go, he now recognizes it for what it si: "Y love, my home, lie there" (4.337) He asks that she who has a flourishing city rising up around her, not begrudge him and his people the same opportunity. There are several reasons for his change of attitude, for his insistence to be on his way once again. His father's spirit and the injustice he is committing against his son are troubling him deeply (4.351-5). Moreover, he has received an order to quit Libya immediately from the father of the gods himself (4.356-8). He ends his apology with a revelation of the inner conflict raging within himself: "not by my choice I go to Italy" (4.361). Certainly Vergil is implying here that it is no more painful for Dido to accept the decision than it was for Aeneas himself to formulate it.

There is real tragedy in this situation -- and Vergil is clearly operating under the weight of the tradition of Greek tragedy. Thus his hero, who in Book II acted as an epic hero, concerned only with his personal honor and duty, has grown into a tragic hero.

(10) Points to comparison with Apollonius Rhodius' Argonautica:

a. Descriptions of the psychological effects of love on the heroines, Dido and Medea

b. Anna and Chalcipe as confidants to their respective sisters.

c . Kinds of interpersonal relationship between Aeneas-Dido and Jason- Medea.

d. Dido vs. Medea in terms of pietas.

Guide Questions

Book IV

1. In what ways might Book IV be considered a classical tragedy? How is Dido a 'tragic hero' according to Aristotle's definition?

2. Anna seems to be a typical 'confidante'. How so?

3. The interlude in the cave during the thunder storm is viewed as a "marriage of sorts. Why? Is it valid-- in view of Dido's oath upon the death of Sychaes? In view of both leaders' responsibilities to their respective peoples (=pietas)?

4. Describe the role played by the gods in bringing about Dido's tragedy.

5. What are Aeneas' justifications for his departure?

6. Where has Dido erred?

7. In the Dido- Aeneas love story Dido seems to win more sympathy from the reader. Does this weaken our picture of Aeneas? Justify your answer.


Aeneas, driven by foul winds to Sicily, holds games at the tomb of Anchises on the anniversary of his death: a boat-race, a foot-race, a boxing match, an archery contest, and the Ludus Troianus of calvary maneuvers. After an attempt of the Trojan matrons at Juno's instigation to burn his fleet and so detain him from Italy, has been foiled by a miraculous shower, Aeneas sets sail for Italy, Venus obtaining for him a calm passage from Neptune. On the way Palinurus is drowned; an incident which gives interest to the otherwise uneventful voyage from Sicily to Italy, by connecting it with an Italian tradition about promontory of Palinurus.

N.B. (1) the figure of the dead Anchises permeate Book V -- especially because the funeral games are being held in his honor (cf. Illiad 23 where Achilles holds funeral games in honor of his dead friend Patroclus).

(2) the continued prominence of the relationship between Anchises and Aeneas.

(3) though not all translators have taken pains to preserve this faithfully in English the Latin text contains an unusual number of occasions on which Aeneas is referred to by epithets such as, father Aeneas (pater), loyal Aeneas (Pius), son of Anchises. The overall impact is to strengthen the reader's awareness of Aeneas' fate as founder of the Roman people-- this is especially necessary after the emotional turbulence in Book IV.

(4) note the foot-race and the loyalty of Nisus and Euryalus to each other (lines 286-361; cf. Aeneid Book IX).

(5) Anchises' ghost appears to Aeneas in his doubt about settling in Sicily. Anchises urges him to sail for Italy, there to consult the Sibyl and, under her guidance, to seek for Anchises in Elysium, that Aeneas may learn his own fortune and that of his descendants (lines 719-745).

(6) Venus obtains help from Neptune to bring Aeneas safely to the Tiber.

(7) Palinurus, captain of the ship, is drowned, deceived by sleep (lines 327-871). Cf. Odysseus' crew member Elpenor who likewise dies and whose burial must be attended to after the hero's encounter with the afterlife.

Book VI:

Aeneas lands at Cumae in Italy, as directed by Helenus; and after hearing from Sibyl the oracle of Apollo, receives her instructions for his promised descent into the lower world to visit Anchises. He pays funeral rites to Misenus; then in company with the Sibyl begins the descent.

