Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1022
Cybele: the mother goddess
Numanus: brother-in-law of Turnus, taunter of the Trojans
Apollo: god of the sun
Pandarus and Bitias: twin Trojan giants
Juno sends Iris to Turnus. Iris tells Turnus that Aeneas is not in the Trojan camp and urges him to take the opportunity to attack. Turnus offers prayers of thanks, happily obeying the goddess who sent him this news.
The Italian forces advance on the Trojans, who retreat to their fortress as Aeneas ordered. Turnus throws the first javelin, symbolically starting the attack. Unable to penetrate the walls, he turns his energy to the Trojan’s ships. These ships were built of wood from a grove sacred to Cybele. Jupiter had promised her that he would protect the trees if they were attacked after they made it to Italy. As Turnus attempts to burn the fleet, the ships dive beneath the waves and reappear as sea nymphs.
Turnus rallies his disturbed troops, ignoring the meaning of the ships’ transformation. He reminds them that the Trojans have stolen his promised bride just as Paris stole Helen, implying that Troy will fall yet again. His forces blockade the gates for the night.
On watch as sentries, Nisus and Euryalus agree to try to cross the Italian lines to reach Aeneas. Ascanius promises them great presents if they return, but Euryalus only wants assurances that his mother will be cared for should he die.
Moving through the camp, Nisus and Euryalus mercilessly slaughter the sleeping Italians. Euryalus takes the golden armor of Rhamnes, and he and Nisus leave for safer ground. As they depart, a troop of horsemen led by Volcens sees light reflecting off Euryalus’ helmet. The two Trojans attempt to escape in the forest, but Euryalus gets lost and is caught. Nisus spears two of his friend’s captors, for which Euryalus is killed by the angry Volcens. Nisus then rushes the Italians, managing to kill Volcens before he, too, is killed. Virgil concludes their story with a promise to preserve their memory forever.
The next day, the Latin captains parade in front of the Trojans walls, displaying the heads of Nisus and Euryalus on pikes. Euryalus’ mother hears of her son’s death and rushes to the walls, broken-hearted. She is carried away in the arms of two of the Trojan defenders.
The Italian forces attack the Trojan’s walls, which the Trojans defend in a well-practiced way. Turnus sets a tower aflame, which collapses, killing all within but two. Death is dealt on all sides. Ascanius makes his first kill, shooting Numanus Remulus, who had been calling the Trojans Phrygian women. Apollo then appears and tells Ascanius to remove himself from the fighting.
Pandarus and Bitias open the gates, tempting the Italians to enter. Trojans attack and hold off the intruders, then makes sallies outside. Turnus hears of the open gate and races for it, slaughtering as he goes.
Mars then encourages the Latins and instills fear to the Trojans. Pandarus heaves the gate shut, accidentally locking Turnus inside. Turnus kills Pandarus, then attacks as many Trojans as he can find. A panic ensues in the fort, but fortunately Turnus’ bloodlust keeps him from thinking of opening the gates. The Trojans finally unite, pushing Turnus back. Jupiter tells Juno to stop helping Turnus, and Turnus finally leaps into the Tiber and escapes.
Most of the drama of the last four books of the Aeneid is based upon the conflict between Aeneas and Turnus. Rather than portraying Turnus as a one-dimensional nemesis, Virgil has chosen to make him a sympathetic character. Turnus might not have chosen to fight without the intervention of Allecto, but his declared reason is noble: he is fighting to protect his homeland from foreign invaders and regain his chosen bride. He is handsome and an excellent warrior. The similes Virgil uses to describe him are uniformly complementary.
Turnus is a tragic character. The prophecies throughout the book have made it evident that it is not possible for him to win the war. His own characterization of the Italian situation as parallel to that of the Greeks in their war against the Trojans is false: Lavinia is not a stolen wife, it was Hector who burnt the Greek boats, and it is now Aeneas who has the sacred armor. Turnus does not realize that his role in this drama is to be Hector, not Achilles. Fate is now allied with the Trojans. Turnus’ goddess-induced madness for war and his noble character ultimately will undermine the glory of the Trojan victory.
Turnus also lacks one of the vital personal characteristics of the ideal Roman leader: he does not have self-restraint. This problem, emphasized through Virgil’s use of animal similes, is most apparent in Turnus’ failure to open the gates of the Trojan fortress. While his blood-lust appeals to Mars, it keeps Turnus from taking the action which could have actually defeated his enemies. Turnus is definitely a good warrior, but his style of leadership is not the kind that could lead the Italian people to greatness. For that, they will need the self-discipline epitomized by Aeneas. Turnus is a great man who is about to become obsolete.
Nisus and Euryalus’ decision to kill the sleeping Italians instead of heading directly to Aeneas shows the same kind of disastrous rashness. However, their devoted friendship is the epitome of the highest of Roman social virtues. In the footrace of Book Five, their friendship benefits them both; in this book, it is their undoing.
It is interesting to note the elaborate introduction Virgil provides these two characters, as if they had not previously been in the book. This discrepancy is one of the reasons that Book Five is believed to have been inserted after most of the Aeneid had been written. (The other discrepancy is the difference between Book Five’s account of the death of Palinarus, and another version in Book Six.) It is believed that Virgil would have corrected this problem if he had lived to edit his own work. As it stands, the “errors” have provided plenty of fodder for scholarly discussion.