Study Guide

Aeneid

by Virgil

Aeneid Summary

Overview

Summary of the Poem
The Aeneid is an epic poem, detailing Aeneas' journey. The first six books of the Aeneid recount the adventures of Aeneas, the future founder of Rome. The last six books tell of the settlement of the Trojans in Italy and the war with the Italians.

After the fall of Troy, a small group of refugees (the Aeneidae) escaped, and Aeneas became their leader. Several prophecies predicted that this group would settle in Italy and become ancestors of the Romans. The Aeneidae suffer many hardships; similar to those suffered by Odyseus (attacks by the Cyclops, Scylla and Charybdis.) After wandering for years, the Aeneidae arrived in Italy, settling in Latium. Before they are accepted, they have to fight a terrible war. After slaying Turnus, Aeneas is free to marry Lavinia, the princess of Latium.

Virgil begins the poem as Aeneas is sailing on the last leg of his predestined journey to Italy. Tremendous storms batter his ships and they take refuge on the nearest land. Aeneas hears that Queen Dido is constructing Carthage. The Queen falls in love with Aeneas and begs him to tell her the story of the fall of Troy.

Aeneas relates the tale at the request of the Queen. After the fall, the band of exiled men sailed to Delos where the oracle of Apollo predicted that they would found a great nation. He details his adventures up to the present time for the Queen. Dido and Aeneas' love is ill-fated. He must follow the destiny the Gods have made for him. When he leaves Dido commits suicide.

The ships finally arrive in Italy, near Cumae. Aeneas visits the temple of Apollo to consult a prophetess. She appears to him and tells Aeneas of the war he will fight and of his enemies. He asks to descend into Hades, where he meets his father, Anchises. Anchises shows Aeneas his future heirs and the heroes of Rome.

The Trojans continue on and settle in Latium. Aeneas realizes his prophecy has been fulfilled. A war breaks out and Aeneas is given magical armor by the Gods for protection. Turnus, the leader of Latium's defense, attacks the Trojan camp, and many lives are lost. Turnus announces that the husband of Lavinia will be determined by a duel between Aeneas and himself. Aeneas kills Turnus in battle. The prophecies of the gods have been fulfilled.

The Life and Work of Virgil
Born in 70 BC, Publius Vergilius Maro grew up in northern Italy on a gentleman's farm. His parents recognized his talents and gave him a good education, hoping he would take up a career in law. After studying in northern Italy at the schools of Cremona and Milan, he went to Rome in 53 BC to complete his training as a lawyer. Neither the city nor the occupation appealed to him, and after pleading his first case he returned permanently to the countryside.

From the Bay of Naples, Virgil (as he is called in English) began to write poetry. Ignoring the tide of chaos overwhelming Rome, he chose to focus on pastoral subjects. His first work, the Eclogues ("selections"), were presented as poems of shepherds. The descriptions of happy flocks and bucolic love were well received by the Roman public, who wanted to hide from the turmoil of their lives in poems that celebrated and romanticized the simple life. Two years later, in 42 BC, Virgil found his estates confiscated by Julius Caesar's heir Octavius. Fortunately, his work had won for him the attention of Maecenas, Octavius's good friend and the premier literary patron of the time. With Maecenas' help, he had his farm restored to him.

Virgil's next work was the Georgics, a treatise on farming. Written over the course of seven years, it was finished in 31 BC. In form it is a "how-to" book, but the lavish detail and beautiful verse turn it into a celebration of the importance of husbandry. While farming itself was in decline and most farmers were indifferent to the moral value of their occupation, city-dwellers once again found the work perfectly suited to their tastes.

With his reputation and finances secured, Virgil was able to devote the last 11 years of his life to the Aeneid. It was Augustus who suggested Virgil use the history of the Roman Empire as the subject for an epic poem. In it he attempted to take the works of Homer, who was considered the best of poets, and turn his words and style into a celebration of both the Roman nation and the Latin tongue.

