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CHAPTER SUMMARY WITH NOTES
BOOK EIGHTH - The embassage to Evander
Turnus declares war and his chiefs Messapus, Ufens and Mezentius begin enrolling the rural folk from all over Italy. Diomedes is appealed to for help to drive Aeneas the invader out. Aeneas himself is dismayed and lies down near the river to sleep. Then the river god, Tiber appears to him and welcomes him home. He encourages him to look for a white sow with her litter on the shore as the sign of the spot where Ascanius will raise a city Alba in thirty years. He then advises Aeneas to seek the aid to the Arcadian King Evander settled upstream at Pallanteum. After giving him fitting thanks, Aeneas proceeds with two ships and soon finds the white sow whom he sacrifices to Juno as Tiber had advised. Then after a night and a day of rowing they arrive at Evander’s city.
When they arrive Evander is at a sacrifice to the gods and his brave son, Pallas seeing the ships and the armed men comes alone to confront them. hearing they were Trojans he welcomes them and leads them to his father. Aeneas approaches the Greek King and recalls the common ancestry shared by Evander and himself in that Dardanus and Mercury who are the respective ancestors of Aeneas and Evander were both grandson of Atlas, since their mothers were the Atlantids Electra and Maia. They are harassed by the same Daunian race of the Latins and are united in a common cause. Evander who had known Priam and Anchises when they had passed through Arcadia agrees to the armed alliance with Aeneas. Then he acquaints him with the past of his present setting, how the monster Cacus had lived in a cavern close by and had been strangled by Hercules despite all his security. The festival Evander was celebrating that day was to commemorate this event in which he invited the Trojans to participate. Songs are sung about the great achievements of Hercules.
After the rites, they go to the fortress of Rome where, Evanders city lay. Evander relates the sylvan history of the region from Saturn’s settling of the Fauns and Nymphs who inhabited this area to the coming of the Ausonian and Sicanian tribes and great kings. Then Evander driven out of Arcadia was settled here by the oracle of Apollo and his mother the Nymph Carmentis. He then showed Aeneas other groves, which were in later centuries to become important sites in Rome. There are also past ruins like Saturn’s and Janus’ fortresses. Evander’s own home is a rough pastoral dwelling where later the Roman Forum will be built.
While Aeneas spends the night at Evanders’ Venus greatly concerned by the Laurentine declaration of war, asks her spouse Vulcan to make an armour for Aeneas. Vulcan goes to the Cyclopean forge and orders the work to start early next morning. Evander and Aeneas converse about the possibility of an alliance with the Etruscans of Agylla city who being brutally terrorized by Mezentuis have thrown off his yoke and now according to prophesy, await a ruler from foreign parts to lead them. Since Aeneas qualifies for that role, Evander would tell Tarchon to accept his leadership. Then Evander would send his own cavalry men led by Pallas to train him in heroic endurance. When this conversation ends Venus sends a sign that war is near and Aeneas goes to the altar of Hercules and after ritual prayers takes the bravest men to Tyrrhenia. Evander takes a tender farewell of his son and they proceed to Tarchon’s camp. There near the shrine of Silvanus they stop to refresh themselves and finding Aeneas alone, Venus presents him with Vulcan’s armor. Every piece of it is marvel of workmanship.
In the design of the shield is the story of Italy and the triumphs of the Romans. The wars of Ascanius and his descendants, the shewolf feeding Romulus and Remus and licking them into shape, the rape of the Sabines at the Circensian games, the Roman war with Tatuis and Cures and the treaty following it. Then the death of Mettus and the blockade by Tarquin and several other vignettes of Roman history including the attack by the Gauls. Even the fate of future Romans in the Underworld has been designed on the shield: Catiline, Cato appears. In the center of the shield is the battle of Actuim showing Augustus Caesar and the senators, Agrippa and the navy on one side facing Antonius and his Eastern Forces followed by the Egyptian queen as his consort all in the thick of battle and its aftermath showing Caesar marching triumphant into Rome. There were designs of other campaigns too which made the Roman empire grow.
Book Eighth from time to time focuses on the unwarlike, pastoral character of the Italians who are being misled into war depriving the fields of farmers. Diomede to whom they appeal was the original Greek hero portrayed by Homer as a man of honor and action, an antithesis to the sulking Achilles in the Iliad. In the Aeneid he has been referred to as the seed of Tydeus by Sinon in conjunction with Ulysses and the theft of the Palladium of Troy. After the war, he was driven out of his kingdom of Argos and had come to rule in Aetolia. He is the only one who advises the Italians later in Book Eleventh (ll242ff) not to disturb their pastoral peace to risk their lives against the mighty Trojans.
