Book 8 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 960

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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

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 find King Evander of the Arcadians. The Trojans come upon the Arcadians in the middle of a ceremony in honor of Hercules. Pallas meets them upon the river’s banks and takes them to Evander. Evander willingly allies with the Trojans and invites them to join in the rites they are celebrating. Evander tells Aeneas the story of Cacus and Hercules. Cacus, an evil monster, had been terrifying the countryside. Cacus made the mistake of stealing some of Hercules’ prize cattle. Hercules ripped off the roof of Cacus’ cave home, leaped inside, and strangled Cacus. In honor and thanks, the Arcadians hold an annual ceremony for Hercules. After the ceremony, Evander explains to Aeneas the history of his land. He shows Aeneas the sites that will in the future be the sacred places and famous spaces of Rome. Evander then invites Aeneas to spend the night in his humble home. Venus, worried about the coming war, seductively asks Vulcan to make arms for Aeneas. Vulcan agrees, and rises early the next day to direct the work on Aeneas’ weapons. Evander tells Aeneas that it would be wise for him to unite with the Etruscans, who eagerly seek to punish Mezentius for his tyranny while king of the city of Agylla. The Etruscans have been held back by the prediction that a stranger must be their leader. Unfortunately Evander is too old to lead them, and Pallas is partially Etruscan, so it falls on Aeneas to lead these men. Although Evander himself has little to offer Aeneas, he does promise to send his son and 200 horsemen with Aeneas when he leaves. Suddenly, a vision of clashing weapons appears in the sky. Aeneas recognizes this as a warning of war sent by Venus. He sends a ship back to Ascanius, while he sets out to find the Etruscans. Evander tearfully bids good-bye to Pallas, ironically wishing to die before hearing that his son has been killed. enus finds Aeneas as he is camped near the Etruscans. She presents him with the beautiful armor forged for him by Vulcan. After admiring the beautiful, prophetic scenes on the shield, Aeneas hoists up his new armor, ignorant of its symbolic meaning.

For the person unacquainted with Roman history, it is easy to sympathize with Aeneas, who finds the decorations on his shield marvelous “though he does not know what they mean” (953-955). First, the wolf with the human children is a depiction of Romulus and Remus, twin sons of Mars who were raised by a she-wolf. They have been referred to earlier in the Heroscopia as well as Jupiter’s prediction to Venus in Book One. There follows a reference to the Rape of the Sabine Women, when the Romans carried the daughters of the neighboring Sabines off to be their wives. The shield is also covered with famous episodes from the time of the kings and scenes of the Republican wars showing a Rome that punishes lawless violence and reveres (and is protected by) the gods. The center of the shield is dominated by a glorified depiction of Augustus’ defeat of Antony and Cleopatra at Actium. As at Troy, the gods fight overhead. The shield attempts to convey the end to the years of civil war that had torn Rome and the subsequent rise of a golden age. Many versions of the Aeneid have glossaries that describe in detail the shield. This famous set piece is a blatant imitation of the Iliad’s lengthy description of the shield of Achilles. Achilles’ shield depicted scenes of marriage, festivals, and death as well as scenes of war. The implication was that these were all things that Achilles would miss because of his early death. Hence, the shield lent a tragic tone to the Iliad. In contrast, the shield of Aeneas overwhelmingly shows scenes of victory. He is one of a line of heroes stretching from Hercules to Augustus who “resorts to force only to curtail the destructive, utterly negative results of Disorder” (Anderson, 73). The effect is triumphant, and nicely allows Virgil to praise the peace Augustus had established. In the description of the bucolic lifestyle of the Arcadians, Virgil has created a scene that appealed to the Roman nostalgia for simpler times and ways of life. The Arcadians also illustrate the theme of the replacement of old ways by new as much as do the primitive Italian heroes. The Arcadians are morally superior to many of the Italian forces. They are pious, as can be seen from their many places of worship, and they have no love for wealth. (Avarice will become the sin which brings down many warriors in the following books.) Finally, Evander’s walking tour of his kingdom provides a link between the Rome of old and the Rome of the present. Much as Virgil gave added weight to the religious institutions of Rome by showing them being founded by the mighty Aeneas, his description of the Roman religious sites being utilized in ancient times could have only added to a Roman’s feeling of awe.


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