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.

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Troy. Site of the Trojan War, located in Turkey, in northwestern Asia Minor. Homer sets the Iliad (c. 800 b.c.e.; English translation, 1616), the Greek epic that directly influenced the Aeneid, in the last days before the city’s defeat at the hands of the Greek forces. Vergil chooses to have Aeneas describe Troy’s destruction through the ruse of the Trojan horse. This element establishes an ethnic connection between the Trojans, who fled the dying city to establish what Vergil calls a “New Troy” in Italy, and the Romans. Southern Italy was called Magna Graecia by the Romans because of its extensive Greek colonization, and Vergil establishes the Roman race as comprising other groups, including Greeks, Anatolians, Etruscans, and native Latin peoples. Connecting Augustus’s Rome to Troy thus establishes what the emperor most desired for his city: a noble antiquity that could account for Imperial Rome’s preeminence.


*Carthage. Ancient North African city in what is now Tunisia. The same storm that sends Homer’s Odysseus and his crew to Circe’s island also strikes Aeneas and the Trojans, who successfully escape from burning Troy. The storm, recorded in the Aeneid, brings the Trojans to Carthage, a city particularly noteworthy in Roman history. Located in Tunisia, Carthage was, in Vergil’s time, in the Roman province known as Numidia Proconsularis. Vergil emphasizes the longstanding connections between Rome and Carthage. For Aeneas, Carthage is where he is granted the chance to rest and recuperate by two goddesses, themselves enemies: Juno, who wishes to delay the founding of a new Troy, and Venus, Aeneas’s mother, who wants some respite for her hero son. The casualty of this episode is Dido, Carthage’s brave, widowed queen, who has founded Carthage after the overthrow of Tyre, in Phoenicia, and the murder of her husband Sychaeus. The divinely contrived love affair between Dido and Aeneas results in the queen’s suicide and her curse, which results in the three Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage. Vergil has Jupiter specifically refer to Hannibal’s invasion of Italy in the Aeneid. By doing so, he continues to provide plausible mythic links to Roman history through indisputably real sites, which would have been known to readers of his time.


*Cumae. Ancient site of Apollo’s temple and of the Sybil, its priestess. The town is located near Pozzuoli just north of Naples. The soft tufaceous rock and its seismically active topography made this site appear to be a point of access to the realm of the dead. Indeed, in the Aeneid it is Apollo’s Sybil who guides Aeneas to the underworld to consult the shade of his mortal father Anchises on what fate holds in store for the Trojan people. Anchises warns his son that he will have to fight what is in effect a second Trojan War, this one in Italy, to marry the princess Lavinia and establish Lavinium.

The temple of Apollo described by Vergil would have been familiar to Imperial Roman visitors to Cumae. Here again he ties Roman prehistory to a place that would have been familiar to Romans of his time. By the time of Augustus, Cumae was more a resort than a place of pilgrimage, another of the sulfur-bath towns frequented by wealthy Romans. However, the shrine and the sibylline priesthood continued to be maintained until the early Christian church decreed destruction of the Sibylline Books. Augustus used many of the caves that dotted the Bay of Naples as storage facilities for his legions.


*Latium. Roughly equivalent to the region of Lazio, the region of Italy that includes the city of Rome. Latium in the Aeneid also incorporates Lavinium, the city of King Latinus, father of Lavinia, the future bride of Aeneas. Lavinium thus becomes the site of a second Trojan War for a second contested bride. In 1975 archaeologists determined that the modern Prattica di Mare, a small farming community south of Rome, contains the citadel of Lavinium. They have unearthed thirteen ancient altars used for farm offerings as well as several late Mycenaean grave sites, one given the appellation “Grave of Aeneas” based on a problematic inscription.


*Pallanteum. Vergil’s name for the Etruscan settlement on the Palatine Hill at the future site of Rome. Aeneas tours this site with King Evander, his new ally in the battle to overcome the native Latin tribes living near Rome. All the details of topography that would have been familiar to Imperial Romans are present in Vergil’s description. There was, in fact, an Etruscan settlement on the site of Rome.

