About Me

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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019 and I am now properly retired and trying to write a novel. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Monday, 18 June 2018

"The Aeneid" by Virgil

This is the classic Roman poem about how Aeneas flees the sack of Troy with his dad and his son and quite a lot of other Trojans, how they take refuge in Dido's Carthage before going to Italy where his descendants will found Rome. It was written sometime after 27 BC and unfinished when Virgil died in 19 BC. It is in 12 books, each of about 900 lines of epic poetry. My version was a prose translation by David West published by Penguin Classics.

Some of the ideas in this blogpost reference a CD course of lectures on The Aeneid of Virgil given by Professor Elizabeth Vandiver and published in 1999 by The Teaching Company, Chantilly, Virginia.

Vandiver (1999) suggests that the first six books which tell of the travels of Aeneas before he reaches Italy are modelled on the Odyssey and the last six which are about the wars to found a state in Italy are based on the Iliad.

Book One Shipwreck

Book One tells the story of how Aeneas is shipwrecked on the Carthaginian (North African) shore and how he and his men are given refuge by Queen Dido.

The proem
There is a short section in which Virgil sets out what he will do with this work. This introduces themes:

Vandiver (1999) points out that the The Aeneid starts with the three Latin words arma virumque cano (Of arms and of the man I sing) and thus references Homer whose Iliad is about warfare and whose Odyssey is about the man Odysseus. It also makes a distinction between Homer, who uses the conceit that he is told the tale by the Muse, and Virgil who states categorically cano, I sing (and later asks the Muse to 'remind' - line 8 Mūsa, mihī causās memorā - him of what happens).

Aeneas is pietas which means that he does the right thing, he does his duty, he plays the game, he does noblesse oblige and he makes the right sacrifices etc. (Vandiver 1999)

The founding of Rome is inevitable, it is decreed by the fates. Vandiver (1999) says that the word used is fatum which means that which is decreed; she points out that who decrees is ambiguous: sometimes it seems to be Jupiter and at other times not. Whilst in Homer fate governs what happens to an individual, in Virgil fate controls the destiny of a group of people, the Trojans,

The story

It starts, as the Homeric epics model, in media res (to quote Horace, contemporary of Virgil), with a storm at sea. On landing Aeneas despairs (why couldn’t I have died in battle at Troy; words very reminiscent of Odysseus when he fears raftwreck; Odyssey 5: 295 - 312) but when he has to talk to his men he puts on a brave face and uses his words to rally them: we’ve faced worse than this.

In Book 1 we are introduced to three gods:
  • Juno who is utterly anti-Trojan after the adverse Judgement of Paris and because Jupiter fancied Trojan princeling and pretty boy Ganymede and because she knows that Rome will destroy her beloved Carthage; 
  • Venus who is the mum of Aeneas; 
  • Jupiter who tries to keep the peace and run the show and to some extend is in charge of deciding the fate.

Venus appears (disguised as a huntress) to tell Aeneas to go and speak to Dido. He only recognises his mum as she goes. He goes to Carthage with his mate Achates; they are hidden in a cloud. It is ironic that it is in the Temple of Juno that Aeneas sees murals depicting the Trojan War. This encourages him. Next, he sees that most of his comrades have escaped shipwreck. He hears Dido offer the shipwrecked sailors support and protection. The mist disappears and he reveals himself to her. She calls for a feast. But Venus sends Cupid to take the shape of Ascanius, the son of Aeneas. Dido adores the cute little boy (he must be at least nine to have walked with his dad from the sack of Troy and to have spent the last seven years wandering) and takes him on her knee and in this way her erotic passion for Aeneas is kindled.

