By Publius Vergilius Maro, Known as Virgil (70-19 BC)
A Study Guide
Compiled by Michael J. Cummings...© 2003
Revised and Enlarged in 2009
Type of Work and Years of Composition
The Aeneid is an epic, a long narrative poem in a lofty style about the exploits of a hero. In The Aeneid, that hero is Aeneas, a Trojan destined to found a new civilization in Italy. The work contains twelve books, which are actually long chapters. Virgil (alternate name: Vergil) wrote The Aeneid between 30 and 19 BC. The language of the epic is Latin, spoken in the Roman Empire during Virgil's day and later.
Aeneid: uh NE id
In the ancient Mediterranean world, feminine beauty reaches its zenith in Helen, wife of King Menelaus of Greece. Her wondrous face and body are without flaw. She is perfect. Even the goddess of love, Aphrodite, admires her. When Aphrodite competes with other goddesses in a beauty contest—in which a
golden apple is to be awarded as the prize—she bribes the judge, a young Trojan named Paris, promising him Helen in exchange for his vote. After Paris selects Aphrodite, the goddess directs him to the household of Menelaus, where he woos Helen, and absconds with her to Troy, a walled city in Asia Minor (in present-day Turkey).
The time is the Twelfth Century, BC. The action takes place in lands in the Mediterranean region, including Troy (in flashback), Carthage, Sicily, Italy, and various islands. Troy was in northern Anatolia, a region in Asia Minor that is part of modern-day Turkey. Anatolia is east of Greece (across the Aegean Sea) and north of
Egypt (across the Mediterranean Sea). Carthage was on the northern coast of Africa in present-day Tunisia. In the language of the Phoenicians, who founded Carthage, the city was Kart-hadasht, meaning New Town. Sicily, an island off the southwestern coast of Italy, is about 100 miles northeast of Tunisia. In the concluding episodes of The Aeneid, most of the action
takes place in Latium, a region in west-central Italy through which flows the Tiber River. Its inhabitants were known as Latins.
Virgil mainly imitates the lofty tone and style of Homer’s great epics—The Iliad and The Odyssey, in particular the latter—and incorporates some of their content. Like Odysseus (Roman name, Ulysses) in The Odyssey, Aeneas wanders the Mediterranean after the Trojan War, encountering perils and diversions. But he never loses sight
of his ultimate goal. Like Odysseus, he has a love affair, visits the Underworld, retells parts of his adventures in flashback, and faces one last fight upon reaching his destination.
In The Aeneid Virgil uses the verse form Quintus Ennius (239-169 BC) introduced, dactylic hexameter. In Latin, this form contains six metrical feet that each consist of one accented syllable followed by two unaccented syllables.
Virgil opens The Aeneid by asking a muse to inspire his writing. In ancient Greece and Rome, a poet always requested a muse to fire him with creative genius when he began an epic about godlike heroes and villains. In Greek Roman mythology, there were nine muses, all sisters, who were believed to inspire poets, historians, flutists, dancers, singers, astronomers, philosophers, and other thinkers and artists. If one wanted to write a great poem, play a musical instrument with bravado, or develop a grand scientific or philosophical theory, he would ask for help from a muse.
When a writer asked for help, he was said to be “invoking the muse.” The muse of epic poetry was named Calliope [kuh LY uh pe]. Following is the invocation that begins The Aeneid. In it, the author says he "sings [writes about] of arms [battle, conflict] and the man [the Trojan hero Aeneas]," who fled Troy and went on a long and perilous journey to Italy to found a new city. Throughout his journey, the queen of the gods, Juno—an unremitting enemy of the Trojans—harried Aeneas. The author then asks the muse to reveal to him the necessary information to write a successful story.
I sing of arms and the man, he who, exiled by fate,Narration
Virgil tells the story in third-person point of view, although he uses the pronoun I at the beginning of the narrative when he invokes the muse. From time to time, Virgil narrates through Aeneas, speaking in first-person point of view, as in Books II and III. The tone is generally dignified, as befitting an epic.
