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
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
the Iliad. Although the Aeneid uses Homer's poems as a model, it is Roman in thought, mood
Note well the epic devices used by Vergil: (Not only for Bk. I; for the for the entire reading of
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)
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.
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
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
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
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
(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
(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
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,
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
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
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
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
(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
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.
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.
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
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
Hades, Pluto, Dis
Description of the vestibule and entrance of Orcus:
Dreams and Sleep
Approach to Tartarus
Rivers: Acheron, Cocytus, Styx, Lethe
Simile: leaves...men line 310 f. (Cf. Iliad 6.146-150)
The throng of ghosts: Palinurus
Dido (Field of Lamentation)
Description of Hell - Lines 548-627:
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.
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?
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-
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,
(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).
1. What events and omens indicate to the Trojans that they have at last arrived at their
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?
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,
(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
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?
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
(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).
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?
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
(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.
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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 email@example.com.
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