Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version | Barron's Booknotes
CHAPTER SUMMARY WITH NOTES
BOOK SEVENTH - The Landing in Latium and the role of the Armies of Italy
After performing the funeral rites of his nurse Caieta at the place since named after her, Neptune guides Aeneas’s ships safely away from the coast of Circe’s island to land at the mouth of the River Tiber on the bank of which is Latium.
Ancient Latium, when Aeneas lands there is ruled by King Latinus son of Faunus and a nymph of Laurentum. His only daughter Lavinia was wooed by the lords of Latium and Ausonia. Of these Turnus, who was fairest and of long lordly ancestry was most favored by Lavinia’s mother, Amata. However, Latinus has been warned by Apollo not to marry Lavinia to any Latin Lord since she is destined for a foreigner, whose ancestry was originally from these parts. The oracle is confirmed by an omen when Lavinia’s hair catches fire. Then Latinus consults his father’s oracle, which confirms this prophecy.
Rumor of this portent has spread throughout Italy when Aeneas lands on the bank of the river. They lay out wheat cakes as platters on the grass over which they put their meat and corn and wild fruits. The shortage of food makes them eat the wheat cakes too at which Iülus remarks that they are eating the platters and all. This remark reminds Aeneas of the prophecy that they will know their homeland when their hunger gnaws and the food grows so short that they have to eat the platters too. So he hails this landing place as home and prepares for prayers. As he worships the spirits of the land and rivers around the gods and his parents, Jove thunders thrice and a golden cloud is seen and all the Trojans know they have reached their destined land.
Next morning, a hundred delegates are sent with gifts to explore the land and desire grace of the natives. Aeneas himself trenches the land, where they have landed to make a camp like defensive settlement on the shore. The ambassadors reach the city and are welcomed into the palace where, Latinus sat surrounded by the statues of his great ancestors. Ilioneus replies briefly summing up their situation so far. He asks for an unmolested dwelling place for their gods and themselves, on the Ausonian.
Latinus at last understands the oracles’ intent and knows that Aeneas is the son-in-law predicted for him. Accordingly he promises the Trojans rich land and invites Aeneas to his palace to settle the terms for their peaceful settlement in Latium. This would include bestowing his daughter on Aeneas as the oracles had advised. He then presents horses for the Trojans and a chariot for Aeneas.
When Juno sees the Aeneidae building homes on the banks of the Tiber, she is so upset by her failure to destroy them that she admits her inability to influence the gods in her cause. She then turns to the powers of the nether world and calls out the worst Fury Allecto. The aim is to start a war which will drench both the Trojans and the Rutulians in blood before Lavinia and Aeneas are united. So Allecto is sent to stir up the war.
Allecto first flings a poisonous viper into Amata’s bosom so that the queen like a concerned mother pleads with Latinus about the dangers of giving away their daughter to a wandering foreigner. She compares Aeneas to Paris. She complains that Latinus is breaking the pledge he had given Turnus. But when she finds Latinus adamant in his intent she is frenzied and rushes throughout the city and into the woodland she hides her daughter to prevent the marriage. She claims to be guided by Bacchus and takes all the women of Latium with her to perform Bacchic rites.
After the Allecto assumes the form of Juno’s priestess and appears before Turnus. She tells him Aeneas is taking over his bride and the Latin lands which he has protected so far. He should therefore take up arms against the Trojans. Turnus derides her inspiration and tells her to attend to the divine images and leave warfare to the men. Allecto blazes in wrath making Turnus shudders as her true form is revealed and throws her torch at him making the passion and fury of war rage in him and he orders his chief warriors to march of King Latinus.
Finally Allecto goes to the Trojan camp where, Iülus was trapping game and makes his hounds chase the royal stag tamed by the family of Tyrrheus the master of the royal hunt. Iülus seeing the stage shoots an arrow and the wounded deer goes moaning home. The rustics seek vengeance and Allecto blows her twisted horn, which brings rustics out from all sides. The Trojans pout out of their camp to aid Ascanius and rustics blood is spilt. After this Juno sends the Fury back to her Underworld. The shepherds bring their dead into the city to complain to Latinus. Turnus who has reached the city arouses everyone with the terror of usurping Trojans and the insult he has received Amata and the women support him, Latinus must declare war on the Trojans. But Latinus with a warning that the people are rising against gods’ decrees shuts himself up.
