Study Guide

The Aeneid Book 5

By Virgil

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Book 5

  • As they are sailing away, the Trojans see a huge fire burning on the shore. They can guess what it is coming from. (Dido's funeral pyre.)
  • Shortly afterward – as seems to happen whenever the Trojans set out anywhere – a storm comes up, and they decide to head for shore.
  • They land in Sicily, coincidentally, at exactly the spot where they buried Anchises – coincidentally again, exactly one year before. This is in the region of Sicily ruled by Acestes, another exile from Troy.
  • Aeneas decrees a feast day and ritual commemoration of his father. He also says that in nine days they will hold athletic contests in the man's honor.
  • Then, while Aeneas is making ritual offerings to his father, something weird happens: a giant snake crawls out of the Anchises's burial mound and curls up around it. Then it slithers around all the ritual objects, eats off the altar, and then heads back under the tomb.
  • Aeneas wonders if the snake is a local god, or if it is the spirit of his father. He proceeds with the sacrifice anyway.
  • When the ninth day after that rolls around, it is time for some athletic contests. Both Trojans and local Sicilians are competing.
  • The first event is a boat-race. The idea is for the competitors – teams of rowers in long galleys – to sail out to sea, round a certain half-submerged rock designated as the turning post, and then be the first to make it back to shore. Four ships are competing.
  • On the way out, the ship commanded by a man called Gyas is in the lead. He keeps telling his pilot (the guy who mans the tiller) to come in close around the rock, but Menoetes (that's the guy's name) is afraid of crashing, and makes a wide turn.
  • This gives Cloanthus, the captain of the next ship, to squeeze in between Gyas and the rock, making a sharper turn that puts him in the lead for the homestretch.
  • Gyas is so mad that he throws Menoetes overboard and takes the tiller himself. Menoetes swims over to the rock and climbs on top of it.
  • The two ships in the rear are commanded by guys named Sergestus and Mnestheus.
  • Sergestus is in front – until he gets greedy, tries to cut the turn too close, and smashes up his oars against the rock. Mnestheus rounds the turn ahead of him.
  • Next Mnestheus passes Gyas, who is having trouble acting as captain and pilot at the same time.
  • Now Mnestheus and Cloanthus are competing for first place.
  • Cloanthus prays to the sea-gods for help. Sure enough, a bunch of divinities show up to help him on his way to victory.
  • Cloanthus comes in first, followed by Mnestheus, with Gyas coming after him, and Sergestus bringing up the rear in his disabled craft.
  • Aeneas gives prizes to each of them.
  • The next event is a footrace. It looks like a guy called Nisus is going to win it, but then he slips in some blood and guts left over from one of the sacrificial animals.
  • When he falls, he makes sure to trip up the guy behind him, so his boyfriend Euryalus can speed ahead to victory.
  • After the race, the guy tripped up by Nisus demands a consolation prize. So does Nisus. Aeneas obliges both of them.
  • Next comes boxing. The first challenger to stand up is a Trojan guy named Dares.
  • For a long time, nobody has the guts to take him on, but then, after some prodding, a Sicilian old-timer named Entellus steps up.
  • The fight goes on pretty evenly at first, though then Entellus puts all his weight into a punch he fails to land, and falls right on his face.
  • King Acestes comes and helps him up.
  • The fight goes on, however, and now that Entellus's pride has been hurt he starts giving Dares a royal thumping. Eventually, Aeneas steps in to stop the fight.
  • As a pretext, he tells everyone that the gods must be supporting Entellus, and that their will must be followed. (Though we haven't seen any indication that the gods were helping him.)
  • When Entellus claims his prize, a bull, to prove he's still got it he punches the creature between the horns, shattering its skull, killing it.
  • Next comes the archery contest. Aeneas raises the mast of a ship on the plain. To the top is tethered a bird, which flaps around helplessly. The idea is to shoot the bird. (Between this contest and Entellus's bull-bashing, it's clear that the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals would have had a field-day with the ancient Trojans.)