Selected good bitsAeolus is king and here in a vast cavern he keeps in subjection the brawling winds and howling storms, chained and bridled in their prison.
When disorder arises among the people of a great city and the common mob runs riot, wild passion find weapons for men's hands and torches and rocks start flying; at such a time if people chance to see a man who has some weight along them ... they fall silent, standing and listening with all their attention while his words command their passions and soothe their hearts.
The glow of youth shone all about him. It was as though skilled hands had added embellishments to ivory or applied gilding to silver or Parian marble.
Through my own suffering, I am learning to help those who suffer.” (1.630)

Book Two: The sack of Troy
Laocoon and his sons being attacked by the serpent
Aeneas fleeing Troy with Anchises on his back and leading Ascanius by the hand

In Book Two Aeneas tells the story of the sack of Troy. Vandriver (1999) says that this is the fullest account of the Wooden Horse and the end of the Trojan war. It contains the famous line “timeo danaos et dona ferentes (I fear the Greeks even bringing gifts)” which Laocoon utters. But,especially after a serpent comes out of the sea to strangle Laocoon and his two sons, and especially after Sinon’s lying tale, the Trojans ignore him. They take the horse into the city. That night the Greek soldiers swarm out of the belly of the hollow horse and open the gates to their comrades who have sailed back in the night. The sack of Troy begins. Aeneas, woken by dreaming of dead Hector who advises him to flee, wants to fight at first. He sees Cassandra dragged from the temple, Priam’s son slaughtered by Pyrrhus, son of Achilles, in front of Priam as he stood there in his ancient armour, Priam slaughtered on his palace altar. Then Venus appears in a vision and tells her son to flee. He rushes to the house of his father Anchises but Anchises refuses to leave. Which means that Aeneas has to stay. Then there is a third vision, this time of Ascanius, the little son of Aeneas, with flames in his hair. Anchises sees it as a sign they must go to save his grandson. So they leave. Aeneas takes Anchises (holding the Penates, the household gods) on his back and holds Ascanius by the hand. He tells his wife Creusa to follow “at a distance” (Vandriver 1999 points out that this is a bit odd). When they escape to a mound on which a sanctuary temple of Ceres is, Creusa has disappeared. Aeneas leaves his father and his son and plunges back into the city to seek her. But she has gone. Her ghost appears and tells him he will marry a new bride in a foreign land.
Dido must be hoping it’s her.

Selected good bits
  • I was paralysed. My hair stood on end. My voice stuck in my throat.” 

Book Three Wanderings and Prophecies

Vandriver (1999) points out that Book 3 is based on the Odyssey books 9 to 12 in which Ulysses recounts his wanderings after the fall of Troy; Aeneas even visits some of the same places. Both narratives are to friendly monarchs and there is the offer of a foreign bride.

The story

First they go to Delos where the patron God Apollo prophesies they must “seek out your ancient mother” (their ancestral homeland) which Anchises thinks is Crete, from which Teucer came. But when they build a city (Pergamea) in Crete there is a plague. Apollo is displeased! Aeneas has a dream in which the Penates tell him he’s in the wrong place; they need to go to Hesperia. When he tells Anchises his dad remembers that Cassandra prophesied they would go there (but no one believed her).

They set sail again and a storm drives them to the Strophades, where the Harpies live. They land and find unguarded goats and cows which they slaughter but just as they are sitting down to the feast the Harpies swoop down and befoul the food. The chief Harpy prophesies that they will not be allowed to found a city until they have to eat their tables.

Away they sail again and eventually land at pirus where Trojan prince Helenus has married Hector’s widow Andromache (after they had both been the slaves of Pyrrhus and she had even borne Pyrrhus a son). Helenus prophesies that they will know where the city will be built because they will find a white sow suckling thirty piglets. But before he will have to visit the sibyl in Cumae.

They sail off to Sicily passing the whirlpool Charybdis at the foot of mighty cliffs and pass by Mount Etna. Here they rescue a greek sailor left behind by Ulysses when he fled the cyclops Polyphemus. They take him aboard and flee the arriving cyclopses. Sailing off again, they land at Trapani where Anchises dies.

Selected good bits

The Harpies “are birds with the faces of girls, with filth oozing from their bellies, with hooked claws for hands and faces pale with a hunger that is never satisfied.