The gates of war, which are kept by Janus, are now to be opened because all the people agree that war must be declared and the war- god roused. Latinus, who must open the gates according to custom, hides himself and Juno herself performs this deed. Five cities prepare for battle. In all Turnus has the armies of twelve other warriors with distinctive weapons. Many are experienced like Mezentius, the Argive twins Cattilus and Coras, the mycenaen Halaseus, the Sabine warriors and the female Volscian warrior Camilla. Others also join more primitives in warfare or who had not used weapons for long like Messapus the tamer of horses and his men Caeculus of Praeneste city and his mountainous followers in hides and others from regions around including Ufens and his men who live by plunder and Oebalus and his Teuton like men in cork hats, the Marruiran people by the priest Umbro and Virbius the son of Hippolytus and Aricia with his foresters, and also Aventinus, the son of Hercules in lion skin.
Saved from any encounter with Circe of the Aea island, who had transformed Ulysses’ men into swine, Aeneas’ landing on the coast at the mouth of the Tiber concludes his wanderings. Most commentators have compared the first six books of the Aeneid to Homer’s Odyssey and the next six to the Iliad. The parallel situations are undoubtedly present but Aeneas does not come to Latium to lure away Turnus’s proposed bride. Books Seven to Twelve are basically a fight for territory. Land, which was so much in demand in the ancient world, was a common reason for war besides piracy and plunder in the Trojan age when loot meant gold as well as man power enslaved from conquered lands.
In some translations Virgil is translated as invoking the muse named Erato of Lyric and erotic poetry at this stage. Do the words, “Forth now Erato!” followed by the poet in person “I” taking over the responsibility of telling the tale mean that all the gentle lyrical love interest is over and done with, grim matters take over? When Virgil starts with the roll call of the armies of Italy (lines 64off) he calls upon the goddesses to open the gates of Helicon, the mountain in Southern where the muses had their abode.
Latinus claims his descent from Saturn’s son, Picus his grandfather. His father, Faunus was a soothsayer and his mother, a nymph. While Romans claim divine descent through Venus, Virgil ensures that other Italians including Turnus also have some divine blood and ancestry. This is perhaps because Virgil himself born near Mantua, was not born a Roman citizen.
Iülus’s idle remark that hunger was making them eat the platters becomes an omen for Aeneas which he attributes to Anchises. However in Book Third Celaeno, the queen of Harpies had prophesized “portentous hunger” would compel the crew to “eat your platters with gnawing teeth” before they wall their city. Perhaps Virgil had not yet revised this part of his epic when he died. As it stands, Celaeno’s curse becomes a good omen.
When Aeneas’s men come to the city ruled by Latinus they see boys and men exercising outside. The Romans, like the Greeks were very keen on physical fitness and in the times of physically stressful warfare, too, was necessary to be prepared. Virgil implies that this custom was a tradition of the region. Another tradition emphasized throughout The Aeneid is the reverence for father figures-a deeply felt Roman sentiment. This is also obvious in the statues of Italus, the founder of the country, Stabinus, the bringer of vineyards into Italy and Saturn, the original founder and settler in Italy after his expulsion by his usurping son, Jove from Olympus. Quirinus is the name given to Romulus later, but he was the Latin war-god. Picus is Latinus’ grandfather and he naturally has his place in the revered galaxy. In keeping with the idea of reverence for elders it is proper that as in the court of Dido even here aged Ilioneus is the one who speaks for the Trojans.
Ilioneus’ speech serves as the typical epic repetition or recapitulation of significant events half way through an oral narrative. In this way the audience is also made aware of the focal points in the long leisurely saga. This recapitulation usually occurs when there is to be a change in the direction of the narrative or a new phase is about to begin. In this case the wanderings of the Trojans have ended, now they must take to arms. The speech is also a reminder of the Trojan war so that the dramatic irony of the Trojans now camping outside Latium city can be focused on just as the Greeks had camped outside Ilium, Troy. Virgil has also underlined the significance of the Trojan war commented upon in any historical evaluation of it: it was that “Europe and Asia met in the shock of two worlds” (l224). This was an echo of Virgil’s comment on Actium when Rome and Egypt, west and east met with their very different irreconcilable values. However considering the worship of common gods in the same manner of rituals and sacrifices, there seems little difference between the Greek, Trojan and Roman worlds.