By Michael J. Cummings...© 2003 and 2009
The Escape From Troy
When Troy falls to the marauding Greeks, Aeneas rescues his father and son but loses his wife, Creusa, in the burning city. She dies. After escaping to nearby Phrygia, Aeneas rounds up other Trojan refugees, builds a fleet, and sets sail for a new land and a new life. But a powerful enemy—Juno, queen of the Olympian gods—imperils his voyage at every opportunity. She despises the Trojan race for two reasons. First, a Trojan, Paris, had insulted her when he selected Aphrodite over her in a beauty contest before the war. Second, another Trojan, Aeneas, had been selected by the Fates to found a civilization that would one day vanquish her favorite city, Carthage. Consequently, she visits calamity upon Aeneas time and again, tossing and whirling his ships and pointing their prows into uncharted waters.
For seven years, Aeneas and his followers—including his father, Anchises, and son, Ascanius (known also as Iulus)—roam the trackless oceans as Juno’s playthings. In a final attempt to thwart Aeneas, Juno persuades the king of the winds, Aeolus, to loose powerful tempests against Aeneas’s fleet. Many ships go down, and their crews and passengers with them. However, the great god of the sea—earth-shaking Neptune, who had built Troy’s walls and who had once saved Aeneas on the Trojan battlefield from terrible Achilles—calms the waters to the smoothness of glass. The remaining ships, seven in all, find safe harbor in north Africa. There, the refugees kill stags, make fire, and pacify raging hunger. Aeneas heartens his followers, reminding them that on their voyage they had survived monsters, treachery, and roiling seas.When Venus—the mother of Aeneas—appears to him in disguise, she directs him to Carthage, ruled by beautiful Dido. Dido had founded the city after abandoning her native Phoenicia to escape her brother, Pygmalion, who had murdered her husband, Sychaeus, for his wealth. Dido then vowed never to remarry, never again to look with love upon another man. However, Venus the goddess of love, directs her son Cupid, the god of love, to smite Dido with overpowering love for Aeneas to ensure his safety once he arrives in Carthage.
After receiving the Trojans, Dido orders a sumptuous banquet for them and asks Aeneas to tell of Troy and his wanderings across the seas. Dutifully, Aeneas tells the tale, though it grieves him to recall the horror of it all. Here is his story:
Ten years of war between the Greeks and the Trojans bring only a stalemate. One day, the Greeks abandon the battlefield and leave behind a gigantic wooden horse, apparently a peace offering. It is a wondrous thing, a mountain of planking cut from fir trees, that stands at the gates of Troy. As the Trojans gaze upon the horse in amazement, shepherds bring into the city a Greek captive, Sinon, bound at the wrists. A talented liar who had allowed himself to be captured, Sinon persuades the Trojans that the horse is an offering to the goddess Minerva. If they accept it, they will prosper as a mighty Asian power; if they destroy it, they will bring calamity upon themselves. A Trojan priest, Laocoön, warns the people not to receive it. “Beware the Greeks bearing gifts,” he cries, hurling a spear into its side. At that moment, two serpents rise from the sea, come ashore, and seize Laocoön and his two sons, girding them in coils, then disappear. The Trojans interpret this ghastly event as a sign that the gods prize the horse as a holy offering; Laocoön had received just punishment for desecrating it.
Because of its size—verily, its breadth spans a hundred cubits and its mane touches the clouds—the Trojans take hammer and axe to the city walls, opening a breach big enough to receive the horse into Troy. Cassandra—the daughter of Troy’s king, Priam—admonishes her countrymen to cease their madness. The horse, she says, is indeed a trick that will bring ruin to Troy. Cassandra is singularly talented in the prophetic arts; she can see into the future and beyond, knowing the outcome of events before they happen. But the god who gave her this gift of prophecy, Apollo, also emplaced in her a most cruel and debilitating handicap: Whenever she pronounces a prophecy, no one will believe her. So it is that the Trojans ignore her and pull the horse into the city.