They cross the Styx, and visit, first, the neutral region assigned to those whose life had been untimely cut short - infants, suicides, persons unjustly condemned, victims of unrequited love (as Dido), and warriors fallen in battle; secondly, Tartarus, the place of punishment; thirdly. Elysium, 'a heroic Valhalla for prowess, genius, and worth.' Here they meet the shade of Anchises, who unfolds the doctrine of the anima mundi and transmigration of souls, and shows them the shades hereafter to return to earth as the great names in Roman history, among them the young Marcellus, finally dismissing Aeneas through the ivory gate.

Cf. Ody. XI:

Homer describes a place of shadowy existence ; Vergil has a territory mapped out into regular divisions. Note also parallels between Elpenor/ Palinurus; Ajax/Dido; and Teiresias/ Anchises.

The last and most characteristic scene of the picture is entirely his own (Vergil's). The central object of the poem, the glory of Rome and of Augustus, suggests the prophetic anticipation by Anchises of the future history of Rome as he points to the spirits of Romans yet to be. This involves the doctrine of transmigration of souls, which puts all spirits, after their deliverance from the body, through a definite period of purgation, and sends them up to earth to reanimate other frames......

All we can say is that this book 'reflects in a poetry rare, exquisite, luminous, majestic, and tangled growth of ideas, mythical, mystical, and philosophical, which had sprung up between the times represented by the Odyssey and those of Vergil.'

N.B. in Book VI: The Sybil's cave at Cumae- Sibyl priestess of Apollo and Diana

The Story of Deadalus: Androgeus

Pasiphae and Minos


Ariadne and Theseus


Descent into the Underworld: Avernus

Golden Bough

Twin Boughs





Hades, Pluto, Dis

Description of the vestibule and entrance of Orcus:

Dreams and Sleep

Monsters: Centaurs








Approach to Tartarus

Rivers: Acheron, Cocytus, Styx, Lethe

Ferryman: Charon

Simile: line 310 f. (Cf. Iliad 6.146-150)

The throng of ghosts: Palinurus

Dido (Field of Lamentation)


Description of Hell - Lines 548-627:





Giants (Aloids)





Description of the Elysian Fields: lines 637-678

Very Signifigant:***** Meeting of Anchises and Aeneas : lines 679-702

A) Pythagorean- Platonic - Stoic philosophy 703-759

B) History of Rome 752-853

Most significant lines: 847-853 on the Mission of the Roman Empire.

Guide Questions

Book VI

1. How does Vergil create an air of mystery and strange power in connection with the Sibyl?

2. What famous legendary figures had gone to the land of the dead while yet alive?

3. Why does Aeneas need the golden bough? What might the golden bough symbolize?

4. Describe some of the highlights of Aeneas' journey through the underworld. Include his encounter with Dido and Anchises.

5. How is Vergil's picture of the land of the dead similar to Homer's in Book XI of the Odyssey? How is it different?

6. What does Aeneas learn about the future of his descendants?

7. Where is the influence of Plato's view on death evident?

Book VII

With this book opens the second and principal portion of the story, the fulfilment by Aeneas of his mission to conquer and civilize the rude tribes of Italy: the Iliad of war succeeding the Odyssey of travel. Aeneas rescues Italy and anchors in the Tiber; we are introduced to Latinus, king of Latium, his city Laurentum, and his daughter Lavinia, with the omens preparing him to seek a foreign alliance for her, instead of accepting Turnus, her native suitor. The Trojans found a city and sent an embassy to Latinus; the wrath of Juno interposes to prevent a peaceful settlement. At her instigation Allecto excites Amata, the queen, who favors Turnus as her daughter's suitor; Amata excites the Latin women. Allecto then inspires Turnus with marital rage, and after provoking a broil between Trojans and Latins is dismissed by Juno, who carries on the work herself. Amata and the women press Latinus to declare war; the book ends with a catalogue of the forces which come to the aid of Turnus. This catalogue is a tribute to the greatness of Italy in her early days; to the land which even of old was the mother of armies and of heroic leaders.

