Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1134
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
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 Dido’s extreme distress.
A great storm arises, forcing the fleet to land on Sicily instead of Italy. They are welcomed again by Acestes. By coincidence, they have arrived on the anniversary of Anchises’ death. Aeneas decides to hold memorial sacrifices and athletic competitions in honor of his father. After making sacrifices to his father’s shade, Aeneas announces that the games will be held ten days hence.
On the morning of the games, crowds gather on the beaches to watch. The first event is the boat race. Gyas, the initial leader, is unhappy with his pilot’s refusal to sail closer to the rocks and throws the hapless Menoetes overboard, to the great amusement of the onlookers. Sergestus sails too close and catches his boat on the rocks. At the last minute Cloanthus offers a sacrifice to the sea gods if he wins. Portunus, god of harbors, hears him and pushes his boat ahead of Mnesthus. Everyone receives prizes, even Sergestus, who comes in last.
The next competition is a footrace. Nisus takes the lead, but slips in some blood left from the sacrifices. Nonetheless, he manages to trip Salius, who was behind him, letting his friend Euryalus win. Salius is angry at being cheated out of his prize, so he is given a consolation prize, as is Nisus.
In the boxing match that follows, Dares is about to take the prize uncontested when Aeneas rouses Entellus to have one last bout. Dares does better because of his youth, but Entellus has a sudden bout of pride after he is knocked down and begins to pummel Dares. Aeneas tears Entellus away and awards him the prize bullock, which Entellus kills with a well-placed punch as an offering to his teacher, Eryx.
The final event is a shooting match. Aeneas sets a dove up as a target. The third contestant manages to hit the dove, whose tether had been severed by the previous shot. King Acestes shoots an arrow just for the sake of show, but the shaft miraculously bursts into flame and disappears into the sky. Aeneas decides that this omen is a sign from the gods and awards Acestes the prize for first place.
As a conclusion to the games, the young Trojan boys parade on horseback. Meanwhile, Juno sends Iris to stir up the Trojan women, who are grumbling over still not having a home. Iris disguises herself as one of them and encourages the women to burn the boats. Pyrgo recognizes her as a goddess. The women do not act until they see Iris sail across the sky, whereupon they grab torches and set the boats aflame. Hearing of the fire, Aeneas rushes to the scene. Jupiter answers his prayers and sends a storm to quench the flames.
Discouraged, Aeneas contemplates settling in Sicily. Nautes recommends he leave behind those who are weary of travelling with King Acestes and then continue on to Italy. Aeneas is unsure what course of action to follow, but Anchises appears to him in a dream that night and tells him that Nautes’ advise is sound. He further advises Aeneas to come visit him in Elysium, which he can reach with the help of the Sibyl. After spending a few days setting up the settlement and saying good-bye, the reduced band of Aeneidae depart.
Meanwhile, Venus asks Neptune to grant the Trojans a safe passage to Italy. Neptune says he will let them pass with only one life as payment. After a day of smooth sailing, all the sailors fall asleep except Palinarus. The god Sleep comes to him disguised as one of the Trojans and urges him to rest. After he refuses to abandon his post, Sleep drugs him and tosses him overboard. Aeneas is saddened when he awakes and realizes his old friend has been lost.
The funeral games provide a light-hearted respite after the emotional drain of Book Four. Yet the games foreshadow sadder days to come. The humorous dunking of Menoetes is merely a prelude to the underhanded murder of Palinarus. Similarly, Nisus’ devotion to Euryalus will come to a painful conclusion on the Italian battlefield. While the four games are united by sacrifices that bring success and the ethical treatment of victory in the battles to come, ethics will count for nothing and sacrifices will only bring more blood.
These games provide an excellent opportunity to see just how much Virgil has borrowed from the Iliad. In Homer’s work, funeral games are held following the death of Patroclus. While Virgil added the boat race and eliminated some other sports, the events parallel those of the Iliad. For example, Homer’s shooting contest has a dove whose cord is cut by a contestant’s arrow, and his footrace has a contestant who slips and falls, although it is animal dung that causes him to lose his footing and not blood.
One of the modern major controversies over the Aeneid is whether or not Virgil is attempting to subvert the regime of Augustus. The historical opinion has always been that Virgil was supporting the regime with his work, as evidenced by Augustus’ adoption of the Aeneid. This book provides proof of Virgil’s direct support of the powers-that-be by his creating through the leaders of the Aeneidae, an ancestry for the modern Roman noble families. It is also possible that the very inclusion of this book was a bow to Augustus. The Romans did not care for these kinds of athletic contests; their idea of entertainment was gladiator contests and watching animals fight. Augustus had revived quadrennial sporting matches in 28 B.C. in honor of the victory at Actium. Virgil’s inclusion of this book, which seems to have been added after most of the book was written, might be an attempt to encourage the practice. Augustus was also attempting to revive the Roman religion, and Virgil’s inclusion of so many religious rites would make them appear more sacred and ancient in the eyes of his readers.
Finally, the curious flaming arrow seems to be a reference to Acestes’ future as the founder of a great city, Acesta. As Segesta, this western Sicilian town was an important city in the first