Book Four: The love of Dido

Vandiver (1999) points out that this story is unprovenanced suggesting that it is Virgil’s own creation. She suggests it is modelled on a Greek tragedy: there is a lot of dialogue and Virgil refers to Greek tragedy. It has three sections, each starting “at regina [but the queen]”; the next word sets the theme for the section:

At regina gravi [But the queen, serious]”: Dido tells her sister that she loves Aeneas. But when her first husband died she swore never to marry again. But Anna points out she has a duty to herself to love and to have children, and a duty to her people to provide an heir and to have a husband who can protect the realm from external threats. Venus and Juno then make a bargain to push Dido and Virgil together. A royal hunting party is interrupted by a storm and Dido and Aeneas take refuge in the same cave. “Fires flashed and the heavens were witness to the marriage while nymphs wailed on the mountain tops.” Mmmm. Subsequently rumours start to fly around and when Iarbas, a local King who allowed Dido to found her city and proposed marriage to her, hears of them he prays to Jupiter at which point the top god sends Mercury to Aeneas to remind him that his duty is to go to Italy to found Rome. So Aeneas tells his men to prepare the ships for departure.

At regina dolos [But the queen, deceit]”: gets wind of the plans and confronts Aeneas; she thinks he’s going to sneak off. He says that marriage was never on the cards; if he had done what he wanted he would never have left Troy. His fate sends him to Italy and he’s going. She tells him “You are a traitor ... It was the Caucasus that fathered you on its hard rocks and ... tigers offered you their udders. ... Away you go. Keep on searching for your Italy ... Look for your kingdom over the waves. But my hope is that ... you will drain a bitter cup among the ocean rocks ... I shall follow you not in the flesh but in the black fires of death and when its cold hand takes the breath from my body, my shade shall be with you wherever you may be.” Hell hath no fury. Doesn’t move Aeneas. Dido sends sister Anna to beg Aeneas to hang around for just a little longer. Nix. So Dido tells Anna to build a bonfire of all the things that Aeneas has left behind when he went aboard

At regina pyra [But the queen, funeral pyre]”: When Aeneas, reluctant and dithering to the last, is finally persuaded by Mercury to sail away Dido kills herself.

It is a pretty stupendous bit and Dido has some thrilling lines. If the sack of Troy was great for sculptors and painters, this book has inspired plays and operas: such as Dido, Queen of Carthage by Marlowe, and Dido and Aeneas by Purcell.

Selected good bits
But priests, as we know, are ignorant.
What use are prayers and shrines to a passionate woman?
The flame was eating the soft marrow of her bones and the wound lived quietly under her chest.
“So long as rivers run down to the sea, so long as shadows play over the hollows on mountain sides, so long as stars pasture on the pole of Heaven, always will your honour, name, and praise be with me, wherever I go.”: Erotic!
Book Five: Funeral games
To modern eyes this is a pause in the tension between the drama of the death of Dido and the drama of Aeneas visiting the underworld.

The story
Returning to Sicily and arriving on the first anniversary of the death of Anchises, Aeneas decides to host funeral games. Vandiver (1999) makes the point that these games are modelled on those of Patroclus in the Iliad; and reference the contemporary Trojan games re-instituted by Augustus; and that the dead Anchises represents the past and the competing Ascanius represents the future. There is an exciting sea race,Followed by a foot race in which Euryalus and Nisus compete; a boxing match; an archery contest; and finally a horse parade in which the manoeuvers were labyrinthine (Virgil references the Labyrinth of Crete).

At this point Juno sends Iris (Vandiver 1999 makes the point that Juno often works through a lesser deity) in the shape of a woman to tempt the Trojan women to burn the Trojan boats so that they will stay in Sicily. Aeneas prays to Jupiter who sends a rain storm and only four boats are lost. Aeneas, inspired by an old Trojan called Nautes and by a vision of his father Anchises, who asks his to meet him in “the home of Dis in the underworld”, decides to build a city in Sicily where the women and any man who cares can stay (Vandiver 1999 makes the point that each Trojan must choose between staying with the dead Anchises, the past, or sailing off into the future with the boy Ascanius). Then he sails off. But the helmsman of Aeneas’ boat falls asleep and falls into the sea with a broken part of the poop deck and the tiller. Vandiver 1999 points out that episode references the death of Elpenor in the Odyssey.

Book Six: The Underworld

In Book Six Aeneas travels down into the Underworld and witnesses a procession of the famous Romans of the future.