Historical Context

(Epics for Students)

Roman Government
Rome was founded in 753 BC. For nearly 250 years it was a monarchy. The last king was a tyrant whose son...

(The entire section is 1224 words.)


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The action of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey covers the ten years of the Trojan War and the ten years following the Greek defeat of...

(The entire section is 195 words.)

Literary Style

(Epics for Students)

Point of View
The particular literary character of the Aeneid derives from its double point of view. The personal vision,...

(The entire section is 1083 words.)

Literary Qualities

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Considerable length has become one of the standard criteria for defining the epic as a literary form. In an extended poem like the...

(The entire section is 526 words.)

Social Sensitivity

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Vergil was a poet living in a violent era who created a national poem about an earlier time that was equally as turbulent. As a result, the...

(The entire section is 107 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Epics for Students)

Legendary Period: Aeneas and the Trojans are only one of the many peoples who legend records as being driven from their homes in this...

(The entire section is 282 words.)

Topics for Discussion

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Juno hates the Trojans for several reasons, and torments and foils them whenever she can. Does this enmity seem to have any legitimate...

(The entire section is 356 words.)

Ideas for Reports and Papers

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. The comparisons between the Homeric epics and the Aeneid are many. In what ways are these three works similar? Is Vergil's poem an...

(The entire section is 181 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Epics for Students)

  • The Etruscans, who join Aeneas as allies, also claimed to have come from Asia Minor. Research the Etruscans and the ways in which they...

(The entire section is 291 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Epics for Students)

  • For centuries the Aeneid was an enormously popular source of ideas for other writers and artists. The first medieval romance was an...

(The entire section is 264 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Epics for Students)

The Eclogues (often called the Bucolics) is Virgil's first published collection of poetry. It consists of ten selections,...

(The entire section is 332 words.)

For Further Reference

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Anderson, William S. The Art of the "Aeneid." Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1969. This is a fairly brief but thorough...

(The entire section is 743 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Cairns, Francis. Virgil’s Augustan Epic. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1989. An outstanding piece of criticism that opens the poem to the reader. Explains the role of games in the narrative, the significance of numerous characters, and geographical and mythological references. Accessible and pleasantly written.

Gransden, K. W. Virgil: The “Aeneid.” Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1990. Stresses the character of Aeneas, his moral burdens, his ambition, and his suffering. Also useful in understanding Vergil’s epic ambition and the political goals of his poem within the context of Augustan Rome.

Johnson, W. R. Darkness Visible. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976. Reassesses the temper of the poem, seeing it not as imperial and stately but pessimistic and skeptical. Controversial among Vergil scholars, but probably the most important book on the Aeneid published in the last quarter of the twentieth century.

Henry, Elisabeth. The Vigour of Prophecy: A Study of Virgil’s Aeneid. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1990. An examination of the various temporal perspectives of Vergil’s Aeneid, this book illustrataes how recollection of past events and prophetic knowledge of the future create a philosophical vision of fate and divine will which determines heroic action in the epic.

Lyne, R. O. A. M. Words and the Poet: Characteristic Techniques of Style in Vergil’s “Aeneid.” Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1989. Occasionally difficult, but excellent stylistic analysis of the Aeneid. Especially provocative in its discussion of the technique of epic simile and the way in which epic simile helps the poem define itself as a narrative.

Ross, David O. Virgil’s Aeneid: A Reader’s Guide. Boston: Blackwell, 2007. An accessible guide toAeneid that also discusses Virgil’s life and times, and Homer’s influence on his writing. There are six chapters, an appendix and indexes.

Slavitt, David. Virgil. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1991. Pays particular attention to the craft of the poem and the personal sensibility of the poet. Comments on and critiques the quality of various English translations of the Aeneid.

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Epics for Students)

Anderson, William S., The Art of the Aeneid, Prentice-Hall, 1969, 473 p. An introductory study of the Aeneid which discusses...

(The entire section is 1174 words.)