Turnus, throughout Books VII-XII is the foil and contrast to Aeneas. Though a gallant soldier, he is impulsive, arrogant, and insolent. Vergil reserves for him alone the characteristic violentia. This keynote to his character is struck in the first words attributed to him in answer to Allecto disguised as an old woman, and therefore with claims at least to respect from a young man. His chosen allies and associates, too are chefs like Mezentius, contemptor divum (despiser of gods), Messapus, the treaty-breaker, Ufens, leader of the robber-tribe, etc.

N.B. (1) Part I- The arrival of Aeneas and the Trojan treaty of agreement with Latinus (lines1- 285)

Part II - The mission of the Fury Allecto to stir up violence (286-571)

Part III - Mass violence and the gathering of the Italian tribes (572-817)

Parts I and II are an imitation in reverse of Book I, where the storm at sea and shipwreck (lines 1-304) are a prelude to Dido's favorable reception of the Trojans (305- 642). In book VII the peaceful and favorable omens of Part I (1-285) are reversed by the anger of Juno and her deputy Allecto (286-571). The war started here will last to the end of the epic and can only be resolved by the triumph of civilization and pietas (Aeneas) over violentia and rash bravery without true purpose (Trunus).

(2) history of Latinus and Lavinia (lines 37-106).

(3) the omen of the tables (107-147)

(4) the idea that the war is a civil war between members bound by treaty (Trojans and Latins) and that Juno can only delay the working out of fate and the will of Jupiter (cf. her speech, lines 312-322).

(5) Allecto as a symbol of the violence and furor (unrestrained anger, almost madness) unleashed in this book. (Note her effect on Turnus- lines 456-474).

Guide Questions

1. What events and omens indicate to the Trojans that they have at last arrived at their destination?

2. How does Vergil build up the symbols of violence and the events of social disorder?

3. What deliberate parallels are drawn between this Italian war and the Trojan war?

4. What personal reasons does Turnus have for opposing Aeneas and his Trojans? How are the Aeneas/Paris and Lavinia/Helen comparisons brought out?

Book VIII:

In this book, Vergil, in order to provide Aeneas with Italian allies, avails himself to the legend of Evander, the mythical introducer of a foreign civilization about sixty years before the Trojan War. The opening lines show Turnus mustering his forces; then we have the river-god Tiberinus appearing to Aeneas in a dream and bidding him seek Evander; Aeneas sails up the stream to Pallanteum, Evander's town, and is kindly received by Evander who is keeping the feast of Hercules. Evander first sings the praises of Hercules, tells the story of the slaying of the monster Cacus; then he discourses on Italian history and shows the spots hereafter to be famous in Rome. Venus asks Vulcan for divine armor made by Vulcan, and the book closes with a full description of the shield (suggested by that of Achilles in Iliad XVIII) on which are engraven the future destinies of Rome, particularly the victory of Actium and the exploits of Augustus.

N.B. (1) There is one major theme in Book VIII:
"Aeneas is the divine man (theios-aner) of Roman destiny whose mission is to defeat impious furor, the furor represented by Allecto and the Latin war. He stands in a present that is framed by a past and a future: the Arcadian Rome whose theios aner was Hercules and the future Rome whose theios aner is ti be Augustus. All three symbolize the eternally Roman struggle of pietas and humanitas against savage and barbaric violence, against the force represented by Cacus, Mezentius and Antony. Aeneas, in witnessing and celebrating the anniversary sacrifices to Hercules, in himself accepting leadership in the struggle against Mezentius and the Latins, bearing away the shield whose central panel depics the battle of Actium, finally realizes in very deed the role that was paradigmatically pointed out to him in the sixth book. We now see both the Latin War and Aeneas' part in it within the full perspective of Roman history. The shield and armor constitute Venus' answer to Juno and Allecto but they are an answer only because Aeneas is himself the man of destiny and of humanities -- the man ordained both by fate and his own piety to conquer human violence and overcome the divine powers.

"The three theoi-andres are set within three separate eras, each represented by a different place or time: Hercules belongs to the Arcadian Rome or Pallanteum of the first day, the day kept sacred to him; Aeneas conducts his present business only in the morning of the second day (the day after the sacred festival) when, though the scene is still Pallanteum, his concern is no longer with the Arcadian, Herculean city of the past but with the impending war; finally the Aggustus- shield is received and studied only in the very special atmosphere of the remote Caere-vale, a region quite withdrawn from either Arcadian Rome or the present war preparations (e.g. from Caere itself, the Etruscan ally of the moment). The parallelism with the sixth Aeneid is, of course, explicit and indeed essential to a full understanding of the book's action and structure." (Otis 330f.)

