Study Guide

The Aeneid Warfare

By Virgil

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Book 1

Wars at an end, harsh centuries then will soften,
Ancient Fides and Vesta, Quirinus
With Brother Remus, will be lawgivers,
And grim with iron frames, the Gates of War
Will then be shut: inside, unholy Furor,
Squatting on cruel weapons, hands enchained
Behind him by a hundred links of bronze,
Will grind his teeth and howl with bloodied mouth. (1.391-398)

The first part of this quotation might not look like a statement about war. But think about it: if Virgil is saying that Fides (faith) and Vesta (the goddess of the hearth) and the local divinities Quirinus and Remus will only come back when war is at an end, isn't that kind of like he's saying that war makes all those things disappear? That's a pretty heavy statement about war. If you're not convinced, just look at the end of this passage, which paints a frightening picture of a fearsome demon shut up inside the Gates of War. We wouldn't want to mess with that guy. What are the Gates of War? Just check out the sixth quotation in this section and you'll get your answer.

Book 2

We all went after him, our swords at play,
But here, here first, from the temple gable's height,
We met a hail of missiles from our friends,
Pitiful execution, by their error,
Who thought us Greek from our Greek plumes and shields. (2.540-544)

These lines show the unintended consequence of Coroebus and some of the other Trojans' decision to arm themselves in Greek weapons (see the quotation above). Although they succeeded in taking some of the Greeks by surprise, they also ended up getting attacked by their own citizens, who did not know who they were. As such, these lines stand as an example of the confusion often referred to as the "fog of war."

'We'll take their shields and put on their insignia!
Trickery, bravery: who asks, in war?
The enemy will arm us.' (2.516-518)

These lines come from Aeneas's account of the fall of Troy. After all his talk about how the Greeks are a bunch of low-down, dirty sneaks, our hero reveals that the Trojans themselves ended up using trickery when push came to shove. This moment is only one of many in the poem in which we see how warfare makes traditional values break down.

Book 7

"You can arm
For combat brothers of one soul between them,
Twist homes with hatred, bring your whips inside
Or firebrands of death. A thousand names
Belong to you, a thousand ways of wounding.
Shake out the folded stratagems within you,
Break up this peace-pact, scatter acts of war,
All in a flash let men desire, demands,
And take up arms." (7.458-466)

These words are spoken by Juno to Allecto, one of the Furies, when she is about to send her down to incite Amata and Turnus to hatred against the Trojans. The Furies – known in Latin as the Furiae or the Dirae and in Greek as either the Erinyes or the Eumenides – were three goddesses who mainly took care of vengeance. (You can read more about them here.) In Virgil, the Furies generally act as more all-purpose stirrers-up of hatred and strife. Thus, even if these lines aren't about war specifically, they do give a vivid portrayal of the animosity that is the cause of many wars.

There was a custom then in Latium,
Held sacred later in Alban towns, as now
In the world-power of Rome when citizens
First urge the wargod on […].
There are two gates, twin gates
Of war, as they are called, by long observance
Looked on in awe, for fear of savage Mars.
One hundred brazen bolts keep these gates closed
And the unending strength of steel; then too
Their guardian, Janus, never leaves the portal.
Now when the Fathers' judgment holds for war,
The Consul in Quirinal robe and Gabine
Cincture goes to unlock the grating doors
And lifts a call for battle. Fighting men
Then add their voices, and the brazen trumpets
Blown together blare their harsh assent. (7.827-830, 834-845)

In these lines, Virgil connects a Roman custom that survived in his own day with the super ancient history depicted in his epic poem. Basically, the custom was as described: whenever war began, priests would open the gates of the temple of Janus in the Forum – which would itself have been nothing more than a ceremonial gateway, like this temple of Janus that still survives in Rome today (if you look at the picture closely, you can see that it is a 4-way arch). Actually, this is a little misleading. The Romans were at war so often, that it is better to say that the gates of Janus were closed during times of complete peace. This happened once in 235 B.C., and three times under the emperor Augustus in the 1st century B.C. (in other words, not very often). Virgil refers to this fact in a passage in Book 1 – which we used as the first quotation for this theme, above.