Given that the end of this book marks the half way stage in the story it seems likely that this is intended to be the pivotal point. Vandiver 1999 points out that it is modelled on the journey Odysseus took to the Underworld. For example, Odysseus meets one of his companions there whom he did not know had died, so will Aeneas; both men travel below to consult a dead soul. There are differences: Odysseus travels alone while Aeneas is accompanied by a guide, the Sibyl; Odysseus doesn’t actually enter the Underworld but stays on the margins, talking to spirits, while Aeneas actually enters; Odysseus narrates his journey allowing for the possibility that he is lying (typical Odysseus!) while Virgil narrates the journey of Aeneas; in the Odyssey the location of the Underworld is vague, beyond the straits of Gibraltar, while in the Aeneid it is very specifically near Lake Avernus.

The story
The ships land at Cumae (a Greek city founded in the eighth century BC near Naples). They find a temple where Daedalus, fleeing Crete, first landed; the doors of the temple has panels depicting the story of the Athenian tribute to the Minotaur in the labyrinth (this story also forms the basis for Mary Renault’s The King Must Die). They enter the Sibyl’s cave; she goes into a frenzy, foaming at the mouth, and sees the river “Thybris foaming with torrents of blood” and prophesies Rome etc and tells him “it is easy to go down to the underworld. The door of black Dis stands open night and day. But to retrace your steps and escape to the upper air, that is the task, that is the labour.” First Aeneas has to find a golden bough on a dark tree hidden in a grove in a dark valley. “So then, lift up your eyes and look for it, and when in due time you find it, take it in your hand and pluck it. If you are a man called by the Fates, it will come easily of its own accord. But if not, no strength will prevail against it and hard steel will not be able to hack it off.” But even before that Aeneas has to find the body of Misenus and bury it. Then he follows two doves who lead him to the tree. “Just as the mistletoe, not sown by the tree on which it grows, puts out fresh foliage in the woods in the cold of winter and twines its yellow fruit round slender tree trunks, so shone the golden foliage on the dark ilex, so rustled the golden foil in the gentle breeze.” The bough resists but Aeneas is able to tear it off. He goes back to the Sibyl. All this while the Trojans are burying Misenus.

Now Aeneas goes to the entrance to the Underworld. “There was a huge, deep cave with jagged pebbles underfoot and a gaping mouth guarded by dark woods and the black waters of a lake. No bird could wing its flight over this cave and live, so deadly was the breath that streamed out of that black throat and up into the vault of heaven.” They walk in. “In the very throat of hell, Grief and Revenge have made their beds and Old Age lives there in despair, with white-faced Diseases and Fear and Hunger, corrupter of men, and squalid Poverty, things dreadful to look upon, and Death and Drudgery besides. Then there are Sleep, Death’s sister, perverted Pleasures, murderous War astride the threshold, the iron chambers of the Furies and raving Discord with blood-soaked ribbons binding her viperous hair.” Aeneas thinks these things are real and draws his sword but they are only “disembodied spirits”. They meet “Charon in his filthy rags” who will only take those who have been buried despite the desperate pleas of the other souls. Here Aeneas finds the Spirit of Palinurus, unburied and so forbidden to cross.

Charon doesn't want to take Aeneas, remembering Hercules and Theseus who also had been living and came to Hades to steal. But the Golden Bough does the trick. The meet Cerberus but the Sibyl feeds him a drugged honey cake and he falls asleep. Then they meet the mourning dead. One of them is Dido who won’t look at him or talk to him and runs from him. (Vandiver 1999 points out that the parallels Ajax who also killed himself and who wouldn’t speak to Odysseus because he considered Odysseus to have wronged him). Then, in the “place set apart for brave warriors” he meets the Trojans who died at Troy and then the place where those who committed crimes and weren’t found out are punished. Finally they find the shade of Anchises and Aeneas tries to embrace it: “Three times he tried to put his arms around his father's neck; three times the phantom melted in his hands, as weightless as the wind, as light as the flight of sleep.” Anchises summons a procession of the future and Aeneas sees all the Roman greats to come.

After the show, Aeneas returns to the surface. “There are two gates of sleep: one is called the Gate of Horn and it is an easy exit for true shades; the other is made all in gleaming white ivory, but through it the powers of the underworld send false dreams up towards the heavens.” Aeneas exits through the Gate of Ivory!

