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Written over two thousand years ago, the Aeneid of Virgil occupies an
unparalleled position within the poetry of antiquity. Considered by
contemporaries and successors in Roman times to be the acme of Roman
poetical achievement, it has subsequently found favour and been a
source of inspiration to many of the major figures in the European literary
tradition from Chaucer through Dante to Renaissance writers (e.g. Milton
and Spenser), English Augustans (e.g. Pope and Dryden) and Victorian
poets such as Tennyson, who famously referred to Virgil as the
"Wielder of the stateliest measure
ever moulded by the lips of man."
Throughout its critical history, both the poem's ethical content and the
poet's technical mastery have commanded admiration, and any student of
the Aeneid must be aware of Virgil's skill in assimilating, imitating and
reworking his source materials to produce a national epic for Rome in
hexameters, whose "sweetness of sound" and ornate, ordered style have
always been a source of praise.
Publius Vergilius Maro was born in 70 BC in the village of Andes near
Mantua, in the area of the river Po, in Northern Italy. Thus in common with
many other Latin writers, he was not Roman (although the area was
granted citizenship in 49 BC by Julius Caesar). His family were of humble
origins, but his father owned land and was able to provide his son with a
good education. He studied at Cremona, Milan and finally Rome, where
he met many men who were to feature prominently in Roman public life.
Though not involving himself directly in the politics of the day, he became
an important member of the literary circle that surrounded Augustus and
was patronised by Maecenas.
He first made his name with the Eclogues, a collection of ten pastoral
poems, loosely modelled on the Sicilian Theocritus, written between 42
BC and 37 BC, and published in 37 BC. The characters of the poems are,
for the most part, shepherds; their subjects love, death, and contemporary
rural life within an idealized locale; and their supposed date the period
subsequent to the land confiscations following the civil war. The Eclogues
demonstrate Virgil's early mastery of the Latin hexameter and his love of
the Italian countryside. This love is expressed again in the Georgics,
published in 31 BC, a didactic poem in four books, owing much to Hesiod,
that was concerned with rural life - its crops, its animals, its farming
methods etc. However, in both the Eclogues and the Georgics, we find
signs that even at these times Virgil had in mind to write a Roman national
epic. In Eclogue 6.3-5, he mentions that he desired to sing of kings and
battles, the standard subject-matter of epic ('cum canerem reges et
proelia'), before Apollo advised him to keep to writing pastoral poems;
while in the proem to Georgic 3, he states that he will create a temple of
song, the shrine of which shall be Caesar's and that the glory of the
Romans and their ancestors shall be depicted upon its doors. With the
completion of the Georgics, he set about his longest and most complex
work, the Aeneid. According to his ancient biographer, Donatus, he first
wrote the epic in twelve books of prose which he then adapted into poetry.
By 19 BC, he had essentially completed his task, but set himself another
three years in which to revise the entire work. With this aim, he set out for
Greece in order to gain first-hand experience for parts of the poem that he intended to modify. During the
voyage, however, he was taken ill and was forced to return to Italy, where he died a few days later at
Brundisium. He left instructions for the Aeneid to be burnt, but Augustus, who had already been treated to
private readings of Books 2, 4 and 6 ordered that the work be published in its unfinished state.
Virgil lived through one of the bloodiest periods in Rome's history, during which enormous constitutional
change took place. Four hundred years of Republican government, with its system of two annually elected
consuls, was ultimately replaced by the imperial government of Caesar Augustus after one hundred years of
bitter in-fighting and civil war.
Shortly before Virgil's birth, Cornelius Sulla had seized power and had published his notorious proscription
lists. Civil unrest continued with the Catilinarian conspiracy of 63 BC and the rise to power of Julius Caesar,
who, together with Pompey and Crassus, formed the first triumvirate in 60 BC. The alliance was sealed by the
marriage of Julia, Caesar's daughter, to Pompey. However with her death during childbirth in 54 BC and
Crassus' in 53 BC, already strained relations between the two remaining triumvirs reached breaking point. In
49 BC, Caesar declared war on Pompey and the Roman senate, crossed the Rubicon and marched on Rome
with his forces.
