Virgil, Aeneid Books 5 and 6

General overview:  Book V's funeral games for Anchises in Sicily synthesize the funeral games for Patroclus staged by Achilles in Book XXIII of the Iliad with the Phaiakian games which entertain Odysseus.  You are familiar with the games from the Odyssey, and it will not surprise you to learn that the overall scheme of Virgil's funeral games closely parallels those in the Iliad.  Achilles offers prizes for competitions in chariot racing,  boxing, wrestling, running, dueling with lances, the shot-put,  archery, and the spear throw.  Prizes often involve slave women measured with other objects in relative value, and contests turn  on competitors' strategies which reveal the poet's idea of wise,  prudent, acceptable, and noble behavior (and their opposites).  Virgil condenses the number of sports, but he magnifies enormously the significance of the participants and their deeds.  These games are not just aristocratic ceremony.  Their relocation from the end or near the end of an epic to near the midpoint of an epic enables Virgil to use each competition to foretell some future event either within the epic, itself, or in Rome's future history.  Games are the shadows of reality.  Pay special attention to the actions of the footrace's foregrounded contestants, Nisus and Euryalus, and the factors which determine the outcome of the ship race.  These events played out in games, with no loss of life, prefigure important scenes in the deadly war which occupies Books VII-XII.  Most striking of all, for the "re-reader" of this epic, is the boxing match between Dares, the confident young champion, and Entelles, the aged master of the sport.  In the conclusion of that match and Entelles' victorious gesture toward his "prize" ("Gifts don't concern me," 139), Virgil seems to be defining a new, higher bar for poetic performance among his Roman colleagues, who typically would write in hopes of a rich patron's rewards.  Whereas the Homeric poets declared their songs were god-given and preserved the kleos or fame of heroes, Virgil has adapted the epic to create a new culture and new mentalities to populate it.

         Aeneas' journey to the Underworld in Book VI was prepared long ago when Helenus told him to seek the Sybil's advice.  She will lead him to the Underworld's entrance, but once among the shades of the dead, he will be guided by the spirit of Anchises.  What does it mean to be guided by your father's spirit?  The Underworld books of the Odyssey and the Aeneid are obviously intended to be compared, and we might begin with the hero's actions.  Does Odysseus enter Hades?  That's only the beginning of the differences with which Virgil constructs his challenge to the Greek epic's handling of its materials.  Think of the epics as massive tool kits in the hands of a master artificer who not only makes new things but redesigns the tools, themselves, so that they are capable of making things that would have been unthinkable and impossible for their original artists.

Book V‑‑

1)  When Aeneas and the Trojans find themselves blown back to  Drepanum where Anchises had died (at the end of Book III), they  celebrate funeral games in his honor.  Note the prizes,  especially the cloak.  What has its story to do with Aeneas'  life?  (Check Hamilton or Graves for the myths they refer to.)   Also, keep track of Euryalus and Nisus‑‑they show up again in XI  under slightly more urgent circumstances.

2)  How has Virgil changed the boxing and archery competitions  found in the Odyssey, and what kind of effect is he after? Especially pay attention to the means by which one competitor "out-does" the others, and the pattern Virgil may be establishing with Entellus' boxing victory over Dares.  After Aeneas calls the fight in Entellus' favor, he tells Dares "cede deo," "yield to god," as if here was something fundamental to the boxers' and the poet's art.  Entellus then turns to the prize bull, killing it with a single blow to its head, and hangs up his boxing gloves.  Fitzgerald translates this Latin--"hic victor caestus artemque repono"--quite literally as "Here I lay down my gauntlets and my art" (V.627).  What might Entellus, and Virgil, mean by hanging up such a trophy beside the body of a victim offered in substitute for the vanquished Dares?  Keep an eye out for more "substitute victims" in this narrative.

3)  How does what Virgil expects his audience to accept in a  public game differ from what you are willing to accept?  Where in  this culture do we most nearly approach such events?

4)  When Juno's ally, Iris, attacks the Trojans again, how does  her means of attack relate to Aeneid themes and to Homeric epics?

5)  After their departure from Drepanum, the Trojan fleet sails  for Cumae and the gates of the Underworld at Avernus, following  Anchises' advice to Aeneas in (yet another) dream.  What final  price is exacted from them, and how does its cost compare to the  similar event in the Odyssey?  What does it mean to suffer this  kind of a loss as opposed to the loss in the Odyssey?

          Having begun to turn readers toward the Italian/Roman future in Book V's funeral games for Anchises, Virgil is finally ready for Book VI, which takes on the "journey to the Underworld," formerly Odysseus' distinguishing achievement.  Notice that Anchises, visiting Aeneas in dreams as a shade, motivates the journey.  The way to the future lies in the past.  Note that I give you the entire weekend to read just this one book for Monday's class.  It deserves that concentrated attention.   Click here for a map of Dante's Underworld (Divina comedia, 1308-21).  Click here for a Dante-influenced Renaissance engraving of Virgil's Underworld.  That's how reception of the classics by later writers changes what readers think of the predecessor poets.

Book VI‑‑

1)  How many heroes descended to the Underworld, according to the  Cumaean Sybil, and what were they after?  What other hero is not  mentioned although we know he went there in search of knowledge,  exactly as Aeneas goes?  Why doesn't Virgil mention him?

2)  How does Virgil's vision of the dead and the Underworld  differ from the way you might imagine an afterlife?

3)  When Aeneas talks to the shade of Deiphobus, the spirit  describes how Helen hid his arms on the night of the Greek  attack, and let Meneleus and Ulysses into the house to kill him  and mutilate his corpse.  Deiphobus calls Ulysses "una / hortator  scelerum"‑‑a fellow counselor of sin [Loeb translation].   Fitzgerald translates it as "that ringleader of atrocity" (178).  Why is Virgil so hard on Ulysses‑‑what did he do wrong? 

4)  What kinds of crimes does the Sybil describe as being  punished in the Underworld? 

5)  When Aeneas reaches out three times for his father's shade,  what theme is being referred to again, and why here?

6)  How does Anchises' description of the universe relate to  Christian ideals?  Can you see why, when Dante composes his trip  to the Underworld, Virgil will be his guide?  Also see (if you're  interested in this connection) Virgil's Eclogue III.

7)  When Anchises calls Aeneas a "Roman" and describes what  Romans are good at, what kinds of skills is he recommending to  the Roman populace?  Who might those "others" be, those who are  better than the Romans at the arts? 

8)  When the Sybil and Aeneas leave the Underworld, there are two  possible routes‑‑the Gates of Horn, through which true dreams  issue forth, and the Gates of Ivory, through which false dreams  escape.  Which route do they take, and how might you explain it?