While returning from a research trip to Greece, Virgil fell mortally ill. Unable to complete his work, he ordered it to be burned upon his death. Augustus countermanded Virgil's wishes, and he commissioned two of Virgil's fellow poets to edit the work. Upon its publication, the Aeneid was immediately hailed as a masterpiece and adopted as the official poem of Augustus' "Restored Republic." Since then, it has never fallen out of popularity.

Estimated Reading Time
There are many translations of the Aeneid. Each book can be read in about an hour or two, with a range of approximately 12-24 hours for the whole work.

Aeneid Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

It is impossible to gauge the seriousness of the dying Vergil’s request that his Aeneid be burned upon his death. Despite the dramatic command of Augustus to spare it from the flames, it is difficult to imagine that any of Vergil’s contemporaries would have taken it upon themselves to destroy what promised to be the most extraordinary poem ever written in Latin, and that is precisely what those who knew the work in progress realized it to be. It is more likely that Vergil’s request stemmed from the almost manic pessimism that one notes as counterpoint in both the Eclogues and Georgics. Such resolution through a minor key produces great art, however, and Vergil knew that no poetic form yields more easily to an indeterminate conclusion than epic. The Aeneid, despite the difficulties inherent in its composition, thus offered Vergil the surest possibility for ultimate development of his talent.

In one sense, the Aeneid obviously depends upon Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey for its very creation. Echoes and lines parallel to those of Homer abound within it. Nevertheless, Vergil’s purpose and the nature of the verse itself are altogether different, for Vergil’s is urban poetry reflecting the Trojan War myths from a Trojan (and consequently Roman, rather than Greek) point of view. Rather than conceal his use of Homer, Vergil’s use of the Homeric legacy supports a major part of his thesis: that the present draws from the past and that the quality of what was determines the worth of what is.

Typical Vergilian reciprocity appears in the structure of the Aeneid. Its first six books are effectively an Odyssean series of adventures that take Aeneas and the Trojans from their destroyed city to Dido’s North African city of Carthage and ultimately to the Underworld’s Italian entrance at Cumae, near Naples. Aeneid 1 to 6 are Odyssean only in the sense that the adventures externally parallel those of Odysseus. Aeneas, unlike Odysseus, has responsibility for the collective destiny of his nation, and Vergil consistently distinguishes between his hero’s personal preference and what fatum (fate) requires him to do. Hence, Aeneas must flee Troy, though he would have preferred to die there. Fate, through the instrumentality of the storm conjured by joint request of Juno (to delay fatum) and Aeneas’s mother, Venus (to provide rest for her son), casts Aeneas upon Dido’s shore. Venus mercilessly causes the flame of passion to grow in Dido, using the young queen as an instrument to ensure that Aeneas may pursue his destiny to found an Italian Troy. The flames that destroyed Troy thus resolve themselves into the flames of passion that ultimately cause Dido’s suicide and find final expression in the flames of her funeral pyre. Again, Aeneas must lay aside his obligations toward Dido for the larger obligation that he owes the Trojan people.

Fatum thus governs all: the furor (anger) that Aeneas must direct at those who would impede founding of a new Troy at Lavinium in Italy; labor (work), the struggle to escape and reach the site of the new city; dolor (grief), the suffering that requires decisions for the collective well-being; and pietas (piety), the humility needed to accept what fate decrees. All of these elements bring Aeneas to his Underworld meeting with the shade of his father Anchises in Aeneid 6. It is there that Aeneas beholds a procession of as yet unborn heroes important to the destiny of a city to rise in the remote future. Aeneas knows nothing of Rome and no more of the heroes important to its history, yet he knows that what he witnesses is in some way important. Augustus himself appears among these unborn heroes, and his connection with Aeneas (if ever doubted) becomes explicit in this scene.

