Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 998
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
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 foreigner. This is unfortunate, as Latinus’ wife favored Turnus, the handsome Rutulian king.
On the shores of the river, the Trojans are having their first meal in Latium. Instead of consecrating the crusts of their bread to Ceres, they eat them along with their meals. Thus “eating their tables,” they fulfill Celaeno’s prophecy. The Aeneidae realize that at long last they are at their new home.
The next day they scout the territory. While Aeneas plots out their new city, emissaries are sent to Latinus. Latinus welcomes the Trojans. Ilioneus says that they seek a small plot of land, adding that the gods told them to settle in Italy. After a pause, Latinus tells the Trojans that they must be the foreigners he was told to seek, and offers his daughter’s hand to Aeneas. He gives them gifts and sends them back to the camp.
Juno is enraged that she has not yet managed to destroy the Trojans. She decides that even though Aeneas is fated to wed Lavinia, she can hold off the event for a time with a great and bloody war. Juno goes down to hell and asks the fury Allecto to cause a war.
Allecto quickly departs. She goes to Amata, who is already unhappy that her favorite is to be denied, and tosses a poisonous snake down her dress. As the venom works through her system, the queen becomes hysterical, eventually taking Lavinia into the forest and hiding her there.
Allecto then goes to the sleeping Turnus, appearing to him as an aged priestess of Juno. She tries to encourage Turnus to go to war for Lavinia. Turnus sneers at her and tells her to keep to women’s work. Angered, Allecto appears as herself. She casts a torch at the terrified Turnus, who is filled with anger and the desire for war. He decides to drive the Trojans out of Italy.
Allecto finds Ascanius, who is out hunting. She puts the scent of a stag in the nose of his dogs and the love of praise in Ascanius. The deer which Ascanius shoots is unfortunately the pet of Tyrrhus. He and the farmers set off to punish Ascanius. Suddenly, the Trojan exiles and the Italians are at war.
Allecto returns to Juno, proud of her work. Juno is pleased and sends Allecto back to her cave. All of the Italians run to Latinus and ask him to declare war. He refuses, locking himself in the palace. Juno then bursts open the symbolic Gates of War.
After an invocation to the muse, Virgil gives the catalogue of Italian heroes, including their leaders and places of habitation. Most notable of the Italian forces are Turnus, Mezentius the tyrant, and Camilla, the warrior maiden.
Despite the cheerful start this book has, Virgil has filled it with details that point to the coming war. First, Lavinia’s episode with the heavenly fire mirrors the dream Paris’ mother had of giving birth to a firebrand. Lavinia’s flame indicates that she, too, will bring great trouble to her people, although, like the flame around Ascanius’ head in Book Two, it also symbolizes that Lavinia will have great glory.
Second, and as discussed by Michael Putnam in Virgil’s Aeneid, the “cluster of bees on Latinus’ laurel is one harbinger of future domination by the Trojans” (Putnam, 13). Its symbolism is drawn from Virgil’s discussion of bees in the fourth Georgic, where Virgil describes bees’ war-like demeanor and their habit of swarming when they are looking for a new place to live.
In addition, Latinus’ gifts to the Trojans cast an ominous shadow. While he welcomes them in peace, the presents he sends—a chariot and horses that breathe fire—are more appropriate for war. Finally, the red of the waters as Aeneas arrives at the Tiber hints that soon the river will run red with blood.
It seems odd for Virgil to spend so much time glorifying the Italian heroes, since they are the enemies of the book’s protagonist. The inclusion of a list of Italian heroes has an important political implication. For most of its life, the Roman Republic had only granted citizenship to those who were of Roman ancestry. This left most Italians disenfranchised and highly dissatisfied. After the Marsic War, which lasted from 91 to 88 B.C., citizenship and its privileges were finally extended to the non-Roman Italians of the Republic. It was important for Virgil not to offend the Italians, who were still sensitive about the issue, so the inclusion of a list of Italian heroes was a politically wise decision.
The catalogue of Italian heroes also serves the purpose of humanizing the Italians. The individual descriptions of these men forces the reader to invest emotional energy in them, making their deaths tragic rather than deserved. This is appropriate because the war of the Italians and the Trojans is, in many ways, a civil war. Ancestrally, the Trojans are relatives of the Italians, and they will become brothers with them in the future as they marry the local women. Unfortunately, Latinus is too old to rule effectively, and Allecto is skilled at “arm[ing] brothers for battle, though they feel at one” (443-444). This further adds to the feeling of this war being a waste. Aeneas will win, but his victory will hardly be a triumph.
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