In book VIII, then as in the Elysium of Book VI, he finds in a secluded valley (in vallereducta) his parent (Venus this time, not Anchises) and is once more shown the future under parental auspicies. It would have quite spoiled the contrast of times and moods that makes this book so rich and complex, had Aeneas received the arms on the site of Rome or in any spot that was already connected with his own past or present.

"The shield that he now takes from Venus contains seven tableaux on the periphery and a central section depicting the great triumph of Augustus over Antony at Actium." The question of the arrangement of scenes on the shield is much vexed. The only thing certain is that it is "not to be reduced to any one plan that can be visualized. The important thing is its main theme which is the constant opposition of virtus, consilium and pietes to the forces of violence in all Roman history. We see the kindly she-wolf licking the twins Mavortis in antro/ in the cave of Mars/; the unscrupulous rape of the Sabines composed and atoned for by a solemn treaty; the treachery of Mettius Fugetius and its punishment; the Roman defense against Tarquin, Porsenna and the Gauls; the religion of the Romans (Salii, Luperci, etc.) And the judgement of the dead in Hades (the impious Catiline, the pious Cato). Everywhere violence is defeated, evil is punished, religion observed. All this is but the setting of the greatest of struggles between Roman pietasand barbaric violentia. Augustus / with the ancestors and people, with the Penates and the great gods is opposed to all the evil gods and powers /cf. 698ff/. And the book ends with the triumph that Augustus has won over the far-flung barbarians, all /those who lack reason/." (Otis, 341-2).

(2) the example and praise of the old Roman morality which Aeneas is to follow: Evander (362-5) points out that even Hercules entered his poor dwelling. Aeneas, to his enemies, appeared to be an oriental prince, synonymous among Vergil's contemporaries with all that is contemptuous and effeminate in excessive luxury. And Aeneas' dalliance with Dido-- another oriental -- did much to further this impression. "In Evander's house Aeneas is cleansed, as it were, of the odium of his Asiatic origin and imbued with Italo-Roman contempt for luxuria. In leaving the oriental world and entering the Roman world, Aeneas becomes a Roman in his heart. This then is the deeper meaning of the eighth book as it concerns Aeneas' inner pilgrimage." In lifting up the shield at the end of the book -- and the end of the middle third of the poem -- Aeneas demonstrates his acquisition at last of "the necessary to dear the destiny of Rome."(Poeschl, 60)

Guide Questions


1. Recount in as much detail as possible, the story of Hercules; fight with Cacus.

2. How does Evander's attitude towards hospitality and guest-friendship compare with that in other epic poems you have read?

Book IX:

During the absence of Aeneas, his camp, at the instigation of Iris, the messenger of Juno, is besieged by Turnus, who begins by setting fire to the ships, which are changed to sea-nymphs. Nisus and Euryalus make a night attack upon the Rutulians, and are slain... With the exception of the incident of Nisus and Euryalus which is one of the crowning instances of Vergil's power of appealing to human sensibility, the matter of the book is not very happily conceived...considerable light is thrown in this book upon Vergil's conception of the character to Turnus, who, in the absence of Aeneas, becomes the prominent figure. He is a bold warrior, but wild and semi-barbarous and even in his highest exploits is shown in strong contrast to Aeneas....

N.B. (1) The actions of Books VIII IX occur at approximately the same time. Book IX occasionally assumes that the characters, particularly Turnus, are aware of some of the events in VIII. This is an "intermediate" book separating the "birth of Rome" (VIII) from the "tragedy of war" (X).

Perhaps the most important contribution of this book is the contrast between Turnus and the absent Aeneas. Without their leader even the Trojans' bravery does not accomplish much.

(2) Turnus' attempt to set fire to the ships (lines 25-158) (Cf. The burning of the ships in Sicily - Book V, 604-699) Note his misunderstanding of the meaning of the omen and his boastful leadership.