After nightfall, its belly opens and releases armed Greeks who bring sword and torch to sleeping Troy. The rest of the Greek horde—hidden behind rocks and hills and in folds of valleys—merge into a river of destruction that rages through the breach in the wall. They burn, pillage, destroy. Aeneas saves his father and son but, in the tumult of fire and smoke and fleeing citizens, loses his wife, Creusa, who later dies.
In Phrygia, the surviving Trojans construct ships, gather wind in their unfolding sails, and set a course for Thrace. There Aeneas founds a city, Aeneadae. But the voice of a dead Trojan, Polydorus, warns Aeneas to seek haven elsewhere, for Thrace is an evil land that betrayed Troy during the war, first stealing Trojan gold sent to Thrace for safekeeping, then pledging allegiance to the Greeks.
Taking the advice of Polydorus, Aeneas and his men sail on to the island of Delos, the birthplace of the god Apollo. Anius, king of Delos and high priest of Apollo, greets Aeneas and welcomes him and his father. At the temple of Apollo, Aeneas prays for guidance, and the voice of Apollo tells him to seek the land that was once a home for the Trojan race. Anchises interprets these words as referring to Crete. It was once the home of Teucer, who later became an early settler of Troy.
Aeneas then sails on, passing through "foaming straits thick with islands" and picking up a wind that carries him on to Crete. There, Aeneas establishes another city, Pergamum, and his men plow the fields while he makes laws and plans for the future of the "new Troy." But after pestilence descends upon the land, the harvest fails and hunger rules. In a dream, Aeneas learns that Italy, not Crete, is to be the home of the new Trojan civilization, for Italy was the birthplace of the progenitor of the Trojan race, Dardanus.
Encounter With the Harpies
After Aeneas and his followers take to their ships once more, peril besets them in the form of storms, raging seas, and mists. Day becomes night, and they wander in dark fog until at last that they put in at the Strophades, islands in the Ionian Sea. There they slaughter goats and cows and feast on them along the beach. Suddenly, monstrous birds called Harpies descend upon them, snatching at the food. These beasts with clawed hands and the faces of young virgins emit foul excrement from their bellies. After the men battle the Harpies, one of the winged beasts—Celaeno, a prophetess and eldest of the Furies—tells Aeneas to leave the island and seek his destiny in Italy. The frightened crewmen put aside their weapons. Aeneas's father, Anchises, makes sacrifices to the gods, calling on them to protect the travelers, and then they set sail once again, eventually landing at Actium on the western coast of Greece. There they set up altars to the gods and spend their time holding athletic games, such as wrestling bouts.
Reinvigorated and ready to pursue their destiny again, they move on through peaceful seas, passing Epirus, and eventually put into the harbor of Chaonia and visit its city, Buthrotum. There, Aeneas meets and speaks with Andromache, widow of Hector, the greatest Trojan warrior, who was slain by the greatest of all warriors in all the world, the Greek Achilles. She tells Aeneas that when Troy fell to the Greeks, the son of Achilles, Pyrrhus, took her as his captive, and she bore him three sons as his slave. When Pyrrhus pursued another woman, Hermione, he placed Andromache in the care of Helenus, the brother of Hector. Meanwhile, Hermione's husband slew Pyrrhus, and Andromache and Helenus gained their freedom and made their home in Chaonia.
After Andromache completes her account, Helenus, a prophet, learns from Apollo the trials Aeneas yet must undergo before fulfilling his destiny, then advises Aeneas on how to cope with them. With Helenus's advice in mind, Aeneas and his men resume their journey, traveling all the way to Sicily. There, a Greek named Achaemenides warns them of a great danger on the island, a race of one-eyed giants called the Cyclopes. Achaemenides had been a member of the crew of Ulysses, the great Greek warrior who had designed the Trojan horse, when Ulysses sojourned in Sicily while on his way home to Ithaca, Greece. When Ulysses and his crew escaped the island, Achaemenides was left behind. He now urges Aeneas to flee the island. Aeneas does so, taking Achaemenides with him.Eventually, before the seas carry them to the land of Dido, they stop at several other islands, the last of which is Drepanum. There, his elderly father dies. Aeneas tells Dido, "This was my last trouble, this the end of my long journey."
Afterward, he says, he traveled to North Africa, to the realm of Dido. His tale is complete.