This section on Evander is particularly significant from the point of view of the Aeneid, as a national epic. Evander has built his city where Rome stands, he is an Arcadian so his Grecian origin serves to legitimately permit the Romans to build their culture on Greek foundations, Virgil is not merely imitating the golden age of the Greeks, it has been inherited by the Romans. Then Virgil makes Aeneas establish the common ancestry of the Arcadians and the Trojans from Atlas. Atlas had married Hesperis by whom he had seven daughters who after death became the Pleides. Atlas himself became a mountain because he refused to shelter Perseus and was shown the gorgon’s face which turned men to stone. Evander’s sacrifice to Hercules (Alcides) who became an important demi-god for the Roman’s gives Virgil an opportunity to show how intimately this deity was connected with Rome for having saved its earlier inhabitants from the devastating monster Cacus. Evander speaks of these events as in his own lifetime; this gives a more vivid ring to the tale and justifies the ritual to Hercules that the Romans continued. The son of the Salü extolling Hercules’ accomplishment of his tasks is like a hymn.
Then the ancient topography of Rome is taken up as Virgil makes Evander point out the hills and groves and gives the current names of the important edifices located on it. The capitol is endowed by Virgil with divine spirits when it was a grove and Jove’s presence in it is suggested. In this way the whole polity of Rome is assigned divine sanction and divine inspiration. Such are the signs Virgil could incorporate in the fabric of his epic to glorify and sanctify the status of the rulers, guardians of Rome, above all of the chief consul, the Emperor Augustus Caesar.
Along with the topography Virgil makes Evander narrate the “prehistory” of Rome. From the time Saturn gathered the nomadic, wandering Fauns and nymphs, the spirits of the ground and nature and settled them where Rome is today, he gave them laws. The wild spirits were tamed and civilized which is the divine mission of Virgil’s patron, Augustus. For Virgil’s early readers it would have seemed like the Roman general setting out among the northern tribes, even the Gauls to settle there. It was the golden age because there was peace until the rage of war and the lust for wealth destroyed it. This is the warning against retrogression into a period of war, since by the time of Virgil’s death there had been about a decade of peace.
Venus asking Vulcan to make armour is in imitation of Thetis asking one for Achilles’ in the Iliad. But the shield of Achilles one of the most brilliant examples of the epic device of “ekphrasis” gives a picture of life in Greece in his time. Virgil uses the shield of Aeneas as a device for historical prophecy. He gives a view of the future of Aeneas’s race from the historical perspective of his own times. It is a brief history of ancient Rome almost from the point where Evander has to leave off his history of Rome. The center piece of the shield corresponds to the climactic event of Virgil’s narration of history, so it has to be the battle of Actium, the most momentous event, a kind of watershed from the period of civil war to the establishment of peace and a commencement of the golden age. The whole attitude to Augustus with his older advisors and his household gods is contrasted with Mark Antony and his shameful Egyptian consort, “Pietas” is contrasted with dissipation of wealth and immorality. The battle on the shield is vividly depicted in words and must have come alive for Virgil’s contemporaries. Agrippa the great general and savior of the Roman fleet was also Augustus’s son-in-law after the death of Marcellus pointed out in Book Sixth by Anchises. There is little doubt that for Romans, like Virgil, Actium served as a clash between two great cultures, one heroic, one luxurious. Even the Egyptian gods, “howling Anubis” and others are “monstrous and multiform.” Anubis of course was the god who led the Egyptian dead to judgement. He had a fox’s head and Virgil in true nationalistic manner overlooks the more human Egyptian gods Osiris and Isis. He also overlooks the fact that Cleopatra was of Greek origin. Virgil however shows respect for the Nile personifying it as the mother who will take into her lap her defeated children. From a post-colonial perspective it is typical that the river of the conqueror, the Tiber has been referred to as “father” while the conquered Nile is given feminine overtones symbolizing weakness-the emasculating influence it had on Antony. But even Virgil is not immune to the legendary power of Cleopatra considering the effective descriptions of her in defeat that he displays on the shield.
While this “ekphrasis” is the climax of Book Eighth an amazingly ingenious epic simile occurs in l2off. The dismay and perplexity of Aeneas’ thinking is presented in a comparison of celestial light on water in brass which flickers over the room and strikes the roof. This shows the innate luminosity of Aeneas’s temperament, which sustains him through all his miseries. The simile suggests hope too.