Aeneid By Virgil Summary and Analysis Book VII

Summary

During the stopover at Cumae, Aeneas's old nurse, Caieta, dies and is buried on a nearby cape that is named in her honor (now Gaeta). The Trojans then sail north, passing the island of the enchantress Circe. At dawn on the following day, they reach the mouth of the Tiber River and dock their ships. At this crucial point of the narrative, the beginning of the second half of the epic, which will deal with the Italian phase of Aeneas's adventures, Virgil again invokes Erato, the muse of poetry, whose help he seeks in order to tell the rest of his story.

Virgil now introduces King Latinus of Latium, who is descended from the god Saturn. Latinus and his wife, Amata, have a daughter, Lavinia, their only surviving child, who is of marriageable age and has many suitors, including Turnus, the leader of the Rutulian tribe. At the exact time that the Trojans arrive at his land, Latinus learns from his deceased father's oracle that he should seek a foreign husband for Lavinia, to be chosen from among strangers who will intermarry with his own people, the Latins, and produce descendants who will conquer the world.

On the shore of the Tiber, meanwhile, the Trojans feast on just-harvested fruits and vegetables; they use hard wheaten cakes as platters on which to heap the food. When they have eaten the food, they then break and eat the wheaten platters: The prophecy that they would settle in the place where hunger forced them to devour their tables has been fulfilled. This prediction, incidentally, was made not by Anchises, to whom Virgil attributes it here, but by the harpy Celaeno in Book III — a discrepancy Virgil would no doubt have corrected had he lived to revise the Aeneid.

The next morning, Aeneas sends a hundred gift-bearing men as envoys to Latinus, hoping to win his favor. He then begins laying out plans for his new city. Latinus warmly receives the envoys, for he believes that the Trojans must be the strangers mentioned in the oracle's prophecy. Offering Lavinia as a bride to Aeneas, whom he says he desires to meet, he sends the Trojans back to their leader with gifts of his own.

Learning about this turn of events, Juno is enraged once again. She vows to do her best to forestall the destiny that she realizes must nevertheless be fulfilled: the marriage of Aeneas and Lavinia, and the settlement of the Trojans in Latium. Bent on mischief, she enlists the help of the fury Allecto, whom she commands to foment war between the Trojans and the Latins.

Allecto goes first to Queen Amata, who favors Turnus as her future son-in-law and bitterly opposes her husband's choice of Aeneas, and incites the queen to describe Aeneas to Latinus in the most vicious terms. Amata reminds the king that her choice, Turnus, is also a foreigner, by birth; because his ancestors are Greek, he fulfills the requirement of the oracle. Latinus, however, remains unmoved, enraging Amata to the point that she hides Lavinia.

Next, disguised as an old woman, Allecto visits Turnus and tells him that he must defend his right to marry Lavinia by attacking the Trojans. When Turnus does not take her seriously, thinking that she is merely foolish with age, Allecto then appears to him as the fury she truly is, and he responds by readying his army to fight.

Allecto now flies to the Trojans camped alongside the Tiber River and incites the unsuspecting Ascanius to wound a Latium family's pet stag, thus driving its owners and Latium's populace to retaliate. Hostilities begin, and soon there are casualties. Juno, satisfied by Allecto's mischievous work, dismisses the fury. Latinus's subjects demand battle, but Latinus is opposed to this war against Aeneas's people and withdraws into his palace. Juno immediately takes charge, personally throwing open the twin gates of Mars's temple, a ritual signifying war.

Virgil concludes Book VII with another appeal to the muse for inspiration and with a list of the leaders who, with their warriors, come from all over Latium to fight against the Trojans.

Analysis

The first half of the Aeneid, with its great variety of incident, is likely to be more interesting to modern readers than the second half, with its sometimes monotonously lengthy descriptions of battle and bloodshed. However, Virgil expected that his contemporaries would regard the Trojans's campaign in Italy as more significant than the account of Aeneas's wanderings: It deals with nothing less than the establishment of the Trojans in Latium, site of the future Rome, and the ultimate union of the Trojan and Latin races.

The legendary Trojans, as Jupiter assures Juno at the end of the Aeneid, will be absorbed into the Latin race that existed before their arrival on Italy's soil. Jupiter's announcement to Juno is intended to reconcile her to the Trojans's presence and make her hospitable toward the future Rome; it is also a way of explaining the total absence of any solid evidence — for example, traces of a language — of the Trojans's real, historical existence.

Aeneas and his fellow warriors are, in fact, Romans in disguise. In the imagined world of the epic poem, they represent all of the virtues admired by Romans, of whom, along with the native Latins, they are supposedly the forebears. Furthermore, they are wreathed with the Homeric glory that derives from their having figured in Homer's Iliad, in which Aeneas himself is a hero. Defeated by the Greeks in the Trojan War, the Trojans will be the victors in the war they must now wage in Italy in order to prepare the way for the establishment of Rome, a second Troy.

King Latinus, who recognizes the Trojans's divinely ordained mission from the start, is in favor of Aeneas's marrying his daughter, Lavinia. Virgil carefully creates the impression that the war between the Latins and the Trojans was a mistake that might have been avoided if only the moderate, wise Latinus had prevailed over the wills of Turnus and Amata, who are literally, as a result of Juno's having enlisted the assistance of Allecto, consumed by fury. To his credit, Turnus initially rejects Allecto's counsel, but ultimately he and the queen become the enemies of the civilizing mission represented by Aeneas and endorsed by Latinus.