The defeat of Pompey established Caesar as the sole ruler of the entire Roman empire. However, despite his
merciful treatment of his political and personal enemies (in stark contrast to previous Roman leaders), fears
grew over his monarchical aspirations and his desire to keep supreme power within his own house. Eventually,
he was assassinated in the senate house in a conspiracy led by his former friends and supporters, Brutus and
Cassius, who claimed to be acting for the old Roman republic.
After Caesar's death the second triumvirate was formed by Octavian, Caesar's great nephew and heir, Mark
Antony and Lepidus. In 42 BC, they met and defeated the Republicans, led by Brutus and Cassius, at the
Battle of Philippi. They divided the empire between them, but relations became increasingly strained, despite a
temporary settlement at the treaty of Brundisium, in 40 BC, and the politically expedient marriage of Antony to
Octavia, Octavian's sister. Lepidus, the least powerful of the three, having been given command of Africa, was
deprived of it, in 35 BC, by Octavian. Antony, meanwhile, was occupied against the Parthians in the East, but
spent much of his time at the court of the Egyptian queen, Cleopatra. As Caesar had done before him, he took
her as his mistress. When he dissolved his marriage to Octavia, Octavian denounced him to the senate and
declared war on Egypt. The combined forces of Antony and Cleopatra clashed with those of Octavian in a
naval battle at Actium in 31 BC. During the battle, Cleopatra's ships were seen fleeing southwards and Antony
swiftly followed, leaving his fleet to surrender to Octavian. When Octavian invaded Egypt in 30 BC, Antony,
hearing falsely that Cleopatra was dead, took his own life. Cleopatra herself was captured but, rather than be
paraded through the streets of Rome as a captive, she also killed herself with a bite from an asp.
Consequently, Egypt became a Roman province, and Rome finally passed from Republic to Empire.
Octavian returned to Rome as sole ruler and took the additional name of Augustus. Despite formally resigning
the dictatorship, returning power to the senate and thus restoring the old republic, he nevertheless held
supreme authority. Named 'Imperator' (General), 'Princeps' (First Citizen) and ultimately 'Pontifex Maximus'
(Chief Priest), he was military, civil and religious leader. However, his rule was not characterized by attempts
to extend Rome's empire but rather to consolidate what she already possessed. In stark contrast to the
preceding period of Roman history, Augustus' reign saw a time of relatively secure peace, in which he aimed
to re-establish the simple ethical values of the old republic.
Within this atmosphere, poetry, particularly that of Virgil and Horace, flourished under the patronage of
Maecenas, a friend of Augustus', and that of the emperor himself. The poets sought to provide works in tune
with the new age, celebrating Rome, her achievements and her ideals, through poetry that was refined and
polished and which assimilated much from the literature of the past, Greek, Hellenistic and Roman.
Choice of Subject, Literary, Predecessors and Sources
The choice of the Aeneas legend enabled Virgil to assimilate literary models to the glorification of the Roman
race past, present and future, while at the same time offering him plenty of freedom to manipulate his material.
For there was an existing tradition, through writers such as Timaeus, Lycophron and Naevius, that attested to
the Trojan foundation of Rome and Aeneas' role in it. However, the details were fluid. Therefore, Virgil had at
his disposal a legend that was unequivocally national in character, but with enough scope for him enlarge
some episodes (e.g. Dido and Aeneas), alter various relationships (e.g. Latinus and Turnus) and invent some
elements entirely (e.g. the funeral games of Anchises). Through the narration of the journey from the
conquered city of Troy to the first settlement in Italy, Virgil could praise the Roman race through the deeds and
characters of their ancestors, thus glorifying the race and avoiding the awkwardness of praising the deeds and
characters of living people. Through the devices of prophecy and ekphrasis (e.g. the pictorial representations
on Aeneas' shield), and Aeneas' voyage to the Underworld, he could celebrate those men, and famous figures
from Rome's past, as heroes destined to fulfil glorious fates. While through the explanations of various Roman
festivals and customs (aetiology), he could legitimise aspects of Roman social life, by providing cogent links
from the past to the present.
