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Barron's Booknotes-The Aeneid by Virgil-Free Book Summary
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(IX. 184-85)

NOTE:

Nisus puts into words one of the important themes that Virgil has hinted at before. Do men do what they do because the gods make them do it? Or is the truth that these impulses already exist in men, and men turn their impulses into gods? For example, do you think Turnus is eager for war because he was infected by an evil force, Allecto? Do you think that fighting is in his blood and he's let the impulse get out of control?

The Trojans are delighted that Nisus and Euryalus are so brave. They sneak through the enemy lines. Suddenly Nisus is carried away by the chance to kill some of the enemy, and he starts to slaughter the sleeping men in his path. Virgil describes him as a hungry lion gorging itself in a sheep pen. (This description is very similar to the one used earlier for Turnus.) Euryalus is excited by his friend's success and he also goes wild, not only killing but grabbing loot from the dead bodies. Suddenly Nisus remembers that they are supposed to be taking a message to Aeneas. But Euryalus can't resist grabbing one more thing-a great golden helmet-and this will be his downfall. Because they have wasted too much time, the Rutulians discover them. They see Euryalus' golden helmet flashing through the trees as he tries to run away. Nisus goes back to try to help his friend, even though he's vastly outnumbered. The Rutulians kill them both and put their heads on stakes for the Trojan camp to see.


In this scene Virgil gives us a lesson in true Roman virtues. Nisus' loyalty to his friend was fine in the footrace, but here it would have been better if he had thought of his country first and kept on to Aeneas. There was nothing he could do to help Euryalus anyway. You should notice, too, how Euryalus' desire for one more piece of loot destroys him. His greed distracts him from the real purpose of his mission: to reach Aeneas. Euryalus is more interested in getting prizes for himself than in helping his country. In Virgil's view, a good soldier doesn't act for selfish reasons but only for his country. You'll see this theme again later on.

In the last part of Book IX, Turnus shows his great skill as a warrior. First he burns down one of the Trojan towers. Then the Trojans, who are guarding their gates, make a terrible mistake and decide to open them to lure the enemy in. Turnus rushes in, killing men in all directions. Fortunately the Trojans are able to close the gates again before too many more Rutulians get in. But for a while Turnus is unstoppable and the Trojans are in despair. Finally they realize that Turnus is only one man and they cannot let themselves be beaten so easily. Surrounded and outnumbered, Turnus leaps over the walls and jumps into the Tiber and cheerfully swims away, pleased with a good day's work.


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