Study Guide

The Aeneid Book 12

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Book 12

  • In the city of the Latins, Turnus announces that the time has come for him to fight Aeneas one-on-one.
  • Latinus tries to convince him to give it up – to take some other woman as wife and leave Lavinia to Aeneas.
  • Turnus refuses.
  • Then Amata pleads with Turnus, telling him that, if she dies, she'd sooner kill herself than have Aeneas as a son-in-law.
  • Lavinia, who has been watching all this, blushes. Turnus, seeing her, is overcome with love for her.
  • Turnus tells Amata not to jinx him. He says he's got to go fight Aeneas – no ifs, ands, or buts.
  • Then Turnus makes ready his chariot-team and arms himself for battle.
  • At the same time, Aeneas makes himself ready.
  • The next morning, the Italians emerge from their city. Both armies make room on the plain for the coming battle between the two champions.
  • From a nearby height, Juno is watching what's going on. Standing beside her is Turnus's sister, the nymph Juturna.
  • Juno says, "I helped your brother as long as I could, but fate's against him. If you want to try to save him, have at it. Either that, or stir up the war again."
  • Down on the plain, the leaders from both sides are meeting. Aeneas prays, saying that, if Turnus wins, the Trojans will go packing. If he wins, however, he will not enslave the Italians, but will ask them to join him as equal citizens in a new nation.
  • Latinus agrees to the terms. They sacrifice animals to formalize the deal.
  • But now the Rutulians are getting upset. Now that they see the two champions ready for battle, they can easily tell that their own guy isn't strong enough.
  • Seeing this, Juturna descends among them, taking the shape of the warrior Camers.
  • She tries to stir them up to fight on behalf of Turnus.
  • Just then, they see an eagle – considered to be the bird of Jupiter – swoop down and seize a swan. Then, a whole bunch of other seabirds attack it in group formation; eventually, the eagle is forced to release the swan and beat a retreat.
  • Tolumnius, the augur (a soothsayer who interpreted the movements of birds), says that this is a sign that they should back up Turnus.
  • Then Tolumnius himself throws his spear at the Trojans.
  • The spear kills one of a group of nine brothers all standing together. Predictably, the other brothers grab their weapons and race forward for revenge.
  • In no time, both armies are fighting again.
  • Aeneas tries to stop his men from fighting, but then somebody hits him with an arrow – though not fatally.
  • When Turnus sees Aeneas falling back, he gets a boost of excitement. He whips his chariot team into action and starts racing through the battle, killing guys left, right, and center.
  • Meanwhile, behind the lines, Aeneas is being treated by the healer Iapyx, who was taught the art by Apollo.
  • But Iapyx isn't having any success; he can't get the arrowhead out. Then, without anyone seeing her, the goddess Venus comes down with a special plant, called dittany, which she picked from Mount Ida in Crete.
  • She mixes the essence of this plant, along with some other nifty stuff (like ambrosia – the food of the gods), in the water Iapyx is using the wash the wound.
  • In no time, Aeneas is completely healed, and the arrowhead comes out easily.
  • Then, Iapyx calls people to get Aeneas his armor and send him back to battle.
  • Once he has got his armor on, Aeneas turns to Ascanius and says, "Watch me in this fight. You'll learn how things get done."
  • Then he leads the Trojans in a counterattack; they kill many of their enemies.
  • Not liking this one bit, Juturna knocks Turnus's charioteer, Metiscus, onto the ground. Then she takes his form and starts driving Turnus erratically over the battlefield, keeping him out of Aeneas's reach. Aeneas keeps up as best he can.
  • But then Aeneas gets distracted by other Italian soldiers.
  • For the next little while, both Aeneas and Turnus rage in their own corners of the battlefield, each killing many opponents.
  • Then Venus gives Aeneas an idea. Taking a stand on a hilltop overlooking the city, Aeneas announces to his captains that the time has come to level the Latins' home – unless they surrender immediately.
  • The Trojans start attacking the city.
  • Seeing from her window how the ramparts are being besieged, Amata thinks that Turnus must be dead. In grief, she hangs herself with cloth torn from her robe.
  • Lavinia, learning of her mother's grief, laments loudly, as does King Latinus, who covers his head in filth.
  • Turnus hears the commotion from the city. Juturna, still disguised as his charioteer Metiscus, tries to convince him to keep killing Trojans on the periphery, but Turnus recognizes her and refuses.
  • After having lost so many friends in battle, he can't bear the destruction of the city to top it off. Death does not frighten him; he must go to face Aeneas!
  • At just that moment, word comes to Turnus of the dire straits of the city – and of the death of Amata.
  • Now he is firmly decided. He goes to face Aeneas, knowing he will die.
  • When Aeneas hears that Turnus is coming, he stops attacking the city and goes to meet him.
  • A space is cleared for them to fight, and in no time they are throwing spears at each other. Then they fight with swords.
  • While they are fighting, Jupiter raises a scale. In it, he places each man's destiny; whosever's sinks toward the ground will die.
  • Meanwhile, Turnus gives Aeneas a mighty blow with his sword – but the blade shatters on impact.
  • It turns out that Turnus was using Metiscus's sword, instead of his own. It was no match for Aeneas's divine armor.
  • Then Turnus turns tail and runs. (The puns just keep flowing.)
  • The problem is, he's hemmed in – by the Trojans, by the city walls, and by an inconveniently located marsh.
  • As he runs, he calls out to his men to get him his sword, but Aeneas tells them not to – threatening to destroy their city if they help Turnus.
  • Eventually, Aeneas approaches the olive tree stump where his spear earlier stuck fast.
  • Seeing him, Turnus prays to the local divinities to prevent Aeneas from being able to pull it out.
  • The gods hear him, and Aeneas is unable to remove it. Meanwhile, Juturna, disguised as Metiscus again, runs up to Turnus and gives him back his sword.
  • Venus doesn't like this, so she comes and pulls the spear out of the tree. She gives it to Aeneas.
  • Up in the heavens, Jupiter tells Juno that the end has come. He forbids her to interfere with Aeneas any more.
  • Juno says, "Fine. But promise me that, after Lavinia and Aeneas marry and join their peoples, the Latins won't have to change their name."
  • Jupiter says, "No biggie. Latin will stay Latin. The Trojans will join with them, not the other way around."
  • Then Jupiter sends down one of the Furies to stop Juturna's meddling. It changes itself into a bird and starts flapping around Turnus, annoying him. Juturna realizes what it is, and withdraws from the fight.
  • Now Aeneas stands face to face with Turnus. They exchange hostile words.
  • Then Turnus picks up a huge rock to throw at Aeneas, but he isn't strong enough, and it falls short.
  • Now Aeneas throws his spear; it punctures Turnus's shield and stabs him in the thigh.
  • Turnus falls to the ground. He asks Aeneas to spare his life so he can see his father again; he relinquishes his claim to Lavinia.
  • Aeneas is debating with himself what to do, when he sees on Turnus shoulder the belt he stole from the dead body of Pallas.
  • Becoming enraged, Aeneas shouts out that Pallas is now taking his revenge. With that, he stabs Turnus, killing him.
  • With a groan, Turnus's outraged soul flutters down to the underworld.

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