At the same time as fulfilling these functions, the Aeneas legend also provided Virgil with a link to the mythical
past and in particular the epics of Homer. For Aeneas is a contemporary of the heroes of the Iliad and the
Odyssey, and is represented as a Trojan prince of some renown in the former. Again, however, his
characterization is vague enough to provide Virgil with a relatively clean slate. The connection to Homer
demonstrates something of Virgil's purpose in writing the Aeneid. For the Iliad and Odyssey were unparalleled
as literary models for writing epic poetry, depicting, as they do, a broad cross-section of the culture of the
Greek heroic world. They are the ancestors and sources for much of the literature of the Greeks and by
extension, that of the Romans. Now Virgil was setting himself the task of creating for his people what Homer
had created for the Greeks. And yet, the society in which Virgil lived was far more complex than that of Homer.
He had to adapt his hero such that he would be an exemplum of contemporary Roman ideals and morals; a
man who had grown from the more primitive heroic code of the Homeric epics into a more modern Augustan
In addition to Homer, Virgil also made use of many of his other literary predecessors, Greek, Hellenistic and
Roman. The influence of 5th Century Greek tragedy is clear, particularly in the story of Dido. She is very much
a tragic heroine, brought down by a combination of her own hubristic actions and the designs of the gods. Her
attempts to persuade Aeneas resemble the agones (verbal contests) of classical tragedy; while her death at
her own hands at the end of Book 4, when she realises the full extent of her fall from grace, is typical of the
destruction of the hero in tragedy when his/her pride can no longer countenance living on with such shame.
The poem also demonstrates Virgil's debt to his predecessors in the Roman literary tradition. Latin literature
had begun late in the third century BC with the works of men such as Livius Andronicus, Ennius, and Plautus,
who sought to emulate Greek literature and create for Rome Latin equivalents of the Greek literary forms. In
the Aeneid, we find passages and phrases that echo Ennius in particular, whose Annales was the first Latin
epic and who was the first to adapt the Greek hexameter to Latin. By Virgil's time, however, such slavish
reproductions of Greek literary forms were out of fashion. The previous generation of Latin poets had, on the
whole, eschewed long poems in favour of short, ornate verses that focussed not on the deeds of great men,
but on the minutiae of decadent existence: love affairs, dinner parties, fine living. In this they were led by
Catullus, but the initial motivating force was the Hellenistic poet Callimachus, who had labelled long poems
'boring' and whose sophisticated, learned and polished style was imitated by his Latin successors in the middle
of the first century BC. Catullus' Peleus and Thetis (Poem 64) is the longest narrative poem of the period and
occupies only four hundred lines. Yet, Catullus is still an important influence upon Virgil, particularly
stylistically. For there are times, especially in Book 4, when Virgil wishes to express tenderness or pathos and
we see that it is to Catullus that he turns for inspiration. At the same time, Lucretius, who alone wrote a long
poem of consequence in the period prior to Virgil - De Rerum Natura, an impassioned support of the
philosophy of Epicurus - provides another model for the application of the Latin hexameter and we find
passages throughout the Aeneid that are reminiscent of his great work, particularly in Virgil's use of imagery.
Therefore, to see the Aeneid simply as an imitation of the epics of Homer is to neglect the influence that the
rest of the literature of the Greek and Roman worlds prior to Virgil had on him. The poet's supreme skill is
demonstrated in his ability to synthesize all these influences into the coherent whole that his poem is.
Book 1 - Juno's Storm Drives the Trojans to Carthage
Virgil outlines the subject-matter of his poem and invokes the Muses before detailing the causes of Juno's
anger against the Trojans.