Book Seven
The second half of the Aeneid(Books Seven to Twelve) is concerned with Aeneas arriving in Italy and fighting a war with the Italians led by King Latinus. This is the bit that is like the Iliad.

Vandiver 1999 points out that it mirrors book 1. Aeneas arrives on a strange shoreline. He is welcomed by the ruler. There is a marriage in the offing but the potential bride is already wooed by a local. This marriage will destroy the house of the ruler hosting Aeneas.
The story

It starts with a new invocation to the muse, this time Erato, the muse of epic poetry.

The back story is the King Latinus, descended from Saturn, has only a daughter as his heir. She is more or less promised to Turnus, leader of the Rutulians. Queen Amata, wife of Latinus, is very keen to see the daughter marry Turnus. But portents suggest the match might not be good.

So Latinus visits “the oracle of his prophetic father Faunus” which is a grove in “a huge Forest sounding with the waters of its secret fountain and breathing thick clouds of sulphurous vapour.” When the king “lay down to sleep in the silence of the night on a bed of the fleeces of slaughtered sheep, he would see many strange fleeting visions, hear all manner of voices, enjoy the converse of the Gods and speak to Acheron in the depths of Avernus.” Latinus is warned against Turnus as a son-in-law and he “did not keep it locked in his heart” so rumours spread.

The Trojan leaders have a picnic on the grass; their food laid on “wheaten cakes” and when they have finished they are still hungry so that eat the bread and Ascanius says “Look! We are eating even our tables” and Aeneas remembers this as the prophecy although he misremembers it as something his father prophesied when we were told (Book 3) that it was a Harpy.

The Trojans (not Aeneas) go to negotiate with Latinus who welcomes them after Ilioneus (who was the first Trojan to speak to Dido in book one because he was the oldest of the Trojans who were shipwrecked and so not with Aeneas) makes a speech in which he talks about what haa happened to the Trojans: “The storm that gathered in merciless Mycenae and swept across the plains beneath Mount Ida, and the fate that drove the worlds of Europe and Asia to collide, these are known to all men, those who live far to the north where the ends of the earth beat back the stream of Oceanus, and those who are separated from us by the zone of the cruel sun whose expanse covers the middle zone of five.” Latinus decides that Aeneas is the stranger that the prophecy meant to marry his daughter.

Juno is pissed off and again delegates, this time to “Allecto, bringer of grief ...Her own father Pluto hated his monstrous daughter. ... she had so many faces and such fearsome shapes, and her head crawled with so many black serpents.” Juno tells her to sow discord and mayhem: “It is a task after your own heart. ... You can take brothers who love each other and set them at each other's throats. You can turn a house against itself ... You have a thousand names and a thousand ways of causing hurt.” Allecto throws one of her snakes at Queen Amata: “It glided between her dress and her smooth breasts and she felt no touch of its coils. Without her knowing it, it breathed its viper’s breath into her and made her mad. The serpent became a great necklace of twisted gold round her neck. It became the training end of a long ribbon twined round her hair. It slithered all over her body. While the first infection of the liquid venom was still oozing through all her senses and winding the fire about her bones” she tried to argue and convince Latinus that he was doing the wrong thing. Then she went mad and tried to inflame the people of the city. Then Allecto, taking the appearance of an old priestess, tried to anger Turnus. He laughed it off at first but then he became angry: “It was as though a heap of brushwood were crackling and burning under the sides of a bronze vessel, making the water seethe and leap up, a great river of it raging in the pot, with boiling foam spilling over and dense steam flying into the air.

Then Ascanius, going hunting, chases and kills a stag, the pet of the daughter of the gamekeeper of Latinus, and this precipitates a village brawl, and people start being killed. The villagers complain to Latinus. He refuses to declare was but Juno opens the city’s Gates of War. And the Latins and their allies (there is a roll call) prepare for war.

Book Eight: Aeneas goes to Rome
The story

Aeneas sleeps on the bank of the Tiber and dreams that the river god himself tells him that this is the fated home, don’t give up, and that the sign shall be the white sow with 30 piglets (already foretold by Helenus in book 3).Following the advice of the river god Aeneas and some mates set out in a couple of ships to travel up the Tiber where they find Evander and his son Pallas and their people camped out on one of the hills that will become Rome. When Evander was young he met and hero worshipped Anchises; now Evander’s son Pallas will hero-worship Aeneas. They take a tour of the sites that will become Rome. Now Venus brings her son Aeneas the gift of some weapons including a shield with pictures taken from the future history of Rome: Romulus and Remus suckling from the wolf; the abduction of the Sabine women; Horatio on the bridge; the geese honking to warn of the Gauls; the battle of Actium.