Juno’s great frustration at the Trojan arrival in Italy despite all her efforts brings forth a speech most unworthy of the modern concept of a goddess. Justice and generosity seem concepts totally alien to Juno. She seems too contemptible from now on to merit worship. Her alliance with the most repulsive forces of the Underworld, the Furies is inexplicable to an average reader and more so after the Christian era has so positively insisted on mercy and forgiveness. But Virgil lived in a Rome where, vengeance was the absolute order of the day. Even the idolized Augustus was obsessively vindictive towards all those whom he saw as threats to his security in life and in office. Julius Caesar’s son by Cleopatra had been put to death in case Augustus’ position as heir could be threatened. So the early readers would take Juno’s relentless vindictiveness in their stride and cheer perhaps when it is frustrated. What would be really revolutionary for them is Anchises preaching peace and forgiveness towards the end of Book Sixth. Turnus, fired by Allecto would be more sympathetic to the average Roman’s outlook.
The anger and rage displayed by the three victims of Allecto are in fact psychologically realistic. Unlike Juno who wishes to prevent an event, which will be centuries later when Carthage will be destroyed by Rome, Amata, Turnus and the rustics have immediate cause for anger. Amata’s pledge to give her daughter to Turnus is being violated, Turnus is deprived of his bride as well as the kingdom that she will bring with her, and the stag’s injury and the consequent bloodshed with the death of the rustics is a serious disturbance and threat to peace. However the first two cases suggest personal pique and selfishness. It is in the larger interests of the Latins that an invincible race like the Trojan mingles with their generally complacent one. Turnus jeering Allecto, is an example of the contented peasant who, cannot believe that the forces of modernization will disrupt his life. The rural Italians were indeed shaken up as the Roman generals confiscated their lands and estates to hand them over to the legions who had to be settled and rewarded for winning wars. Could this threat of displacement suffered by as many rustics including, Virgil’s family be the motivation force in such a convincing and sympathetic realization of the wrath of Turnus and the others who, join him in battle against the Trojan?
In the case of Ascanius whose arrow shot the deer, modern day animal rights activists and environmentalists might be more perturbed than the Romans. In a class-ridden society the gamekeeper, as a rustic had no rights and the stag was adopted by him it was not his, it belonged to the King. Ascanius was hunting for food not for fun, so his claim is equally fair. So when the peasants come out with steel and swords Virgil calls it “equal battle.” Both sides are equally in the wrong is implied and Juno capitalizes on the raised passions to open the gates of war which task Latinus refuses. Then the poet shifts to this tradition in his own day in Rome. He has linked the past Italian traditions to those currently practiced in the Rome of his time. By such allusions Virgil keeps his reader alert to the need to look for parallels and allegories to their current day situations within the epic. For the modern reader it is a nugget to add to evidence of Roman historical practices.
The roll call of the armies is in the Homeric tradition of catalogues. These characters are briefly sketched out here and identified through certain brief descriptions: “savage Mezentius, scorner of gods.” In the thick of battle they will reappear playing their parts and keeping the action dynamically vivid. The armies are shown as diverse from primitive fights with clubs to much experienced Grecians. Turnus with his mixed rustic rural fighters and his hero’s shield is described as “splendid in beauty of body...towers a head over all.” Like Hector who was a worthy opponent for the greatest warriors of Greece, so Turnus is projected as a fine young man but unfortunate in being a pawn in Juno’s care or in being irrational and obstinate in the face of Jove’s divine decree. A deluded hero, Turnus is at this stage presented in a dignified manner, not as a buffoon or merely, a brash pugnacious youth. In the mention of Camilla at the end, an example of the Roman belief in the insignificance of women? Yet it is evident that Turnus the major antagonist has just preceded her. Her final position in the list is to draw attention to women warrior who is not an Amazon but a skilful trained fighter excellent on horseback in her purple and golden splendour. She is to play a significant part in defending Turnus’s position at the weakest moment in Book Eleventh.