(3) The episode of Nisus and Euryalus (lines 159-502).

(4) The very great but flawed fighting abilities of Turnas (lines 503-589; 718 to end).


Guide Questions


1. Consider the character of Turnus as developed in Book IX. What are his strengths? What are his weaknesses?

2. What causes the mission of Nisus and Euryalus to fail? Contrast their thoughtless desire for military glory and booty with their loyalty to each other.

3. On what occasions in this book do lack of rational planning and surrender to emotional impulses ruin that could be successful?

Book X:

The council of the gods with which this book opens is in imitation of Homer, Iliad IV-VIII; Jupiter's summing up here is a declaration that destiny must have its course. The action of the poem continues in the return of Aeneas from his expedition to Caere, in command of an Etruscan force; a catalogue of which is given on the model of that in Iliad II. He is met on his way by the sea-nymphs, formally Trojan ships, one of whom, Cymodoce, encourages him. He finds the camp hard pressed by the Rutulians and effects a landing; but Juno, fearing for Turnus' safety, obtains from Jupiter a reprive from the death which is assumed to await him, and flying before him in the likeness of Aeneas over the death of his son Lausus; the conduct and language of Aeneas over the fallen youth, full of dignity and pity, being drawn in strong contrast to that of the battle and dies at the hand of Aeneas; a pathetic interest being given to the last hours of this savage barbarian by dwelling on the natural traits of love for his son and fondness for his horse;.....


(1) Throughout Books IX throughXII, see how the character of Turnus develops. Note especially the similes Vergil uses of Turnus, and the contrasting similes he uses of Aeneas.

(2) Invocation to the Muse introducing the device of cataloguing.

(3) Note the many similes throughout these books.

Book XI:

The death of Pallas on the one side, and of Lausus and Mezentius on the other, makes a break in the story of the want, while both sides pause to bury their dead. Aeneas raises a trophy of Mezentius' spoils; and the body of Pallas is sent home to Pallanteum, where Evander laments over it. The burial scenes on either side are briefly described and we are then introduced to the discords in the Latin camp, by which the Rutulian fortunes, already on the wane, are still further depresses. Latinus calls a council at Laurentum, and, further depressed

Book XII:

Turnus, now the hope of the Rutulian cause, agrees to meet Aeneas in single fight; Latinus, on the other hand, being willing to make a treaty and give Lavinia to Aeneas. The arrangements for the treaty are concluded, Aeneas and Latinus ratify it with an oath, and the combat is about to begin, when the nymph Juturna, Turnus's sister, instigated by Juno, incites the wild Rutulians to break the truce.. Amelee ensues, in which Aeneas is wounded and retires; while Turnus, making no attempt, as Aeneas has done, to keep the peace, deals great havoc among the Trojans. Aeneas, miraculously healed by Venus, returns to the fight to seek Turnus;but Juturna, acting as her brother's charioteer, evades his pursuit. After great slaughter on both sides, Aeneas threatens Laurentum itself; Amata commits suicide and Turnus, his better self and soldierly instincts reasserting themselves, rushes to save the city by claiming the combat with Aeneas. He had forfeited sympathy by his former violentia; but the spirit in which he at last resolves to meet his fate compensates for much that has gone before. The remainder of the book, is occupied with the duel; Jupiter reconciling Juno to the fate of Turnus, and forbidding Juturna from further interference.

N.B. (1) The frequency of supernatural intervention is a noticeable feature in this book, due perhaps to imitation of Iliad XIX-XXII, where such interventions become more frequent as the story draws to its catastrophe. In the suicide of Amata we may trace the influence of Greek tragedy; while Juturna, like Camilla, is apparently Vergil's own conception.

(2) Lines 791-842: Juno yields to Jupiter who begs her to cease opposing the fortunes of the Trojans. She does but with the hope that when the two hostile nations are united in one, the name of Latium and Rome may be preserved and the hated name of Troy be forgotten. Jupiter assures her that the Trojans will disappear in that new race which, with Italian speech and customs, is to exceed all nations in righteousness and also in its reverence for her.