Great lines:

A form of torture whereby living men were roped to dead bodies, typing them hand to hand and face to face to die a lingering death oozing with putrefying flesh in this cruel embrace.

Book Nine: Nisus and Euryalus
The story

Aeneas being absent, Juno sends Iris to Turnus to tell him to make a surprise attack on the Trojans in their newly-built fort. Angered that the Trojans hide behind their walls he decides to burn the ships (thus cutting off the Trojans opportunity to go elsewhere). Vandiver 1999 points out that this reflects the Iliad episode when the Trojans burn the Greek ships. But a miracle occurs. The ships sink and are turned into dolphins. So Turnus settles down to a siege.

Euryalus is a boy who hero-worships Nisus, a gatekeeper who has a plan to sneak out at night, cut his way through the Rutulians, get to Aeneas and tell him the camp is in danger and he must return. He is excited: “Is it the gods who put this ardour into our minds, or does every man’s irresistible desire become his god?” But he is reluctant to take young Euryalus: “You are young and your claim on life is greater than mine.”

Having had their mission approved by the Trojan council they go off, slaughtering drunken and sleeping Rutulians. Euryalus steals some of their armour. But then they are challenged by a Rutulian patrol and they have to run off into the trees. Nisus gets away but Euryalus is weighed down by his booty and gets lost in the woods; he is captured. Nisus goes back to look for his friend and starts to pick of the soldiers of the patrol with well-aimed spear throws but the patrol leader, angered when he sees his men killed from out of the night, decides to kill Euryalus. So Nisus breaks cover to rescue his friend. Too late. And pointlessly for Nisus too is killed. The Rutulians chop the heads off the two Trojans , impale them on spears, and parade them in the dawn before the besieged fortress; the mother of Euryalus is very sad.

Now the besiegers try to storm the fort. Turnus becomes a killing machine. Ascanius fires an arrow that kills Remulus but is then whisked away from the fighting in order that the heir might not be endangered. The Trojans open the gates to fight on the threshold but when the tide of battle turns against them they are forced to shut the gates, leaving some of their own men outside, cut off. But Turnus was inside the gates “like a great tiger among helpless cattle”. He slaughters Trojans and then, when hemmed in on every side, he jumps from the walls into the Tiber, in full armour, and, echoes of Horatio, swims away.

Selected gory bits:
  • The wave of frothing blood welled out of the black hole of the wound, and the steel grew warm where it had lodged in the lung.
  • As he lay dying he strewed around his nerveless limbs and armour blooded with brains, and the two halves of his head hung onhis two shoulders.” 
Book 10: The death of Pallas

Vandiver 1999 points out that one of the themes of the Aeneid is the love between a father and a son. In book 10 the death of Pallas, which will cause his father to grieve (reminding us of Priam grieving over Hector), is paralleled by the death of Lausus who dies protecting his father Mezentius who then, grief-stricken, returns to the battle and is also killed.

The story

Book X starts with a conference of the gods in which Venus pleads for Aeneas and Ascanius and accuses Juno of meddling while Juno points out all the interfering that Venus has done and asks if it is right that the Trojans should be allowed to steal the lands of the Latins. Jupiter decides it is time to end the interference of any gods and to let Fate decide.

The fighting goes on all day. At night Aeneas, his ship accompanied by the sea-nymphs that are the remnants of his other ships, returns from Rome with Etruscan allies and, of course, Pallas, the son of King Evander. As Aeneas arrives there is fire around his head, referencing the flames around the head of Achilles in the Iliad. For this bit, Aeneas is Achilles, Pallas is Patroclus, and Turnus is Hector.