Aeneid 7 to 12 looks toward Trojan establishment of Lavinium, the city that must rise if Rome itself is ever to rise. These are the Iliadic books, since they describe a second Trojan War with the Trojans cast as invaders of the Italian city on the site fated for Trojan habitation. Lavinia, daughter of King Latinus, thus has a role that corresponds to that of Helen in the Trojan War. Aeneas is destined to marry Lavinia to begin amalgamation of the Trojan and native italic peoples, but Lavinia is already promised to the Rutulian warrior Turnus. Since Turnus is hardly committed to this marriage agreement, war might have been avoided had it not been for Juno’s long-standing anger against the Trojans. The fury that she causes provokes violence that spreads across the countryside, and the Trojan War in Italy begins in earnest.

Preparations for the war allow Vergil to establish the antiquity of the peoples of Italy. Aeneas, for example, journeys north on the Tiber to the Etruscan city then known as Pallanteum, but which is located at the site of what would one day be Rome, the city of Romulus. Aeneid 8 takes the reader through Pallanteum, which even then has landmarks familiar to an imperial Roman. Evander, king of Pallanteum, concludes an alliance with Aeneas and gives him men, as well as his own son Pallas, a protégé whose counterpart in the Iliad is Patroclus.

Back at Lavinium, Ascanius (the young son of Aeneas, now called Iulus to establish his identification with the Julio-Claudian emperors) distinguishes himself in the fight against the Latins and their allies. A renegade Etruscan king named Mezentius has allied himself and his son Lausus with the Latins. Cast out by his own city of Caere, Mezentius has found refuge with King Latinus and now fights against his own people. This villain paradoxically acquires the reader’s sympathy upon the death of Lausus, killed when he interposes himself between his father and the advancing Aeneas. Despite Mezentius’s contemptible deeds as king of Caere, and though he hates the gods, Mezentius is still a father, and Lausus has shown him due filial pietas. When Mezentius dies immediately thereafter, also at Aeneas’s hands, his death assumes a tragic aspect; such is Vergil’s skill for the dramatic that he can make pitiable even the death of a villain.

The death of Pallas at Turnus’s hands clearly corresponds to Aeneas’s killing of Lausus, and Vergil presents both deaths sympathetically. Obviously, Vergil avoids setting what would have been a more logical contest between young warriors, that of Iulus and Lausus. That is clearly because Iulus, called Ascanius in Aeneid 1 to 6, represents the link between Troy past and the new incarnation of that city in Italy. When Iulus distinguishes himself on the battlefield, he does so against uniformly undeveloped personalities in order to allow him alone to hold the central position in the narrative. Accordingly, Iulus remains unscarred by his battlefield contests, almost but not quite succeeding in encountering Turnus.

Meeting Turnus on the battlefield is Aeneas’s fate, and Aeneas enters the fray in much the same state of mind as had Achilles in the Iliad following the death of Patroclus. The final question that faces Aeneas once he has the Rutulian Turnus at bay is whether to administer the death stroke. He decides to do so as soon as he sees that Turnus wears the belt that he had stripped from young Pallas upon killing him. Thus, the Aeneid ends in the middle of events, as is characteristic of epic poetry, but also with the element of qualification that characterizes all Vergil’s works.

Aeneid Overview

The Aeneid has been translated frequently, into every major language in the world, and there are at least eight English versions....

(The entire section is 325 words.)

Aeneid Summary

Book 1
Aeneas and his Trojans are seven years into their journey home from the Trojan War to Italy when Juno, queen of the gods...

(The entire section is 2012 words.)

Aeneid Summary and Analysis

Book 1 Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Aeneas: leader of the fleet of exiled Trojans

Juno: queen of the gods, enemy of the Trojans

Aeolus: king of the winds

Neptune: god of the sea

Venus: goddess of love, Aeneas’ mother and patron

Jupiter: king of the gods

Achates: Aeneas’ constant companion

Dido: widowed queen of Carthage

Ilioneus: a Trojan elder

Ascanius Iulis: Aeneas’ son

Cupid: god of love

Summary
Juno, still furious at the Trojan refugees, has heard that their descendants are destined to destroy her favorite city, Carthage. She has kept the Trojans from Italy, their fated destination, for...