The action begins and we find the Trojans sailing from Sicily, which rouses Juno to anger. She visits Aeolus
and bids him raise a storm, which he consents to do. He frees all the winds and thus causes a storm which
terrifies Aeneas and scatters his fleet, sinking one ship. At the critical moment, Neptune hears the tumult and
calms the storm himself. Aeneas collects seven ships and reaches a sheltered cove on the coast of North
Africa. While looking out for the missing ships, he sights a herd of deer, kills seven and distributes them to his
comrades together with wine. He makes a speech of encouragement to his men who, after feasting, give way
to regrets for lost companions.
While Jupiter looks down from heaven, Venus reproaches him for his apparent indifference to the fate of the
Trojans. Jupiter consoles her by prophesying Aeneas' triumph and the future glories of Rome and Augustus.
He sends down Mercury to influence Dido and the Carthaginians in favour of the Trojans.
While Aeneas is reconnoitring, he meets Venus disguised as a huntress. Suspecting that she is not mortal, he
prays her to tell him where he is. Venus tells him that he is in Carthage and describes the story of Dido's flight
from Tyre. She asks Aeneas about himself. He begins but, at the sight of twelve swans, Venus interrupts to
prophesy the safe return of his lost ships. As she leaves, she reveals herself as a goddess and makes Aeneas
and Achates invisible by covering them in mist. Protected by this mist, they go to the city of Carthage , which is
still being built, and enter unseen. They reach the temple of Juno, and Aeneas weeps on seeing scenes from
the siege of Troy on the walls.
Dido arrives at the temple in regal fashion, and then a deputation from the missing ships also arrives. Ilioneus
complains that he and his comrades have been treated like pirates and asks Dido for protection and
permission to repair their ships and to return to Sicily, if Aeneas is dead. Dido promises protection and to
search for Aeneas. The mist that has rendered Aeneas and Achates invisible up until this point now dissipates,
leaving the two in full view. Aeneas expresses eternal gratitude to Dido for her kindness. She takes him to her
palace and prepares for a banquet. Aeneas sends for his son Ascanius and orders that presents be brought
for Dido.
Venus, thinking that she can see Juno's hand in all this, instructs Cupid to take Ascanius' place and cause
Dido to fall deeply in love with Aeneas. The banquet begins and Cupid carries out his orders. Wine starts to
flow and Dido asks Aeneas to tell of the capture of Troy and of his wanderings.
Book 2 - The Sack of Troy
Aeneas introduces his tale. The Trojans take their first look at the horse, thinking that the Greeks have sailed
away. Laocoon rushes down and warns the Trojans not to trust the horse. Sinon is captured and makes three
long speeches, to obtain pity, curiosity and credibility. He is both freed and believed. Laocoon is devoured by
serpents, together with his sons - a supposed punishment for his earlier 'sacrilege'. The Trojans, now
thoroughly convinced, wheel the horse into the city. The last fight for Troy begins as the Greek fleet sails back
in the moonlight and Sinon lets out those inside the horse.
The ghost of Hector appears to Aeneas in a dream and warns him to get out of Troy. Aeneas is startled out of
sleep and becomes aware of what is happening. He does the exact opposite of what Hector has advised and
wildly seizes his weapons. On his way to the fray, he is met by Panthus, priest of Apollo, carrying holy objects
and telling him that all is lost. The Trojans, led by Aeneas, after killing Androgeos and his men, win some
success, dressed in Greek armour they have captured. Finally Coroebus springs to help Cassandra and in the
consequent skirmish the Trojans are defeated and killed.
The fighting shifts to Priam's palace, where Aeneas is unable to check the Greek attack. Pyrrhus smashes
down the doors and the Greeks swarm into the palace. Priam is cruelly slaughtered by Pyrrhus. Aeneas
is suddenly reminded of his duty to his family, and finds that he is alone. He spies Helen keeping watch on the
doors of the temple of Vesta and determines to kill her, as recompense for the deaths she has caused.
However, Venus appears to prevent him and urges him to go to his family.