Now is the bloodiest fighting:
  • Aeneas tore a huge gash with his sword in the flesh of his side” “Through Alcanor’s arm went the spear of Aeneas and flew on its way dripping with blood, while the dying arm hung by its tendons from the shoulder” 
  • His forehead struck the ground and his mouth vomited great gouts of blood.” 
  • Pallas ... cut off the hand of Larides. As it lay there, it groped for its owner and the fingers twitched, still half alive, and kept clutching at the sword.
  • Thoas he struck with a rock in the face, shattering the bones and grinding them into the blood-soaked brains.”
Then Pallas faces Turnus. Throwing his spear he calls on Hercules, a family friend. But knowing Fate, Hercules groans and is comforted by Jupiter with the words: “Each man has his allotted day. All life is brief and time once past can never be restored. But the task of the brave man is to enlarge his fame by his actions.” The spear of Pallas penetrates the shield of Turnus and grazes Turnus. Turnus then throws his spear and it goes through shield and breastplate and breast. “In desperation Pallas tore the warm blade out of the wound and blood and life came together after it, both by the same channel. He fell forward on the wound, his armour ringing on top of his body, and as he died his bleeding mouth bit the soil of his enemies.” Turnus takes Pallas’ sword belt.

As when Hector had killed Patroclus, so Aeneas now loses it. He goes on a bloodlust rampage, killing even those who are begging for mercy; those he captures he will use as human sacrifices on Pallas’ pyre (another parallel; Achilles also adopted this barbarian practice for the pyre of Patroclus). After this killing spree the siege is lifted.

Turnus is saved by Juno who fashions a lookalike Aeneas who runs to the ships. Turnus chases him onto the ship. This ship then goes adrift and Turnus ends up, bewildered and alone, in mid-ocean.

Meanwhile Aeneas keeps on killing. Mezentius (who was the Etruscan king but was driven from the throne into exile which is why the Etruscans have allied themselves with Aeneas) becomes leader of the Latins but when he is injured by Aeneas Lausus his son steps in between them to allow his father to escape. “Aeneas drove his mighty sword through the middle of the young man’s body, burying it to the hilt, the point going straight through his light shield ... It pierced, too, the tunic his mother had woven for him with a soft thread of gold and filled the folds of it with blood. Then did his life leave his body and go in sorrow through the air to join the shades.” 

This young death reminds Aeneas of his own love for his father and he becomes sorrowful. Mezentius, having bathed his wound, gets back on his horse and starts hunting Aeneas. But when the spear of Aeneas brings Mezentius’ horse down, pinning his rider underneath, Aeneas goes to kill Mezentius who only asks that he be buried with his son.

Great lines:
  • As each man has set up his loom, so he will endure the labour and the fortune of it.” 
  • Fortune favours the bold
Book 11: The warrior princess Camilla

The Trojans prepare to send the dead Pallas upriver to his father. Envoys from King Latinus request a ceasefire so that both sides can bury their bodies; Aeneas assents and proposes that he and Turnus should meet one on one. The Latins agree.

Meanwhile Evander mourns his dead son Pallas, refusing to blame the Trojans and suggesting that his son’s life will not have been in vain if it means the Trojans win.

Back in the Latin city there are some calling for Aeneas Turnus single combat; this is not their war;, they say; why should their soldiers die? At this juncture the envoys who had been sent to get help from Greek King Diomedes come back with a negative answer. The king decides to sue for peace and offer the Trojans some poor land (presently farmed by the Rutulians led by Turnus). Drances, a counsellor, asks Turnus to accept this treaty: “We have been routed often enough and have seen enough funerals. We have stripped our wide fields bare ... so that Turnus can get himself a royal bride, our lives are cheap. We, the rank and file, are to litter the fields, unburied and unwept.” Turnus accuses Drances of cowardice and calls them to martial glory. “Why then do we disgrace ourselves by stumbling on the threshold?” “Fortune comes and goes. She has mocked many a man, and then set his feet back on solid ground.”
Turnus is described thus: “He was like a stallion that has broken his tether and burst from his stall; free at last he gains the open plain and runs to the fields where the herds of mares are pastured or gallops off to bathe in the river which he used to know so well, tossing high his head and whinnying with delight while the man streams over his head and flanks.