(The entire section is 1556 words.)

Book 2 Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Laocoon: Trojan priest of Neptune

Sinon: Greek soldier captured by the Trojans

Hector: son of King Priam of Troy, recently deceased

Panthus: priest of Apollo

Coroebus: ally of King Priam

Cassandra: daughter of King Priam

Androgeos: Greek warrior

Pyrrhus: Greek warrior, son of Achilles

Priam: aged king of Troy

Hecuba: Priam’s wife

Summary
Aeneas begins the sad tale of the fall of Troy. After many years of war between the Greeks and the Trojans, the Greeks build a giant wooden horse. The Greek fleet sails out of sight, leaving behind the horse, which is filled with...

(The entire section is 1515 words.)

Book 3 Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Polydorus: murdered son of Priam

Celaeno: leader of the Harpies

Helenus: Priam’s son

Andromache: Hector’s widow, now married to Helenus

Achaemenides: an abandoned member of Ulysses’ crew

Palinarus: a Trojan pilot

Polyphemus: the cyclops blinded by Ulysses

Acestes: king of Sicily

Summary
The Trojan exiles build a fleet at the base of Mount Ida. When summer arrives, Anchises bids them to set sail. Their first settlement is in Thrace, which was formerly allied with Troy.

While tearing a myrtle branch from a nearby bush, Aeneas is dismayed to find blood dripping from it. A voice...

(The entire section is 942 words.)

Book 4 Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Anna: Dido’s sister and confidante

Mercury: messenger of the gods

Iris: Juno’s messenger

Summary
Dido is now raging with love for Aeneas. She tells her sister Anna that Aeneas is the only man who has ever tempted her to break her vow to be faithful to the memory of her dead husband. Anna advises her to follow her feelings, inasmuch as the union between Aeneas and Dido would be good for the kingdom.

Dido’s love begins to drive her mad. Without her attention, the construction of the city comes to a halt. Seeing Dido thus afflicted, Juno conspires with Venus to unite their favorites in marriage. Venus suspects Juno is only trying to save...

(The entire section is 1168 words.)

Book 5 Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Gyas: captain of the ship Chimerae

Menoetes: pilot of the Chimerae

Mnesthus: captain of the Shark

Cloanthus: captain of the Scylla

Sergestus: captain of the Centaur

Nisus: devoted friend of Euryalus

Euryalus: a handsome Trojan youth

Dares: a famed Trojan boxer

Entellus: an aged Sicilian boxer

Pyrgo: eldest Trojan woman, former nurse of Priam’s children

Nautes: Trojan seer

Summary
From off the shores of Carthage, Aeneas sees a vast blaze. Although he does not know with certainty what is responsible for the fire, he knows that it is a bad omen because of...

(The entire section is 1134 words.)

Book 6 Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Gyas: captain of the ship Chimerae

Menoetes: pilot of the Chimerae

Mnesthus: captain of the Shark

Cloanthus: captain of the Scylla

Sergestus: captain of the Centaur

Nisus: devoted friend of Euryalus

Euryalus: a handsome Trojan youth

Dares: a famed Trojan boxer

Entellus: an aged Sicilian boxer

Pyrgo: eldest Trojan woman, former nurse of Priam’s children

Nautes: Trojan seer

Summary
The Trojans land in Cumae. Aeneas seeks out the cave of the Sibyl. He waits for her in the beautiful Temple of Apollo, which is beautifully carved with scenes from the life of...

(The entire section is 1226 words.)