In the following months, Dido—now desperately in love with Aeneas—spends all her time with him, and he with her. They seem frozen in time, unaware of past or present, and scandalous tales are told about them. Mighty Jove then sends the messenger god, Mercury, to Carthage to remind Aeneas of his destiny. It is wrong for him to dally, Mercury says, when he has an important mission awaiting him. When heedful Aeneas secretly prepares to leave, Dido discovers his plans and implores him to stay. But he is deaf to her pleas. Wounded, angry, bitter, she curses him and his kind and importunes the gods to drive a wedge of everlasting hatred between his future country and Carthage. As the Trojans set sail, she falls on a sword left behind by Aeneas and dies in the arms of her sister, Anna.
Far from shore now, as the fleet gathers wind and speed and Carthage glows with the flames of Dido’s funeral pyre, a storm forces Aeneas off course to Sicily. There, a Trojan, Acestes, who has founded a kingdom near Mount Eryx, welcomes Aeneas. Aeneas then holds funeral games in memory of his father, including a boat race, a footrace, a boxing match, an archery match, and a competition in horsemanship.
Meanwhile,ever meddlesome Juno stirs dissent among the Trojan women, who are weary of traveling from port to port. When they set the ships ablaze, great Jupiter—answering a hurried prayer of Aeneas—quenches the fire with rain. Before leaving Sicily, Aeneas learns from the ghost of his father that he is to travel next to Cumae, Italy, to meet with his father in the Underworld. At Cumae a prophetess called the Sybil informs Aeneas that the land in which he will establish the new Troy is Latium, a region along the west coast of central Italy. But he first must fight a war caused by his marriage to a woman of Latium.
After the Sybil escorts Aeneas into Hades, he sees wondrous and terrifying sights—centaurs, giants, serpents, hideous monsters, crying babies, the wandering ghosts of the unburied dead, the pitiful forms of those who died by their own hand, and the personifications of Disease, Hunger, War, Grief, and Old Age. And he sees Dido, too. But she turns away, preferring darkest hell to the still-burning embers of love in his eyes...
By and by, Aeneas and his guide come upon a world of light—a world of grassy meadows, gentle streams, and shaded groves. In this heavenly corner of the Underworld, Elysium, he meets and embraces his father, Anchises, who tells Aeneas of the glorious future in store for him and the Roman civilization he is to found. Aeneas’s progeny will become rulers of the world, he says. Anchises even mentions Augustus Caesar by name, saying he will preside over a great golden age in which Rome rules a vast empire that is the jewel of human civilization.
Resuming his journey, Aeneas sails along the Italian coast until he reaches the Tiber River, then turns and enters its mouth, moving on to Latium. There, he wishes to establish his new home and sends a hundred envoys to Latinus, the king of Latium, with a message. One of the envoys, Ilioneus, presents gifts to the king—relics from Troy—and recites the message. Aeneas, he says, asks Latinus to grant him and his compatriots enough land to build a city and live in peace with Latinus. Having heard from an oracle that his daughter, Lavinia, was destined to marry a foreigner, Latinus tells Ilioneus that he will grant Aeneas the land he desires. What is more, he proposes to betroth his daughter to Aeneas even though Latinus has already pledged Lavinia to Turnus, King of the Rutulians, a tribe in Latium. Latinus then gives the visitors gifts of horses for themselves and a chariot and twin horses for Aeneas.
When the Trojans begin building their city, Juno observes them from the heavens. She had done all in her power to thwart their plans to establish a new homeland, but failed. Angry, she summons Alecto, one of the snake-haired Furies, who is so treacherous a troublemaker that even her own Father—Pluto, the ruler of the Underworld—despises her. She tells her,
You’ve the power to rouse brothers, who are one, to conflict,Alecto then does her dirty work. First, with a snake from her hair, she envenoms Latinus's wife, Amata, with hatred for Aeneas. Amata then lashes out at her husband for promising Lavinia to Aeneas. But he refuses to back down. So Amata goes into the land and, overcome with frenzy, inflames other women against Aeneas and the Trojans. Alecto then goes to the palace of Turnus to inflame him against Aeneas. Appearing to him in the guise of an old woman named Calybe, priestess of the temple of Juno, she tells, him, " The king denies you your bride and the dowry looked for / by your race, and a stranger is sought as heir to the throne."
