Virgil, Aeneid Books 7 & 8

 

Book VII: Latins prepare for war: Juno sends Allecto to Amata and Turnus

    

1)  The narrator describes oracles which mark Lavinia for Aeneas.  Many of them reflect ancient Roman agricultural myths, including the significance of swarms of bees.  How might Virgil be using that particular image in multiple ways to suggest something profound about Roman character, or the persistence of the past and nature in the imperial capital's present, or the inter-relatedness of all Romans in time and space?

2)  Juno uses Allecto to inflame Amata and Turnus to fight.  Once again, Virgil turns to a gendered vocabulary of emotional motives and images.  Revenge cultures often use elderly female characters to incite young male warriors to take action to avenge old injuries done to the tribe or family.  The Icelandic Njallssaga ("Neil's Saga"), for instance, makes impressive use of Hallger­r, Gunnar's wife, and  Berg■ˇra, Njal's wife, whose fierce words drive their husbands into unfortunate battles.

 

3)  Ascanius, hunting in a time of peace, kills a tame stag belonging to Silvia, the young daughter of the Latin king's chief herdsman.  The misunderstanding would be settled by legal compensation in ordinary times, but because of Allecto's guidance, a mob scene turns lethal and war breaks out amid a peaceful camp.  How does Virgil dramatically stage this process moving two peoples from peace to war?  Because Fitzgerald stays close to Virgil's line count, you can get a preliminary estimate of the duration of each stage by counting lines, but use the Loeb Latin text to be certain.  When do things accelerate, and when do they slow down?  Think of it like a deadly dance designed to work on readers' emotions.

 

 4)  The catalogue of Latin warriors sets up a fascinating mixture of bad and good characters, so that the Trojans' enemies are not purely evil or incompetent, but sometimes noble and great warriors.  Especially striking is the pairing of Mezentius, "who held the  gods in scorn," and his son, Lausus, singled out by the narrator as beautiful, a "conqueror of beasts," and one who "deserved / More happiness in the father he obeyed, / Deserved indeed no father like Mezentius" (VII.895, 897-99).  What message might this be sending readers who want to see genetic lines of superiority explaining Rome's imperial rule?  Do we ever "deserve" our fathers, or they us?  Messapus, "not to be / brought  down by men with fire or steel," sets up an Achilles-like prophecy which the poem must solve by its end. 

 

5)  The armor of Turnus begs to be "read" because of its selection of dangerous images, including one of Juno's famous vengeances wrecked upon Jupiter's human victim, Io.  What does the combination of the Chimera and Io's transformation to a cow by Juno suggest about the man who carries these images on his shield?  Compare Aeneas' armor in Book VIII.

 

6) Camilla, the woman-warrior, is an extraordinary invention that appears to be Virgil's invention, based loosely on the legendary Amazon queen, Penthilsea, but also owing something to Virgil's dramatic revision of the traditional Dido as a  fierce opponent.  How might Camilla challenge the male-centered conventions of epic combat, and especially the roles previously played in Greek epics by female characters?  For an interesting graduate school essay on this topic, see Trudy Harrington Becker's "Ambiguity and the Female Warrior: Vergil's Camilla" (Electronic Antiquity: Communicating the Classics, IV:1, August 1997).

 

VIII: Aeneas goes to Arcadia (Evander & Pallas) / Aeneas armed.

 

1)  Aeneas' dream-vision of the River Tiber, and its instructions regarding his future allies in Arcadia, set up a curious sort of epic hero.  In Fitzgerald's translation, he goes to sleep "heartsick at the woe of war" (l. 38, p. 230).  Virgil's Latin is fairly close, "tristi turbatus pectora bello" / "his heart troubled by woeful war" (in Fairclough's Loeb translation).  How does this characterization of the hero's inner state relate to the kinds of omens Tiber-the-river-god shows him and the predictions the god makes?

 

2)  The Trojan's arrival in Arcadia occurs at the moment Evander and his son, Pallas, are celebrating a feast to honor Hercules.  Compare the reception of the guests with similar events in the Odyssey in Books III and IV, and notice who speaks out to control the visitors' intrusion into the sacred space in Virgil's text.  How does this characterize the speaker?