Book 7 Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Latinus: aged king of Latium

Lavinia: daughter of Latinus

Turnus: king of the Rutulians, Lavinia’s suitor

Allecto: one of the Furies

Amata: Latinus’ wife

Tyrrhus: Latinus’ shepherd

Mezentius: an Etruscan tyrant

Camilla: a warrior maiden

Summary
After passing the island of Circe, the fleet of Aeneas sails up the Tiber River. In Laurentum, capitol of Latium, King Latinus is unsure of what to do with his only child, Lavinia. Although she is ready to be married, he has received strange signs about her future. The latest oracle had said that he must not marry Lavinia to a Latin, but to a...

(The entire section is 998 words.)

Book 8 Summary and Analysis

New Characters: Venulus: an Italian messenger

Tiberinus: the god of the Tiber River

Evander: king of the Arcadians

Pallas: only son of King Evander

Vulcan: god of fire

Summary
Turnus sends Venulus to Diomedes, one of the Greeks who participated in the siege of Troy, asking him to join the forces in the defense of Latium. That night, Tiberinus appears to Aeneas. He tells Aeneas not to worry, then advises him to seek an alliance with the Arcadians. He also recommends that Aeneas make sacrifices to Juno. Aeneas prays to the river in thanks, and then, spying the white sow of the prophecy, makes an offering to Juno. He then sails upriver with two boats to...

(The entire section is 960 words.)

Book 9 Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Cybele: the mother goddess

Numanus: brother-in-law of Turnus, taunter of the Trojans

Apollo: god of the sun

Pandarus and Bitias: twin Trojan giants

Summary
Juno sends Iris to Turnus. Iris tells Turnus that Aeneas is not in the Trojan camp and urges him to take the opportunity to attack. Turnus offers prayers of thanks, happily obeying the goddess who sent him this news.

The Italian forces advance on the Trojans, who retreat to their fortress as Aeneas ordered. Turnus throws the first javelin, symbolically starting the attack. Unable to penetrate the walls, he turns his energy to the Trojan’s ships. These ships were built of wood...

(The entire section is 1022 words.)

Book 10 Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Cymodoce: chief of the nymphs formed from Aeneas’ ships

Tarchon: leader of the Etruscan Agyllans

Lausus: son of Mezentius

Magus: an Italian fighting for Turnus

Orodes: a Trojan soldier

Summary
Jupiter has called a conference in Olympus. He says that it is time for there to be peace in Italy. Venus reminds Jupiter that the Trojans have only been following the oracles of the gods. She implicitly blames Juno for the current state of war. Juno denies that she has anything to do with the current Trojan troubles. She adds that, considering what Venus can do for the Trojans, it is only fair for others to aid the Italians.

...

(The entire section is 854 words.)

Book 11 Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Drances: an elderly Latin who is opposed to Turnus

Diana: goddess of the hunt, Camilla’s patron

Opis: a member of Diana’s troop of maiden huntresses

Arruns: an Etruscan fighter

Summary
Before returning Pallas’ body to Evander, Aeneas builds a trophy for Mars, decorated with the arms of Mezentius. Aeneas mourns over Pallas, then arranges to have an honor guard accompany his body. Even Pallas’ horse is crying.

The Latins ask Aeneas for permission to collect their dead. Aeneas willingly grants it, adding that these deaths would not have occurred if Turnus had challenged him to personal combat and let the gods pick the winner....

(The entire section is 1116 words.)

Book 12 Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Juturna: Turnus’ sister, goddess of pools and rivers

Tolumnius: the Rutulians’ auger

Iapyx: Aeneas’ healer

Summary
Turnus is eager to fight Aeneas, and asks Latinus to prepare a peace treaty before the duel. Latinus asks Turnus to consider not fighting. He tells him there are plenty of marriageable girls available, that he knew it was wrong to offer Lavinia to any of her suitors because of the oracles, and that, if peace can be had, he is sure that he can have peace and also have Turnus alive.

Turnus says that glory is too important to him for him to not fight. Queen Amata then begs him not to fight, as she is sure that her fortunes will...

(The entire section is 1491 words.)