(3) The dual between opposing leaders, as here between Aeneas and Turnus, is an essential part of every heroic tradition. Each leader, with the realization that the lives and deaths of his comrades are his responsibility, ultimately has to be willing to place his own life on the line. How different this is from modern warfare, planned and conducted by generals safe in their headquarters, and fought only by their underlings on the field!

(4) Though dominated by furor and emotionalism through Book X, Turnaus in BooksXI an XII becomes increasingly rational as he perceives the threat represented by Aeneas and his forces to the independent destiny of the Italic peoples. Hence, he has no choice but to fight: if he wins, his destiny and his people's is secured; if he lose, his honor and theirs will be remembered and praises, though their destiny be submerged or absorbed.

(5) Criticism has been hurled at Aeneas' indecision to kill Turnus, at Turnus' plea for his life, and at Aeneas' decision, at last, to kill Turnus. The ancient commentator on the Aeneid, Servius (4th century A.D.), may have provided an answer to all these criticisms: "From pietas he wants to spare him and from pietas he has to kill him, and both enhance his glory." Turnus must plead to prepare for the reconciliation between

Trojans and Italians. Aeneas is prepared to spare the conquered (parcere subiectis, VI>853) as commanded by his destiny, but his obligation to Evander on account of Pallas' death is even greater. And by killing Turnus he allows him the honor of dying a hero. (Cf. Poeschl 136-137).

General Questions

1. The Aeneid is the story of a man's struggle with fate in order to fulfill a heroic mission. Where and how is Aeneas reminded on numerous occasions about his special destiny?

2. Although the Aeneid shows the final success of human striving, it also reveals the terrible cost of suffering, frustration and waste which besets man in his struggle to reach a goal. What particular episodes reveal how much suffering must be endured before final success?

3. A poet may borrow heavily from other writers, may write for propaganda purposes, yet still create a masterpiece. How is this true of Vergil?

4. Turnus and Dido are usually considered to be tragic figures in more that just the fact of their deaths. In what, then, does their tragedy consist?

5. Vergil makes Aeneas' heroism consist in the Stoic submission of his private happiness and destiny to the destiny of Rome. Yet it is precisely in this that Aeneas' tragedy lies: he must bitterly wound one he deeply loves (Dido) and must kill one whose virtus is as great as his own (Turnus), because he does not live for himself, because he has renounces personal advantages. As a character Aeneas is thus far more complexly drawn than either Dido or Turnus, to whom the modern reader is quickly attracted and who are preferred over Aeneas. But the Roman reader would be won over by Aeneas' pietas and self-sacrifice. Reflect and comment.

Names to Remember

Juno Anna Nisus Turnus

Jupiter Iarbas Euryalus Latvinia

Libya Priam Cumae Latinus

Carthage Hecuba Sibyl Lausus

Aeolus Creusa Charon Mezentius

Ascanius Ilium Styx Pallas

Iulus Hector Acheron Evander

Achates Sinon Tartarus Hercules

Sychaeus Laocoon Elysian Fields Camilla

Dido Anchises


1. Cyril Baily, Religion in Vergil (Oxford, 1935).

An older work, but still of great help and full of insight.

2. C.M. Bowra, From Vergil to Milton (London, 1945).

A good summary of the tradition of literary epic.

3. W.F. Jackson Knight, Roman Vergil (London, 1944; rev. ed. In a paper from Penguin Books, 1966).

A controversial interpretation of the epic's Roman-ness

4. Brooks Otis, Vergil: a Study in Civilized Poetry (Oxford, 1964).

A close and perceptive study of the process and results of Vergil's literary maturation as a poet from his early efforts through the Aeneid. The chapters on the Aeneid are a major contribution to twentieth-century scholarship on Vergil.

5. V. Poeschl, The Art of Vergil (Ann Arbor, U. Of Michigan, 1962).

A most important study of the psychology of the major characters and of Vergil's intent through the use of imagery.

6. H.W. Prescott, The Development of Vergil's Art (Chicago, 1927).

An important, though older, study of the Aeneid and of Vergil's place in the Roman epic tradition.

This material on Vergil's Aeneid has been used for many years by Professor Tom Sienkewicz in his courses at Howard University and at Monmouth College in Monmouth, Illinois. If you have any questions, you may contact him at

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