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Free MonkeyNotes Book Notes-The Aeneid by Virgil-Free Online Summary
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Major Characters


The Rutulian suitor of Lavinia, described, as above the rest in appearance and illustrious birth is the other major antagonist of Aeneas who is a pawn in Juno’s hands. He is valiant but inevitably complacent of Juno’s protection. Of Greek origin he has a native deity as a forefather and so does not qualify as an alien to marry Lavinia. Initially he seems content to wait and watch what happens. But the Fury Allecto stirs him to awareness of being cheated of a bride and kingdom. On a purely human level Turnus’ emotions are perfectly understandable. He has good reason to consider Aeneas his rival though not an invader. The irrational aspect of his character comes through as he is stirred to battle and indulges in indiscriminate slaughter as Nisus and Euryalus seem to have done before him. His first active role is to instigate the rustics who complain about the bloody skirmish resulting from the shoot of the royal stag. He effectively propagates a sense of insecurity among other natives of Ausonia and Laurentuim. As a result he succeeds in marshalling a large force against the Trojans.

Turnus’ downfall stems from being too trusting in the misguiding forces of Iris and Juno. While claiming to favor him, Juno merely uses him for her own ends and he refuses to consult any oracle. This suggests an overconfidence in himself which assures him that only success is in store for him. In this he is a contrast to Aeneas and his own fellow countryman Latinus who after Phoebus’ oracle goes to Faunus’ shrine to confirm and ensure there is no misinterpretation.

The overconfidence leads Turnus to act rashly, carelessly. He has more thrust than thought in battle. When he could have annihilated Aeneas’ camp while Aeneas was away he, bloodthirsty goes on a killing spree only to realize he is trapped. When he finally jumps into the river to be carried away to Ardea, his home, he appears no better than a buffoon. Allowing his sister to keep him away from Aeneas, he inadvertently projects the image of a coward which he is not. He lands into these situations because he is inexperienced in war, carried away by excitement but lacking in judgement.

His limited judgement and his overemotional responses are heard in his near hysteric reply to Drances. The latter, a master of rhetoric and diplomacy spurs Turnus on to commit himself to single combat. Not averse to a heroic death Turnus is naturally depressed because he knows he cannot equal a Hector-like warrior. But he has an “ego” problem by then. He has encouraged his men to war and he would feel shame to accept a peaceful settlement with Aeneas. Latinus urges him to find another bride, but it is a prestige issue for him to win Lavinia. So for his personal “ego” and prestige he is willing to sacrifice the lives of great warriors including a lady, Camilla. How can such a man lead the Italian race to glory? Virgil is tolerant of his grievances but it is hardly likely that either Virgil or his contemporaries would have seen him as a hero or a tragic hero at that. He is rather pathetic except for his physical advantages. His leadership qualities are limited to raving and ranting and arousing the rabble. What Virgil is attempting through Turnus is to provide an antagonist of some stature for Aeneas. Turnus’ fighting abilities are never in doubt, energy and physical abilities carry him through. Perhaps the really redeeming factor about him is his love for Lavinia, which is exhibited, in occasional flashes through his valor. His greatest error is the slaying of Pallas and taking his armor though he shows the chivalry of returning the body. This act of wearing the trophy leads to his final undoing as Aeneas hesitates before killing him.

Minor Characters

General note - In an epic, it is quite common to find certain characters being given stature without being adequately developed as individuals. Other minor characters appear because they parallel or contrast the major characters. Still others remain only names with a line of introduction because they have fought and died heroically.


Aeneas’ father is presented so convincingly as a loving paterfamilias worth all the respect he receives that it is difficult to remember that he is already dead when the epic begins. At the fall of Troy he is seen as a stubborn difficult old man unwillingly to leave his native land. This touch of verisimilitude typical of old people facing displacement is immediately followed by willing compliance and the assumption of elder statesmanship as the omen bids him leave Troy. Initially his guidance leads them astray to Crete through misreading an omen. But over all he emerges as a wise counselor in life as well as after death. In the Underworld he is the concerned parent worrying about the recently bereaved Aeneas who might have been harmed by his contact with Carthage. He is literally Aeneas’ guide on how to arrive at his destination and the geography and history of Aeneas’ future development. Before that his spirit had appeared to Aeneas in Sicily asking him to take old Nautes’ advice to leave the old and weary behind before proceeding for Italy.

Above all Anchises forms the moral authority as he appears in Book Sixth warning against Civil war.