Virgil leaves little doubt that Aeneas and the Trojans are not to blame for the upcoming, all-out war. On the first full day after his arrival in Latinus's kingdom, Aeneas sends legates bearing gifts to Latinus to ask that the Trojans be allowed peacefully to found a settlement. Always the good ruler, Aeneas begins immediately to outline this hoped-for city. Presented to Latinus, the legates ask only for "A modest settlement of the gods of home, / A strip of coast that will bring harm to no one, / Air and water, open and free to all." Continually, Virgil emphasizes the peaceful nature of the Trojans, who, as Latinus is well aware, are fated to succeed no matter what the obstacles.

Aeneas's outlining where the future city's walls will be erected furthers the theme of order, which is so important in the epic poem. After their chaotic voyaging, the Trojans want nothing more than to settle down quietly. Immediately following the passage describing Aeneas's planning the city, Virgil describes the activities of Latinus's household, activities that symbolize an ordered society, which Aeneas wants for himself and his people. However, when Latinus effectively abdicates his position as king, the Latin society becomes disordered and therefore vulnerable. When Turnus vows to march against Latinus, who has refused to declare war against the Trojans, the king's rule is totally undermined; his own subjects look to Turnus for leadership.

Turnus's militant fury in the second half of the Aeneid is the counterpart to Dido's erotic fury in the first half. Together, these two characters are opposed in spirit to the dutiful, self-sacrificing Aeneas, although Turnus and Aeneas are both described as physically superior to other warriors. Splendid individualists who follow their own wills to the point of excess, the Rutulian warrior and the Carthaginian queen embody ways of feeling and acting that prevail in the Homeric epics. The Aeneid, however, although it takes much from Homer, is a celebration of the Roman state, to whose future domination Dido and Turnus must be sacrificed.

Book VII, the first book in the second half of the Aeneid, resembles Book I in a number of ways: Each has its address to the muse, and in both books Juno foments trouble in order to frustrate Aeneas and the Trojans. Just as Dido welcomed Aeneas, so does Latinus, but the initial harmony in both cases is followed by antagonism: Dido is wounded by Cupid and falls hopelessly in love with Aeneas, and Turnus, aroused by Allecto, overrides Latinus's peaceful intentions.

Similarities between other characters from the first half of the poem and those in Book VII abound. Perhaps the greatest is that of King Priam, Troy's ruler, and King Latinus. Physically, both are old and feeble: In Book II, Virgil describes Priam as "the old man . . . shaking with old age"; at the time the Trojans arrive in his land, Latinus has "now grown old." In terms of their effectiveness as rulers, both kings are unable to stop an onslaught of their peoples. Priam finds refuge in his wife's arms, and Latinus shuts himself away in his palace, dismissing all responsibility for running his kingdom.

Additionally, once Dido and Amata are infected by overwhelming desire — Dido in her lust for Aeneas, and Amata to see her daughter marry Turnus — both vent their frustration similarly. Virgil says of the Carthaginian queen: "Unlucky Dido, burning, in her madness / Roamed through all the city." Of Amata, he writes: ". . . the poor queen, now enflamed / By prodigies of hell, went wild indeed / And with insane abandon roamed the city." Not only is the image of fire linked to both women, but each roams her respective city in a state of psychological madness.

The spirit of the Iliad, which appears in many places throughout the second half of the Aeneid, is most evident in Book VII, in the list of the warriors summoned by Turnus to fight against the Trojans. Roman readers would have likened Virgil's cataloging to that of Greek and Trojan warriors in Book II of Homer's epic. In the Aeneid, the listing of warriors and their lineage underscores the importance Virgil placed on pietas, or patriotism and duty. He first introduces a combatant and then includes the man's noble ancestry. For example, he describes the twin brothers Catillus and Coras as "progeny / Of Argos, by descent from Amphiaraus." Of special note are Mezentius and his son, Lausus, both of whom will appear again in Book X. In all, Virgil's cataloging demonstrates the deep respect he and his contemporaries had for familial relationships, the foundation for a successful society.

Glossary

colloquies conversations; esp., formal discussions.

repose to rest or lie at rest.

legates governors of a Roman province, or their deputies.

striplings grown boys; youths passing into manhood.

overture an introductory proposal or offer; indication of willingness to negotiate.

diadem an ornamental cloth headband worn as a crown.

requisite required, as by circumstances; necessary for some purpose; indispensable.

snood a baglike net worn at the back of a woman's head to hold the hair.

surfeited indulged or supplied to satiety or excess.

temerity foolish or rash boldness; foolhardiness; recklessness.

thong a narrow strip of leather, etc., used as a lace, strap, etc.

subverted overthrown or destroyed.

railed spoken bitterly or reproachfully; complained violently.

cudgel a short, thick stick or club.

shindy a noisy disturbance; commotion; row.

interposed introduced (a remark, opinion, etc.) into a conversation, debate, etc.; put in as an interruption.

kine cows; cattle.

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