Aeneid By Virgil Summary and Analysis Book XI

Summary

At dawn the next day, Aeneas, sick of slaughter, hangs Mezentius's armor on a big oak trunk as a memorial to the fallen king and as a sign of victory, and then tells his men that the time has come to march on Latinus. But first, he says, the dead must be ceremonially burned and buried, and Pallas must be returned to Pallanteum. Aeneas mourns for the slain youth and pities his father, Evander, who is unaware of his son's death. Pallas's body is placed on a bier and sent off with an escort of a thousand men, plus spoils of war, sacrificial captives, and Pallas's horse, riderless. This procession is followed by a line of mourners.

Now envoys come from Laurentum seeking a truce and asking Aeneas to allow the return of the Latin dead for burial. Aeneas grants this request, saying that he wants peace, and that he is willing to engage Turnus in single combat as a way of resolving the conflict. The Latin envoy Drancës, who is a bitter enemy of Turnus, praises Aeneas and expresses the hope that Aeneas and Latinus will become allies. During the truce, which lasts for twelve days, the Trojans and the Latins live together peacefully and honor their respective dead.

At Pallanteum, Evander and his people receive Pallas's body. The king laments that he himself did not die instead of his son, but he declares that he does not blame the Trojans for his son's death, and that he is consoled by the thought that it was for a good cause — to help the Trojans establish themselves in Latium. Evander sends back the men in the escort with a message for Aeneas: The Trojan leader owes him Turnus's death.

On the battlefield, Aeneas and Tarchon, the Etruscans's leader, oversee the funeral rites for their dead, which include the sacrifice of animals, the burning of the dead soldiers's bodies, and the burial of the ashes. The Latins do the same, and fires burn for three days. Meanwhile, there is great mourning in Laurentum and much opposition to the war and to Turnus's proposed marriage to Lavinia. Drancës insists that Turnus should fight alone against Aeneas in order to settle the issue since Turnus is the one who most opposes the Trojans's settling in Italy. However, Queen Amata defends Turnus against such criticism.

Increasing the Latins's despair, messengers now arrive from the southern Italian city of Arpi with a message from its king, Diomedes, to whom the Latins have appealed for aid, announcing that he has refused their request. Nothing but evil, Diomedes declares, has happened to those who fought against the Trojans during the Trojan War. He enumerates the mishaps that have befallen him: His companions were changed into birds, he lost his wife, and he was exiled from Argos to his present kingdom as punishment for having wounded Venus. Furthermore, having engaged in personal combat against Aeneas, he is all too familiar with the Trojan's physical prowess.

Discouraged, Latinus declares that the war against the Trojans is hopeless, and that they should be welcomed to Latium and given land or, should they choose to go elsewhere, given ships. He proposes to send envoys with gifts to them. Drancës approves and, motivated by jealousy of Turnus, says that Lavinia should wed Aeneas. Repeating his earlier proposal, he says that if Turnus objects to these arrangements, he should face Aeneas in single combat. In reply, the indomitable Turnus declares that victory over the Trojans is still possible; although Diomedes has declined to fight, there are others who will help, including the famous Volscian woman warrior, Camilla. If no additional forces come to aid the Latins, Turnus says, then he will fight hand to hand against Aeneas and settle the issue.

In the midst of this quarreling, a messenger arrives with the news that the Trojans and Etruscans are marching on Laurentum. Turnus responds by calling his forces to arms. Amata, Lavinia, and a throng of women go off to pray to Athena.

Turnus and Camilla together prepare for Laurentum's defense: Turnus leads his forces into a forest, where he intends to ambush the main body of Aeneas's army, while Camilla and her cavalry of men and women engage the enemy's cavalry. Despite great bravery, Camilla is slain, and her forces flee into Laurentum. When Turnus receives the news of Camilla's defeat, he abandons his ambush and hastens with his own army to the city, only to encounter Aeneas's forces, which have already arrived at the gates unopposed. Night falls before a battle can occur, and both armies camp outside Laurentum.

Analysis

Book XI is an interlude between the battle described in the preceding book, which brings the Trojans close to victory, and Aeneas's defeat of Turnus in direct combat, which concludes the war and the epic poem. Structurally, the present book falls roughly into three parts: the first section describes the truce and the return of Pallas's body to Evander in Pallanteum; the second section deals with the Latins's council of war, held to determine what course of action to take against their enemy; and the final part is devoted to the brave but hopeless battle waged against the Trojans and their Etruscan allies by the forces of the warrior maiden Camilla, who is believed to be entirely Virgil's creation, although she and her female compatriots recall the Amazons, mythical women warriors. Book XI is stylistically unified by the sun's rising in the first line and its setting in the last few lines as the armies prepare to battle.

Aeneas's model behavior as a brave warrior tempered with compassion continues to be a major theme. The Trojan prince prepares the proper funeral rites for the dead and discharges his "ritual vows / As victor to the gods." He is in marked contrast to Turnus, whom we never observe making ritualistic offerings for his fallen comrades.

As Aeneas readies Pallas's body for transport back to Evander, his weeping over the death of this newfound and now-lost friend and ally reminds us of this god-like hero's human frailty. However, good Trojan commander that he is, Aeneas's emotions do not overwhelm his sense of duty. Virgil's staccato lines mimic Aeneas's fierce determination to end the war: "That was all. / Then he turned backward toward the parapets / And made his way to camp." Aeneas's resiliency is again demonstrated later in the book when the Latins, arguing amongst themselves, debate their will to continue the war. Their disordered behavior is juxtaposed to Aeneas's ordered behavior, which Virgil characterizes in the succinct line, "Meanwhile Aeneas left camp / And took the field." Desiring peace for himself and his people, Aeneas will fight only if he has to, but his actions assure us that he is ready to do battle if that is what his future holds.

The glory of dying honorably in battle, which Virgil and his fellow Romans esteemed, receives much attention in Book XI. For example, when Evander meets the procession that carries his dead son, he is stricken with grief over his loss, but his emotions are tempered by his remembering the great deeds that Pallas accomplished in fighting side by side with Aeneas. By winning "the beauty of courageous death," combatants assure their place in history because their exploits will not be forgotten. This immortality is best expressed by Opis, who, sent by the goddess Diana to watch over Camilla, promises the warrior maiden that her death is not in vain: "Yet your queen has left you / Not without honor at the hour of death, / Nor will your end be unrenowned / Among earth's people, nor will it be known / As unavenged." As the Aeneid's own cataloguing of ancestral lines attests, dying with honor is valued not only because it reflects the combatant's virtuous character, but because a family's reputation is often at stake.

Glossary

parapets walls or banks used to screen troops from frontal enemy fire, sometimes placed along the top of a rampart.

interment the act of interring; burial.

bier a platform or portable framework on which a coffin or corpse is placed.

heady impetuous; rash; willful.

cortege a ceremonial funeral procession.

palpable clear to the mind; obvious; evident; plain.

legates governors of Roman provinces, or their deputies.

inviolable not to be violated; not to be profaned or injured; sacred.

derided laughed at in contempt or scorn; made fun of; ridiculed.

appease to pacify or quiet, esp. by giving in to the demands of.

pre-empted seized before anyone else can, excluding others; appropriated beforehand.

curvets in equestrian exhibitions, a movement in which a horse rears, then leaps forward, raising the hind legs just before the forelegs come down.

guile slyness and cunning in dealing with others; craftiness.

impiously not piously; specif., in a manner lacking reverence, respect, or dutifulness.

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