Then driven wild, shouting for arms, for arms
He ransacked house and chamber. Lust of steel
Raged in him, brute insanity of war,
And wrath above all, as when fiery sticks
Are piled with a loud crackling by the side
Of a caldron boiling, and the water heaves
And seethes inside the vessel, steaming up
With foam, and bubbling higher, till the surface
Holds no more, and vapor mounts to heaven. (7.633-641)

These lines describe the reaction of Turnus, immediately after the Fury Allecto has convinced him to make war against the Trojans. In the lines that immediately follow these, we are told of how Turnus gives orders for defending the Latins' territory, in violation of the peace between them and the Trojans. Why do you think Virgil chose the image of a boiling cauldron to represent Turnus's emotions and how they give rise to conflict? What might this image say about war in general?

Book 8

Then suddenly a rumor flew about
The little town that horsemen were departing
Quickly for the Etruscan king's domain.
Mothers in fright redoubled their prayers: fear
Brought danger nearer, and the specter of war
Grew larger in their eyes. (8.752-757)

In this brief image, Virgil brings home (literally) the human cost of war. Can you think of other passages in the Aeneid in which Virgil's female characters have different perspectives on politics and warfare than his male characters? If so, do you think that these differences of opinion were true only of Virgil's day, or do they still describe people today?

Book 9

In tumult
Back to the camp through all the gates retiring
Trojans took position on the walls—
For so on his departure their best soldier,
Aeneas, had instructed them: if any
Emergency arose, not to do battle,
Not to entrust their fortunes to the field,
But safe within their walls to hold the camp.
Therefore, though shame and anger tempted them
To a pitched battle, even so they barred
Their gates as he commanded, and compact
In towers, armed, awaited the enemy. (9.54-65)

In this passage, Aeneas – even in his absence – shows his strength as a commander. Aeneas knows that his men won't be able to hold out against the Italian attack (that's why he's gone to make alliances with the Arcadians, and, though he doesn't know it yet, the Etruscans). So he tells them to stay put. The only risk they run now is from their own "shame and anger," which urge them to go out and fight the Italians head-on, even though that isn't the smartest move at this point.

Book 10

"Friends, where are you bound? I beg you now
By all the brave things you have done,
The wars fought through, your leader, great Evander,
With my own hopes of emulating him,
Put no faith in retreat. The way ahead
Has to be cleared by cold steel through the enemy.
There where the mass of them is heaviest
Your proud land calls you forward, and calls me,
Pallas, your captain. No unearthly powers
Stand in our way; we are hemmed in by soldiers
Mortal as we are mortal. Just as many
Lives, as many hands, belong to us.
Look, how the deep sea's barrier behind us
Cuts us off: no land there for retreat.
Is it the camp we head for, or the water?" (10.508-522)

Here Pallas reminds his men that sometimes, you've just got to have courage. Of course, these lines come in the middle of a battle, when you're kind of locked in to certain decisions. Do you think the Aeneid treats war itself as inevitable, or just certain actions within war – such as how Pallas instructs his men to save themselves by fighting?


"Here is the chance
You've prayed for: now to hack them up with swords!
The battle is in your hands, men. Let each soldier
Think of his wife, his home; let each recall
Heroic actions, great feats of our fathers.
Down to the surf we go, while they're in trouble,
Disembarking, losing their footing. Fortune
Favors men who dare!" (10.386-393)

Here Turnus encourages his men to attack Aeneas, who has just returned from meeting with the Arcadians and Etruscans. He uses a complex set of ideas to motivate them to fight: 1) love for their families, whom (Turnus implies) they wouldn't want to see fall into the hands of the Trojan invaders, and 2) a sense of pride, in their desire to live up to the deeds of their ancestors. Last of all, Turnus points out that the moment is now: they'll never have a better opportunity to give the Trojans hell. The last two lines, which could also be discussed in terms of the theme of Fate and Free Will basically express the idea that people make their own luck. Do you think that Turnus is right in thinking this or not?

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