Finally, while young Ascanius is hunting in the woods, she inflames his hounds to track down the prize stag of the king, a magnificent animal nurtured by Tyrrhus, the keeper of the king's herds. His daughter, Silvia, dotes on the deer and even adorns its antlers with garlands. After the dogs corner the stag, Alecto likewise inflames Ascanius and guides his hand when he shoots an arrow into flank and belly of the stag. The deer returns home to its stall, bleeding profusely and crying out. Alecto sounds the call of the herdsmen, and they come running with axes, staffs, and metal stakes. A clash ensues between the herdsmen and the Trojans. Innocent men who happen to be at the scene are killed, including Galaesus, an old man who was praying for peace at the time.
This skirmish makes war appear inevitable, and the two sides make the necessary preparation. Aeneas sails to Pallantium to seek the aid of Evander, king of Arcadia and its colony of Greeks.
Etruscans under Mezentius ally with Turnus, and Evander allies with Aeneas. Gods and goddesses take sides. Venus calls upon her husband, Vulcan, the god of the forge, to make weapons and armor for the Trojans. Juno sends Iris to rouse Turnus to war, and he in turns mobilizes his men and attacks at Pallantium. The fury of the warfare is reminiscent of the raging violence of the Trojan War. After this early clash, Aeneas returns from Pallantium and a pitched battle ensues on land. Aeneas wields a mighty sword and spear, downing one warrior after another. During the fighting, Turnus seeks out and kills brave Pallas, son of Evander, with a steel-tipped oak spear. His death deeply saddens Evander and Aeneas. Aeneas had taken a great liking to the youth. Even as he mourns the youth, terrible rage fires his blood with vengeance and he now kills furiously and frequently in hopes of coming across Turnus. But Juno intervenes and withdraws Turnus from the battle.
Aeneas and his men appear to have the upper hand. The Latins then convene a council at which King Latinus proposes to offer concessions to Aeneas as part of a peace treaty. Drancës, a prominent Latin who blames Turnus for the problems arising from the war, supports Latinus's proposal and tells Turnus,
Pity your people,Turnus angrily rejects the idea that the Trojans have conquered his army, saying.
I, beaten? You total disgrace, can anyone who seesIn the end, the conflict comes down to hand-to-hand combat between Aeneas and Turnus. Now is the Trojan hero's opportunity to avenge the death of Evander and end the war. When Aeneas drives his sword through Turnus, peace descends over the land and Aeneas becomes the founder and progenitor of the greatest nation in history: glorious Rome.
Aeneas: Noble Trojan warrior destined to found the great Roman civilization. He is the protagonist. When the Greeks entered Troy and burned the city, he fled with his son and father after his wife died in the Greek onslaught. After rounding up other refugee soldiers from Troy, he and his men go on a long and perilous journey, facing angry
seas and monsters, before arriving in Italy only to go to war again. But he defeats his enemy and fulfills his destiny.
Deities, Monsters, and Figures in Various Myths
Jupiter or Jove (Greek: Zeus): King of the gods. When Trojan ships are burning at Sicily, he sends rain that extinguishes the fire.
Virgil's goal in writing The Aeneid was to glorify Rome and exalt its emperor. During Virgil’s lifetime, Rome achieved the pinnacle of its greatness under Augustus Caesar, earlier known as Octavian, who was by adoption the grandnephew of Julius Caesar. Octavian (63 BC-AD 14) became emperor in 29 BC, two years after defeating Mark Antony in the Battle of Actium. In 27 BC, the senate bestowed on Octavian the title “Augustus” to call attention to his superior qualities. Augustus Caesar instituted many political and social reforms, constructed roads linking imperial cities, promoted the arts, and inaugurated an era of peace (known as the pax romana) that endured long after his death. Virgil, who benefited from the emperor’s patronage, decided to extol Caesar in The Aeneid, conferring on him a noble heritage and lineage brought from Troy to Italy in the person of the princely Aeneas, whose courage, nobility, perseverance, and ingenuity seeded Italy with greatness. Although Aeneas was a figure of myth, not fact, all-powerful Augustus welcomed Virgil’s tale as a fitting metaphor for historical truth.