  • A guy called Hippocoön shoots first. He hits the mast, but misses the bird.
  • Next, Mnestheus shoots. He misses the bird, but cuts the cord. The bird flutters away.
  • Now it is Eurytion's turn. He is the brother of Pandarus, a famous Trojan archer who died in the war against the Greeks. After saying a prayer to the spirit of his brother, Eurytion takes aim, shoots, and hits the escaping bird.
  • Last up is the Sicilian King Acestes, who now has nothing to shoot at. Just to prove he still has strength in him, he shoots an arrow into the air. In mid-flight, the arrow catches fire and turns into a shooting star.
  • Aeneas gives Acestes first prize. Second prize goes to Eurytion, third to Mnestheus, and fourth to Hippocoön.
  • Next, the youth take part in a display of cavalry maneuvers.
  • Then things take a turn for the worse. Determined to stir up trouble, Juno sends Iris, the messenger of the gods, down to where the Trojan women are gathered on the shore. There, they are lamenting the journeys that await them.
  • Iris takes the form of a Trojan woman, Beroe. In this disguise, she plays to the women's discontent, and tells them to burn the ships. She adds that Cassandra appeared to her in a dream, and instructed her to do so.
  • Then Iris hurls a torch at one of the ships.
  • One of the Trojan women, Pyrgo, shouts out that the woman standing before them can't be Beroe, who is sick – it has to be a goddess!
  • If there was any doubt about that, it vanishes when Iris springs back up to the heavens.
  • Although the women are at first confused about what to do, it isn't long before they start burning the ships.
  • When word reaches the men, Ascanius is the first to rush back to the shore, on horseback. The others come hurrying after.
  • The women, ashamed of what they have done, disperse, but it is too late: the ships are ablaze.
  • In desperation, Aeneas prays to Jupiter: "Either save the ships or strike me dead with a lightning bolt."
  • Jupiter sends a storm and the rain quenches the fires. All but four ships are saved.
  • After this disturbing incident, Aeneas is confused about what to do.
  • Nantes, a wise old Trojan, suggests that they should leave behind in Sicily the number of people the burned ships would have carried. They can leave the women and the old, who can found a new city in Sicily.
  • Aeneas isn't sure about this, but then, in the sky, he sees an image of Anchises. The image tells him to follow Nantes's plan.
  • It says that a difficult war awaits them in Italy, meaning they should take only their toughest warriors.
  • Also, it says that, upon arriving in Italy, he will first have to visit the underworld, where he will learn the future of his people. He will also see his father's spirit, which is in Elysium, the abode of the blessed, not Tartarus, the black pit where the souls of evil men go.
  • Then the apparition vanishes.
  • The next day, Aeneas takes up the proposal with Acestes, who is fine with letting the Trojans stay in his land. They make up a list of everyone who is staying behind, and Aeneas plots out their new city. (This guy's a serious control-freak.)
  • A few days later, after much feasting together, Aeneas and the remaining ships head out.
  • At this point, Venus, who has been watching everything, turns to Neptune and asks that Aeneas be granted safe passage to Italy.
  • Neptune says that Aeneas will get there safely, only losing one man. Then he calms the sea.
  • That night, after a day of calm sailing, the rowers are relaxing on their benches. Palinurus, the pilot, is still awake, making sure everything is running smoothly.
  • Then, all of a sudden, Somnus, the god of sleep, descends from the heavens and takes the form of Phorbas, another Trojan. In this disguise, he tries to convince Palinurus to go to sleep.
  • Palinurus says, "No way, I've got to keep my eyes on the road. It's pretty wet, after all."
  • But then the god shakes some dew off the magical bough he carries in his hand. This dew, from the River Lethe in the underworld, makes Palinurus incredibly sleepy.
  • Finally, Palinurus tumbles overboard, breaking off a piece of the stern and rudder and taking them with him. He calls for help but no one hears him.
  • The ship sails on, and a little while later is passing by the rocks where the Sirens hang out.
  • Aeneas hears the surf breaking off the rocks, and takes the helm. He laments the loss of his friend, but blames him for trusting too much in a calm sea.

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