Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 854
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
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 gods are divided over which goddess to support. Jupiter steps in, declaring that from now on the Trojans and Italians will have to fight without supernatural help.
While the Trojans continue the defense of their walls, Aeneas is sailing to meet them, followed by the newly allied Tuscans. Virgil describes these people and their ships in the Catalogue of the Etruscan Allies. Cymodoce climbs the stern of Aeneas’ boat and warns him of the trouble facing his people, pushing his boat ahead as she leaves.
Seeing the approach of the fleet the next morning, the Trojan forces rally within their enclosure. Turnus attempts to cut off the Etruscans while they are landing, but Tarchon decides to sacrifice the boats’ hulls in order to land more quickly. Aeneas cuts a bloody swath through the Italians. Venus turns aside a few weapons that might otherwise have hit him.
Pallas gives his forces an encouraging speech, then plunges into the thickest mass of the Latin forces. While he valiantly kills Latins, his own Arcadians begin to take serious casualties. Turnus comes to the Latins’ aid, meeting Pallas in personal combat. Pallas prays to Hercules for help, but Hercules can do nothing. Turnus kills Pallas, then strips off his beautiful sword belt.
Aeneas hears that the Trojans desperately need assistance and that Pallas has died. Enraged, he goes in search of Turnus, leaving death in his wake. He refuses pleas for mercy and even curses a man he has killed.
In light of Venus’ interference, Jupiter allows Juno to save Turnus, with the understanding that Turnus will not be able to escape his impending death. Juno then creates a phantom Aeneas, which Turnus chases across the battlefield. The figure runs up the gangplank of a boat. As soon as Turnus is aboard, Juno makes the boat sail away, to Turnus’ distress. Juno keeps him from either swimming back to land or killing himself in shame.
Mezentius takes up the fight for the Latins. The slaughter becomes widespread; neither side has the advantage.
Aeneas and Mezentius meet. Aeneas’ lance strikes a non-fatal blow. He comes after Mezentius with his sword, but Lausus leaps in to save his father. Lausus’ companions join him against Aeneas, and Mezentius manages to retreat. Aeneas is angered and kills Lausus. As Lausus dies, Aeneas suddenly feels pity for the boy’s devotion to his father. He allows Lausus’ body to be carried away.
Mezentius is agonized that his son died in his place. He rides back to face Aeneas. Aeneas kills Mezentius’ horse, which traps Mezentius beneath its body as it falls. Before Aeneas strikes, Mezentius asks one favor only: to be buried next to his son. He then allows himself to be killed.
Filled with battle scenes, Book Ten seems an endless catalogue of slaughter. Virgil attempts to break the role call of gory deaths by inserting conversations between the gods and the list of the Etruscan heroes. While Virgil seeks to create variety by giving every victim a novel, although invariably bloody death, the list of names and alliances finally becomes a blur. With the gods out of the way, the Trojans and Italians are essentially equal, dying equally painfully and in equally great numbers.
Such ambivalence extends to the characterizations of Book Ten. Aeneas commits unholy actions, the godless Mezentius behaves with honor, and Turnus is ready to kill himself because he has been removed from the battle. None of these three characters is all hero or all villain, and the reader is confused by the difficulty in supporting any of them whole-heartedly. Aeneas may have destiny on his side, but Turnus gains sympathy because he is fighting against destiny and for a just cause. Mezentius, the man who tied the living to the dead, on the battlefield becomes a man who fights fairly and loves his son deeply. Virgil, by not dehumanizing Aeneas’ antagonists, has made his work richer.
In contrast to these three men, Lausus and Pallas have much less depth. Both of them are young, handsome, and doomed to die on the battlefield. Both of them dedicate their deaths to their fathers, one in speech and the other in action. They are part of a recurring motif of untimely deaths that Virgil uses effectively to convey the message that war, while often necessary, is still a great tragedy. Virgil’s underlying desire for peace is completely in tune with the sentiments of his original audience.
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