Study Guide

The Aeneid Book 7

By Virgil

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Book 7

  • The Trojans hold a funeral for Aeneas's nurse, Caieta, who died apparently.
  • Then, when the sea is calm, they set out. The moon is bright, so they can sail easily by night.
  • As they approach the island of the sorceress Circe (of Odyssey fame), they hear the sounds of wild animals. These used to be human beings, before they were transformed by Circe's power. Neptune sends the Trojans a favorable breeze so that they can pass by her island safely.
  • When dawn comes up, Aeneas catches sight of a forest on the distant shoreline. There, a river (the Tiber – though they don't know that yet) is spilling into the sea. Also, a lot of pretty birds are flapping around. Aeneas decides to head for land.
  • Then Virgil calls on the Muse to help him set the scene of what was going on in Latium (the area around Rome) at that time.
  • The king of Latium at the time of Aeneas's arrival is – you guessed it – Latinus.
  • Latinus has grown old by now, and has a major problem. That's right, he has not produced any male heir. All he has is one daughter, Lavinia.
  • As you can imagine, all of the most eligible bachelors of the region are competing for her hand. Of these, the most handsome is Turnus, whom Latinus's wife, Amata, thinks is perfect for their daughter.
  • The problem is that lots of weird omens have made Latinus uncertain about the match. Finally, he consulted the most prestigious oracle in the region, a holy waterfall. It told him that his daughter was destined to marry a foreigner, and that their descendents would rule the world. The upshot of this was that marriage with Turnus was out of the question.
  • Latinus couldn't keep a secret like that under wraps. By the time Aeneas's men land, the whole region knows about the prophecy.
  • Once Aeneas and company have unloaded their stuff on the shore, they chow down on some pizza. Well, at least it sounds like pizza to us – as Fitzgerald translates: "They made a feast, / Putting out on the grass hard wheaten cakes / As platters for their meal." (Mmm, pizza.)
  • Instead of just picking the toppings off, they swallow them crust and all. This is amazing enough that Ascanius shouts out (once again, in Fitzgerald's translation): "Look, how we've devoured our tables even!"
  • As you might remember, this fulfills the prophecy of Celaeno the Harpy from Book 3: that the Trojans wouldn't be safe until their hunger had reduced them to gnawing on their tables.
  • Aeneas immediately recognizes the sign, and tells his companions that this is their destined homeland. For some reason, he also tells them that this was based off a prophecy his father told him, not the Harpy Celaeno. (Continuity mistake or deliberate confusion? You decide.)
  • Then they have an awesome festival for the gods, and Jupiter thunders jovially in response.
  • The next day they go out exploring, and Aeneas sends emissaries to King Latinus.
  • In the meantime, he starts building a fortress for his men – just in case things turn ugly.
  • When the emissaries reach Latinus, he tells them that he knows who they are. He also says that his own people are descended from the god Saturn and are naturally just. Then he shows that he knows the tale of Dardanus, an ancient ancestor of the Trojans, who came from Italy (we learned about him in Book 3).
  • In response, the Trojan envoys explain how they are descended from Dardanus and have come to Italy on a mission from the gods. They ask permission to settle on the coast, and offer Latinus gifts of friendship.
  • After thinking it over, Latinus says that he will accept the offer. Not only this, but he also reveals the prophecy that his daughter must marry a foreigner. He says that Aeneas is the man.
  • Then Latinus sends them back with some new horses – plus a nifty half-immortal horse to deliver to Aeneas.
  • Everything seems to be going pretty smoothly. Too smoothly…but wait! Who should be making her way across the sky at that very moment? Why, it's a bird-of-prey! It's a bomber plane! It's…Juno!
  • She doesn't like what she sees. Even though she knows that Aeneas has fate on his side, she determines to make things difficult for him. She decides to start a war between the Trojans and the Latins.
  • To do this, she goes down to Hades and arouses Allecto, a terrible Fury (the name is pretty self-explanatory – these were spirits of vengeance, but could be called upon to perform other dirty work as well).
  • Sure enough, Allecto heads for the palace of Latinus and straightaway seeks out Amata, Latinus's wife, and the mother of Lavinia.
  • Allecto plucks one of the snakes that grow out of her head instead of hair and throws it at Amata. Invisibly, it makes its way inside her body and infects her with hatred.
  • First she pleads her case to Latinus, telling him not to let Aeneas marry their daughter. But he doesn't listen.
  • So she takes her daughter and runs off into the woods, where she lives as a Bacchante – a devotee of Bacchus, the god of drunkenness and ecstasy. (This site provides lots of interesting information about Bacchantes, also called Maenads, as these relate to the Greek poet Euripides's play The Bacchae.)
  • As word travels around the region about Amata's crazy new lifestyle, many women decide to go and join her in the mountains.
  • One day, standing among the other Bacchantes and holding a burning pine torch, Amata sings a wedding hymn for Turnus and Lavinia. Then she incites the other women to join in her crazed revelry.
  • Meanwhile, Allecto makes her way to the town of the Rutulians – the people of Turnus.
  • She finds Turnus in his bedroom and appears to him in the form of an old woman. In this shape, she tells him that he's a chicken for letting his prospective bride get away from him. She says he should go make war against the Trojans but keep peace with the Latins.
  • Turnus says, "Oh don't worry. I'm going to settle it. But you mind your own business, old lady. Leave making war to us men."
  • The Fury doesn't like his tone. She becomes enraged, pulls two snakes out of her head and starts cracking them like a whip. Then she hurls a torch at Turnus.
  • He wakes up in a fright – and is the only one there. In a frenzy, he immediately decides upon war with the Trojans, and instructs his soldiers to march toward King Latinus's capital. The other Rutulians are cool with that.
  • Then Allecto makes her way over to the Trojans, where Ascanius is hunting.
  • She puts his hounds on the scent of a deer. What the hounds – and Ascanius – don't know is that this deer has been domesticated by Tyrrhus, the warden of King Latinus's estates.
  • After Ascanius shoots the deer with his arrow and it runs, mortally wounded, back to its house, a huge battle erupts between the Trojans and the Latin herdsmen and their associates. Some people get killed.
  • Allecto heads up to Juno to report on a job well done. Juno says she can take it from there and sends Allecto back down to Hades.
  • By this point the battle has broken up between the Latin shepherds and the Trojans. The Latins return to their city with their dead.
  • Turnus is in the city now, and he fires up the crowd, telling them of Latinus's plans to marry Lavinia off to a Trojan. He says that they should prefer him, someone from their own region.
  • All those whose relatives have joined Amata in her wild revelry in the woods are the first to join in the call for war.
  • King Latinus refuses to give in, but is unable to stop his citizens' frenzy. He predicts that the people and Turnus will be punished for acting against the will of the gods.
  • The Latins, Virgil tells us, just like the Roman of his own day, have a custom that, whenever war is declared, they open a pair of ceremonial gates locked with a hundred bolts. The people call upon Latinus to open these gates but he refuses.
  • So Juno comes down and opens them herself.
  • Now, throughout the Italian countryside, men prepare for war against the Trojans.
  • Then, in an echo of Homer, Virgil calls upon the Muses to help him list the warriors on the Italian side.
  • Most notable among them are Mezentius of Tuscany, "who held the gods in scorn"; his son, Lausus, the most handsome man in Italy except for Turnus; Turnus himself, in an impressive suit of armor; and, last but far from least, the fearsome female warrior Camilla, who is so fast that she could run over the top of a wheat field without crushing the stalks, or over the top of the sea.

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