Fate Cannot Be Overturned
Even Juno, queen of the Olympian gods, cannot thwart the destiny of Aeneas to found a great civilization. Nor can Dido, passionately in love with Aeneas; nor can Turnus, rabidly in hate with Aeneas.
It Pays to Know People in High Places
In overcoming obstacles, Aeneas receives the help of his divine mother, Venus, the goddess of love, as well as her father, Jupiter, the king of the gods, and his brother, Neptune, the god of the sea.
As a literary work intended to glorify Rome, The Aeneid had to present the legendary founder of Rome as an almost superhuman hero. So it was that Virgil endowed Aeneas with great courage, nobility, fortitude, and ingenuity. During his voyage to Italy, he overcomes the wrath of the gods, battles monsters, mourns the death of his father, and
fights a war. But perhaps his most difficult feat was to abandon the beautiful Dido, the queen of Carthage. His commitment to destiny trumped his desire for personal fulfillment.
Rome Was Not Built in a Day
It takes centuries for the foundation and development of the great Roman civilization. Virgil takes the reader back to the beginning, to the destruction of Troy, and shows him the tortuous path that led to the birth of Rome.
Paying Homage to the Dead
In ancient Rome and Greece, it was important to conduct dignified funeral rites for the dead, to acknowledge their achievements, and to remember them in prayers and keep their memory alive in tales handed down from generation to generation. In The Aeneid, the author continually alludes to noble figures from the past, sometimes digressing from the main plot to tell stories about them.
The climax appears to occur when Turnus kills Evander's son, Pallas, enraging Aeneas, who then kills furiously and frequently in hopes of coming across Turnus. It is now only a matter of time before Aeneas quenches his wrath. After Turnus rejects a proposal to make peace with the Trojans, Aeneas slays him and the war ends.
During his voyage, Aeneas must overcome the wrath of gods, monsters, and beasts. These opponents seem to represent the obstacles and the bad luck, or fate, that humans must face on their voyage through life.
The Greek writer Homer established literary practices, rules, or devices in his two great epics, The Iliad and The Odyssey. They became commonplace in epic poetry written in ancient, medieval, and later times. These rules or devices are now known as epic conventions. They include the following:
Encyclopedias and mythology books generally list twelve deities as the chief gods in Greek mythology and as residents of Mount Olympus. However, two of these important deities spent most of their time in the domains which they governed, the sea and the underworld. In addition, the Greeks of one era sometimes differed with the Greeks of another era on who were the most important gods. Consequently, the list of the favored twelve sometimes changed, omitting one god in favor of another.
The Olympian gods were the successors of an earlier dynasty of gods known as Titans. The Titan ruler, Cronos (also Cronus), believing that one of his children might attempt to overthrow him, swallowed each of them after his or her birth. However, one child, Zeus, was rescued by his mother and hidden on the island of Crete. Later, Zeus forced his father to vomit the other children from his stomach. Then, with the help of his siblings, he overthrew Cronus to become lord of the universe.
The names of the chief Olympian deities are listed below. Writers in ancient Greece—such as Sophocles, Aeschylus, and Euripides—used the original Greek names, the English transliteration of which appears at left in the list. Writers in ancient Rome, including Virgil, used the Latin version of the names, the English transliteration of which appears in parentheses.
Some English language writers, past and present, use the transliteration of the Greek version; others prefer the transliteration of the Latin (or Roman) version. For example, William Shakespeare uses the transliteration of the Latin version in his plays and poems. Instead of referring to the king of the gods as Zeus (the transliteration of the Greek name), he refers to him as Jupiter and Jove, the transliterations of the Latin names (Iuppiter and Iovis). Here are the names of the Olympian gods and a brief description of each:.
Study Questions and Essay Topics