He and his mates get ready for war; he plans an ambush for Aeneas. Meanwhile warrior maiden Camilla leads the Latins in a cavalry battle. She kills lots:
  • He vomited rivers of blood and champed the gory earth with his teeth, twisting himself round his wound as he died.” 
  • She cut inside the arc and began to pursue the pursuer. then, rising above him, she struck again and again with her mighty axe, hacking through his armour and his bones as he begged and pleaded with her and the axe-blows spilt the hot brains down his face.” 
  • As the sacred falcon flies from his crag to pursue a dove high in the clouds, catches it, holds it and rips its entrails with hooked claws while blood and torn feathers float down from the sky.
But then she too falls to a hurled spear. When Turnus hears the news he takers his men back to the battlefield and Aeneas shortly after passes through the point where he was to have been ambushed.

Another great line:
The dead warrior “lay like a flower cut by the thumbnail of a young girl, a soft violet or drooping lily, still with its sheen and its shape, though Mother Earth no longer feeds it and gives it strength.

Book 12: The death of Turnus

The story

Turnus is determined now to face Aeneas in single combat. Latinus urges him to reflect. He can still walk away. And Queen Amata, who has always wanted Turnus as a son-in-law and seems to love him rather more than her daughter does, is distraught.

There is a ceasefire while the terms are agreed: single combat and the winner shall have the country and the girl. But while they are praying at the altars Juturnia, sister of Turnus and semi-divine, makes an eagle grab a swan and fly off only to find the swan to heavy so that he drops it. The Rutulians see this as a portent of their victory so they begin the battle even during the ceasefire. Both armies begin to fight. Aeneas, weaponless, tries to calm the situation but he is struck and injured by an arrow. Seeing Aeneas taken from the field, Turnus reenters the battle.

Venus uses dittany from Mount Ida in Crete to heal Aeneid.

In Book XII.411-415 of Virgil's Aeneid, Venus heals the wounded Aeneas with dittany: “Hereupon Venus, smitten by her son’s cruel pain, with a mother’s care plucks from Cretan Ida a dittany stalk, [dictamnum genetrix Cretaea carpi ab Ida (412)] clothed with downy leaves and purple flowers; not unknown is that herb to wild goats, when winged arrows have lodged in their flanks.” (Loeb translation).

Cretan dittany was prescribed by Hippocrates for digestive complaints and to heal wounds. Aristotle (The History of Animals 612a4) wrote that “Wild goats in Crete are said, when wounded by arrow, to go in search of dittany, which is supposed to have the property of ejecting arrows in the body."; Theophrastus agreed (Enquiry into Plants 9.16.1)

Then Aeneas reenters the fray looking for Turnus. Juturna, the sister of Turnus, now becomes (again in disguise) his charioteer and she keeps him away from Aeneas.
Aeneas then leads his men to the city and they storm it. As they gain entry, the Queen, thinking that Turnus must be dead, hangs herself.

Turnus decides to face Aeneas. “Then Jupiter himself lifted up a pair of scales with the tongue centred and put the lives of the two men in them to decide who would be condemned in the ordeal of battle, and with whose weight death would descend.” Turnus attacks Aeneas but his sword breaks so he wheels his chariot around and flees. Aeneas pursues him.

Meanwhile Jupiter forbids Juno to give Turnus any more help and she agrees. But the bargain is that the Trojans will become Latins “speaking one tongue”. Jupiter sends a monster called Dira to call Juturna away from Turnus and she returns to her river. Aeneas throws his spear and it goes through the thigh of Turnus. On his knees, Turnus begs for mercy. He acknowledges that Aeneas has won the girl and the land but he begs Aeneas to pity Turnus’ father and let Turnus live. And Aeneas hesitates. But then he sees that Turnus is wearing the swordbelt he had taken from the body of Pallas. Aeneas cries: “By this wound which I now give, it is Pallas who makes sacrifice of you. it is Pallas who exacts the penalty in your guilty blood’. Blazing with rage, he plunged the steel full into his enemy’s breast. The limbs of Turnus were dissolved in cold and his life left him with a groan, fleeing in anger down to the shades.
Notice how this description closely parallels the death of Lausus in Book X.

Which is interesting that it ends with Aeneas not being merciful.

Extraordinarily bloodthirsty stuff and well deserving of the titles of epic and classic. June 2018

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