Book 6 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1226

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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

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 Daedalus. The Sibyl orders Aeneas to make sacrifices, which he does. She is then possessed by Apollo, who predicts a great war in Italy and warns Aeneas of continuing harassment by Juno.

Aeneas then asks the Sibyl to lead him to the underworld (the “kingdom of Dis”) so that he may visit his father. The Sibyl tells him that in order to enter, he must bring back a branch from the golden tree as an offering to Proserpina, Queen of the Underworld. She also orders him to bury Misenus, a recently dead companion. While chopping down trees for Misenus’ tomb, Aeneas suddenly sees a pair of doves who lead him to the golden tree. He snaps off a bough and returns to the Sibyl.

After sacrificing many animals, Aeneas and the Sibyl enter the cave to the underworld. A variety of horrors lurk inside, such as Disease, War, and Strife. There is also a tree under which live savage monsters, such as centaurs, gorgons, and harpies. They terrify Aeneas, but with prodding from the Sibyl he passes them by.

When they arrive at the bank of the Styx, Aeneas is dismayed to see Charon turning down so many passengers. Among them he recognizes Palinarus, who says that he survived his fall into the ocean only to be killed by barbarians when he got to shore. The Sibyl tells Palinarus that there is no way he can cross the Styx until he is buried, but that a plague will fall on the guilty cities until they build him a tomb.

Charon lets Aeneas and the Sibyl enter his boat after seeing the golden bough. On the other side of the Styx, Deiphobe neutralizes Cerberus with a drugged cake. She and Aeneas cross different regions until they get to the Fields of Mourning. Aeneas sees Dido there. He begs her to speak with him, but she is silent and leaves him to return to Sychaeus.

In the land of the soldiers, Aeneas finds his brother-in-law Deiphobus, whose face has been disfigured. Deiphobus tells Aeneas the story of Helen’s betrayal. Moving on, Aeneas is horrified to see the citadel of Tartarus. Deiphobe lists some of the legendary characters trapped within, then describes some of the punishments meted out within its walls.

Aeneas leaves the golden bough in front of a gate and enters the Groves of Blessedness in the Elysian Fields. He and the Sibyl find Anchises, who is overjoyed to see his son again. Aeneas is surprised to see all of the souls waiting to drink from the river Lethe (forgetfulness) so that they may return to the mortal world.

Anchises finally reveals to Aeneas the fate that will await his descendents in Italy. He shows him his next son, who will be a king, and proceeds to Romulus, founder of Rome. He then points out Augustus Caesar. Anchises describes the sacrifices, patriotism, and courage of the various leaders of Rome, along with their great deeds. Ultimately, the Roman race will be one that teaches peace, humbles the proud, and spares the defeated.

Anchises fires Aeneas’ soul with love of glory, then tells him of the coming battles in Italy. He then escorts Aeneas and the Sibyl to the two gates of sleep. After exiting through the gate of ivory, Aeneas hurriedly rejoins his ships.

Book Six is the pivotal book of the Aeneid. Aeneas’ journey to the underworld, a fantastic story in itself, provides the means for Aeneas to leave behind his past and work concretely toward his glorious future. Aeneas now knows that Dido’s love is lost to him forever, and that he truly must seek the new wife Creusa predicted long ago. Deiphobus, with the disfiguration of the adulterer, serves as a subtle reminder of the sins of Troy that Aeneas has escaped and encourages Aeneas to accept his future as the source of glory for his dead Trojan friends. The slate has been wiped clean; there is no longer any reason for Aeneas to cling to the past.

After the frustrations Aeneas has experienced in his attempts to obey the will of the gods, Anchises at last gives Aeneas a clear vision of what he has been struggling toward. His speech, known as the Review of Heroes or Heroscopia, selectively examines Rome’s history in order to provide the most positive vision of Aeneas’ “future.”

First, Anchises shows Aeneas the men who will found cities across Italy. Anchises reveals that Aeneas’ descendents will eventually spread the power of Rome to the ends of the earth. To enable this to come to pass, Aeneas will have to found but one city. Second, Anchises’ indication of Numa and Tullus, the priest “crowned with olive boughs” and the military leader who will “wake to arms the indolent,” shows Aeneas the two paths pietas will oblige him to follow. He will continue to honor the gods, but he will very soon have to do his duty to his homeland as well. Finally, the continual references to heroes who have had to suffer personally in order to help the country show Aeneas that he is not alone. All of these men have had their eye on a higher good, and Aeneas can see that the suffering they (and he) undergo has been worth the price. After this great speech, it is no wonder Anchises addresses Aeneas as “Roman” (1135); Aeneas has finally transformed his allegiance to his future.

For the Roman reader, Virgil’s choice of heroes and accompanying commentary would have had a varied result. First, the mention of Caesar and Pompey, whom Anchises urges to “not let such great wars be native to your minds, or turn your force against your homeland’s vitals,” would remind the reader of the recent, decimating civil wars which Augustus had finally brought to an end (1105-1106). If that were not enough to encourage loyalty to Augustus, Virgil’s florid description of his god-surpassing attributes could inspire the reader to view Augustus’ accomplishments with awe. In addition, Augustus’ inclusion between the kings and the senators would show that he is a ruler who combines the best of both of the former rulers of Rome. Finally, Virgil’s reminders of the sorrows necessary in moving Rome to its current state of excellence would inspire the reader with patriotism and a desire to serve the state well. Overall, the Review of Heroes would inspire loyalty in the citizens of Augustus’ Restored Republic.

It is interesting to note Virgil’s inclusion of a very public condolence in this section. The Marcellus upon whom Anchises wishes to scatter flowers was the nephew and designated heir of Augustus. His death in 23 B.C. meant the end of Augustus’ dreams of establishing a dynasty and was considered a great tragedy.


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Book 7 Summary and Analysis