 

3)  Cacus vs. Hercules‑‑overcoming violence with violence;  humility with strength as model for heroism.  Just as the scenes described during Aeneas' voyage in Book I-VI often were populated with narrative references to thematically relevant mythic events, Aeneas' journey to Arcadia takes him past the place where Hercules defeated the monster/cannibal, Cacus.  Hercules already has been identified with Aeneas as an earlier "type" of the laboring hero (the "Twelve Labors of Hercules" were his identifying mythic biography).  The defeat of an inhuman and deadly power is located on the way to Arcadia as one of Virgil's near-allegorical allusions to Aeneas' destiny.  Are there some evils that require the otherwise hideous violence of war, that demand "the death penalty" for their perpetrators?  Or is peace always the answer?

 

4)  Evander's advice to Aeneas on the threshold of his humble house establishes a crucial standard of behavior and an attitude toward rural living that we have seen before in Longus and Juvenal and Horace, and also in the Odyssey (ll. 474-490, p. 242).  How does Virgil establish the principles that guide his hero's behavior?  Compare this with Anchises' advice to Aeneas in the Underworld (1152-4, p. 190).  Extra credit if you can spot the strange, minor key allusion to Dido that Virgil slips into this otherwise idyllic scene!   

    

5)  Venus gets Vulcan to arm Aeneas in a short interlude between Aeneas' arrival in Arcadia and the conversation with Evander in which Aeneas (and we) will learn more about the enemies he will face in the war.  The extended simile of the poor housewife is borrowed from the Odyssey where we see it in Odysseus' hall, but here the comparison (used to tell us "it was early in the morning"!) establishes a code of female conduct.  Why do this in the context of Venus and Vulcan?

    

6)  As Evander details Mezentius' crimes, we learn that his people hate his cruelty.  How are his excesses of violent brutality connected to the struggles of Hercules against Cacus? 

7)  Shortly before Venus sends the omen to warn Aeneas that war has broken out between the Trojans he left behind and the Latins and their allies, Evander gives Pallas to Aeneas in an important tutelary relationship (ll. 689-701, p. 248).  In the Germanic tribes who left us Beowulf and Battle of Maldon, we can see this in the teaching relationship between older, experienced warriors and the youngest children of friends, often the sons of their sisters.  In effect, Aeneas becomes Pallas' "war-father," who will teach him "Mars' dead serious work" ("grave Martis opus," l. 699 in Fitzgerald, l. 516 in Virgil).  What does that do to Aeneas' role as Ascanius' father?  What does it do to his relationship to Evander?  See also Evander's prayer to Jupiter (ll. 761-89 in Fitzgerald, p. 250). 

8)  The arming of Aeneas in Vulcan's armor, at the behest of his mother, Venus, is a complex symbolic event that has important links in Iliad Book XVIII where the poet stops the narrative for an astonishingly extended description of Achilles' arming by his mother, the sea-nymph, Thetis, in weapons made by Hephaestus (Vulcan's Greek counterpart).  How do the mothers' differing roles change the arming scene?  Especially important in each arming scene is the description (ekphrais) of the shield's elaborate decoration.  Compare it with Turnus' shield in VII, first.  Then look at the "Shield of Achilles" passage from the Iliad.  What does each hero bear on his back as he goes into battle?

   

9) Of all Roman historical events on Aeneas' shield, perhaps the most extensively described is the Battle of Actium, a sea-battle in which Octavian (later Caesar Augustus) defeated Antonius and  Cleopatra (Fitzgerald pages 252‑56).  How does Virgil lead readers to view the conflict between Rome's fleet and the combined rebel Romans and Egypt's fleet?  Note the emphases on race, language, geography, and nations. 

 

10)  Finally, Virgil allows Aeneas to swing the shield up to his shoulder and across his back, to the typical place a marching soldier bears a shield until he must lower it in front of him before battle.  What has Aeneas previously carried on those shoulders?  Note that Virgil never mentions it, but it's the most famous single image associated with Aeneas in classical antiquity.  Virgil does not have to name it--it's called "tacit allusion."  How might this also translate into a desecription of Virgil's own text, carrying as it does the story of Aeneas, shield and all?