Iülus Ascanius

Aeneas’ son carries on the tradition of filial piety and appreciates in others. From the little child walking out of the city of Troy to the little angel on Dido’s knee he is merely a promising boy for whose thirty year rule in Italy Aeneas has to bear intolerable hardship. The father’s love is repaid as Iülus grows up and the first time he is seen in action as a future leader is at the Trojan games when he rushes to the burning ships and disperses the women by rebuking them for their madness. They feel ashamed and realize their folly so that no more firebrands are thrown.

As an administrator with guardians, Iülus is left behind at the camp in Latuim when Turnus lays siege. With a wisdom beyond his years and a generosity to encourage and reward valor and enterprise he permits Nisus and Euryalus to seek his father at Evander’s. He shows an emotional side to his character too when he weeps for Euryalus’ filial affections and admires how Lausus sacrifices his noble life for a vicious father’s. Iülus is indeed on his way to becoming a great warrior. His arrows hit their mark invariably. He wounds the royal stag and becomes the innocent cause of a battle with the rustics. But the only human life he is allowed to take is that of an insulting taunter of his people, Turnus’ brother-in-law. After that he is taken out of the battlefield, to show that he has proved himself in every facet a hero but he does not have a lust for blood like Turnus. An unusual aspect of his unique in an epic is his sense of humor in a desperate situation when on the bank of the Tiber at their first landing he makes a joke about eating trenchers/tables, which of course proves to be an omen.

Evander and Pallas

As characters they form a parallel father-son relationship to Achises and Aeneas. Evander is very old and a man of great experience in war and immigration since he left Arcadia in Greece to settle in Italy. It is symbolic that he and his men have Hercules as their patron god to suggest rural physical fitness and force rather than refined warfare. Of course Pallas is the epitome of a perfect warrior in armour. His valor was immediately focused on when he came down alone with a spear to encounter the two ships of Aeneas and his men while his own warriors were sacrificing to Alcides (Hercules). But his enthusiasms is characteristic of a young soldier in his first battle. He spurs his Arcadians on to attack when they seek retreat and dies gloriously after killing many Latin’s at the hands of Turnus. Evander’s later grief and demand for revenge helps to give a greater nobility and motive to Aeneas when he kills Turnus. So Pallas’ death becomes an adequate cause for Turnus. So Pallas’ death becomes an adequate cause for Turnus to lose his life. Evander’s farewell to Pallas in Book Eighth and his reception of the son’s corpse (Book Eleventh) give rise to poetry of great feeling of paternal love. Through these two speeches are reflected the feelings of all those old fathers whose sons are sacrificed in the madness of war.


Acestes whose mother was a Trojan is the old King of Drepanum, Sicily. His hospitality to the Trojans is contrasted with Dido’s. At their first visit Acestes provide the final resting place for Anchises on the shore. Then on Aeneas’ return after the disaster of the ships, he willingly offers land to those Trojans who want to remain in his kingdom and provides them with adequate autonomy in managing their city. This is unlike Dido, who wanted Aeneas to remain behind and share her kingdom. Moreover the people of Acestes’ kingdom are active and rural unlike the luxury-loving Tyrians. Acestes himself is a symbol of hospitality and generosity, a true friend in need to the Trojans.

King Latinus

King Latinus of Latium traces his ancestry from the oldest god Saturn and his son Faunus. So his belief in omens and his fear of the gods stems from filial respect and deep faith. He feels constrained to prevent his only daughter from marrying a native prince because the oracles forbade it. Consequently he seems a weak man, as he becomes an unwilling enemy of the Trojans. He puts up resistance by locking himself up and not declaring war himself. But in all fairness he is bound to go along with the will of his people, which is being manipulated by Turnus, Amata his queen and Juno. His daughter Lavinia remains a passive agent, a shadowy cause for everyone’s misery and herself ashamed and miserable as a result.

Queen Amata

Lavinia’s mother has always been a supporter of Turnus as a son-in- law. Her influence with her people is enough to make all the women pressurize the King to declare war against the Trojans. She leads them into Bacchic rites and high frenzy giving the impression that she must be a woman of great energy who has few channels of outlet. There is something irrational about her, which turns her to suicide when she feels that their side has faced defeat. So she is the easiest prey for Allecto and Juno to work on to incite the rabble.

On a more human level her cause for grievance may seem justified although her reaction is out of proportion and her address to her old husband suggests she may be habitually a shrill nagging wife. Perhaps she had a real life echo in Fulvia the first wife of Mark Antony.

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