The Poem

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Aeneas, driven by a storm to the shores of Libya, is welcomed gladly by the people of Carthage. Because Carthage is the favorite city of Juno, divine enemy of Aeneas, Venus has Cupid take the form of Ascanius, son of Aeneas, so that the young god of love might warm the heart of proud Dido, queen of Carthage, and Aeneas will come to no harm in her land. At the close of a welcoming feast, Aeneas is prevailed upon to recount his adventures.

He describes the fall of his native Troy at the hands of the Greeks after a ten-year siege, telling how the armed Greeks entered the city in the belly of a great wooden horse, and how the Trojans fled from their burning city, among them Aeneas, with his father, Anchises, and young Ascanius. Not long afterward, Anchises advised setting sail for distant lands. Blown by varying winds, the Trojans at length reached Buthrotum, where it was foretold that they would have a long and arduous journey before Aeneas would reach Italy. Setting sail once more, they reached Sicily. There Anchises, who was his son’s sage counselor, died and was buried. Forced to leave Sicily, Aeneas was blown by stormy winds to the coast of Libya. Here he ends his tale, and Dido, influenced by Cupid disguised as Ascanius, feels pity and admiration for the Trojan hero.

The next day, Dido continues her entertainment for Aeneas. During a royal hunt, a great storm drives Dido and Aeneas to the same cave for refuge. There they succumb to the passion of love. Aeneas spends the winter in Carthage and enjoys the devotion of the queen, but in the spring, he feels the need to continue his destined course. When he sets sail, the sorrowing Dido kills herself. The light of her funeral pyre is seen far out at sea.

Again on the shores of Sicily, Aeneas bids his men refresh themselves with food, drink, and games. First, there is a boat race in which Cloanthus is the victor. The second event is a foot race, won by Euryalus. Entellus engages Dares in a boxing match, which Aeneas stops before the clearly superior Entellus achieves a knockout. The final contest is with bow and arrow. Eurytion and Acestes make spectacular showings, and each is awarded a handsome prize. Following the contests, Ascanius and the other young boys ride out to engage in war games. Meanwhile, the women grieve the lost guidance of Anchises and, at the instigation of Juno, set fire to the ships. Aeneas, sustained by the gods, bids his people repair the damage. Once more, the Trojans set sail.

Finally, they reach the shores of Italy, at Cumae, which is famous for its Sibyl. The Sibyl grants Aeneas the privilege of visiting his father in the underworld. After due sacrifice, Aeneas and the Sibyl begin their descent into Hades. At length, they reach the river Styx and persuade the boatman, Charon, to row them across. Aeneas sees the spirits of many people he knew in life, including the ill-fated Dido. Then they come to the beginning of a forked road. One path leads to the regions of the damned; the other leads to the land of the blessed. Following the latter road, they come at last to Anchises, who shows Aeneas in marvelous fashion the future of Rome and commands him to found his kingdom at the place where he would eat his tables. On his return to the upper regions, Aeneas revisits his men and proceeds to his own abode.

Again the Trojans set sail up the coast of Italy, to the ancient state of Latium, ruled by Latinus. On the shore, they prepare a meal, laying bread under their meat. As they are eating, Ascanius jokingly observes that in eating their bread they are eating their tables. This remark tells Aeneas that this is the place Anchises foretold. The next day, the Trojans come to the city of King Latinus on the Tiber. Latinus was warned by an oracle not to give his daughter Lavinia in marriage to any native man but to wait for an alien, who would come to establish a great people. He welcomes Aeneas as that man of destiny.

A Latin hero, Turnus, becomes jealous of the favor Latinus shows Aeneas and stirs up revolt among the people. Juno, hating Aeneas, aids Turnus. One day, Ascanius kills a stag, not knowing that it is the tame favorite of a native family. From this incident, there grows such a feud that Latinus shuts himself up in his house and ceases to control his subjects. Aeneas makes preparations for battle with the Latins under Turnus.

In a dream, he is advised to seek the help of Evander, whose kingdom on the Seven Hills will become the site of mighty Rome. Evander agrees to join forces with Aeneas against the armies of Turnus and to enlist troops from nearby territories as well. Venus presents Aeneas with a fabulous shield made by Vulcan, for she fears for the safety of her son.

When Turnus learns that Aeneas is with Evander, he and his troops besiege the Trojan camp. One night, Nisus and Euryalus, two Trojan youths, enter the camp of the sleeping Latins and slaughter a great many of them before they are discovered and put to death. The enraged Latins advance on the Trojans with fire and sword and force them into open battle. When the Trojans seem about to beat back their attackers, Turnus enters the fray and puts them to flight. The thought of Aeneas inspires the Trojans to such bravery that they drive Turnus into the river.

Aeneas, warned in a dream of this battle, returns and lands with his allies on the shore near the battlefield, where he encounters Turnus and his armies. Evander’s troops are being routed when Pallas, Evander’s beloved son, urges them on and himself rushes into the fight, killing many of the enemy before he is slain in combat with Turnus. Aeneas seeks to take the life of Turnus, who escapes through the intervention of Juno.

Aeneas decrees that the body of Pallas should be sent back to his father, with appropriate pomp, during a twelve-day truce. The gods watched the conflict from afar; now Juno relents at Jupiter’s command but insists that the Trojans must take the Latin speech and garb before their city can rule the world.

Turnus leads his band of followers against Aeneas, in spite of a treaty made by Latinus. An arrow from an unknown source penetrates Aeneas, but his wound is miraculously healed. The Trojan hero reenters the battle and is again wounded, but he is able to engage Turnus in personal combat and strike him down. Aeneas kills his enemy in the name of Pallas and sacrifices his body to the shade of his dead ally. No longer opposed by Turnus, Aeneas is now free to marry Lavinia and establish his long-promised new nation. This is Rome, the greatest power of the ancient world.