After a final glance at the burning city, Aeneas reaches his father's house, only to find his father stubbornly
refusing to move. Creusa implores Aeneas not to desert them. Suddenly Iulus' hair catches fire and at this
omen, Anchises is persuaded to join them. They prepare for departure but, when they reach the appointed
place, Creusa is missing. Aeneas returns to search for her and sees his own home in flames. As he calls out
for Creusa, her ghost appears to him, telling him of his long journey ahead and that he must leave her behind.
Her ghost disappears and Aeneas and his companions set out on their journey.
Book 3 - The Trojans' Wanderings
Having built a fleet and embarked upon their journey, the Trojans come to Thrace. In attempting to build walls
for a new city, Aeneas offers a sacrifice and begins uprooting trees. To demonstrate that this is not the desired
site for the new Trojan settlement, a portent appears to Aeneas: blood drips from the roots of the trees and the
voice of Polydorus, a son of Priam sent into the protection of the king of Thrace with a large quantity of gold
and subsequently murdered by him for it, calls on Aeneas not to dig up his burial-place, but to escape. The
Trojans pay fresh funeral rites to Polydorus and leave Thrace.
On arrival at Delos, Aeneas prays for an omen. Apollo informs him that the Trojans will found a new Troy. This
is interpreted by Aeneas as being at Crete, since that was where Teucer had sailed from, when he originally
set out to choose the site of Troy. They swiftly head for Crete, where they begin founding a new city. A plague
afflicts them and they decide to return to Apollo's oracle. The Penates appear to Aeneas in a dream and, on
behalf of Apollo, tell him to go to Hesperia. The Trojans set out again.
Having been blown off course by a terrible storm, they land in the Strophades, where the infamous Harpies
live. They kill some cattle and perform a sacrifice before settling down to a feast. This is interrupted, however,
by the Harpies. The Trojans prepare to do battle against them, but Calaeno speaks out, mocking their efforts.
She confirms that they must go to Italy, where they will be allowed to land but will not be given a city; nor will
they be able to build walls around their city until they have reached such depths of famine that they are forced
to eat their own tables. Terrified, the Trojans embark again and sail to Leucate.
From Leucate, they sail to Buthrotum, where Aeneas by chance meets Helenus and Andromache, whom he
discovers to be the rulers there. Andromache tells Aeneas her fate and asks him his. She then leads him into
the city to be entertained. Having stayed there a few days, Aeneas approaches the prophet Helenus and asks
for guidance. Helenus leads him to the temple of Apollo and, inspired by the god, tells Aeneas of his coming
travels and of his visit to the Sibyl who will foretell the future.
After sad farewells, the Trojans cross the Adriatic and, enjoying a favourable journey, land in Italy, where their
first action is to sacrifice to Juno in order to appease her hostility. Sailing past Scylla and Charybdis, they are
driven down to the Cyclops' coast and Etna. They meet a castaway who asks them for help, claiming to be
Achaemenides, one of Ulysses' men left behind after the encounter with Polyphemus. Suddenly catching sight
of Polyphemus and the other Cyclopes, they make a swift getaway, with Achaemenides in tow, making sure
that they avoid Scylla and Charybdis. Continuing around the coast of Sicily, they reach Drepanum. Here,
Anchises dies and they are driven by Juno's storm to Carthage.
Book 4 - Dido and Aeneas
Dido is filled with desire for Aeneas and cannot sleep. The morning after the banquet, she confesses her love
to her sister Anna, but assures her that she will not break the vow she made to her deceased husband of
never re-marrying. Anna advises that resistance to desire is foolish and suggests that marriage to Aeneas
would also have practical benefits, since he would act as a defence against her enemies.
This is enough to persuade Dido, who hesitates no longer. She arranges a sacrifice in the correct manner, but
her obsession results in a cessation of the building of Carthage.
Juno meanwhile, annoyed by Venus' apparent success, suggests to her a marriage between Aeneas and
Dido. Venus agrees, despite realising that this is a plot to make Carthage all- powerful and prevent a new
empire from being established in Italy. The Carthaginians and Trojans assemble for a hunt. Juno brings about
a storm of thunder and hail. As everyone runs for shelter, Dido and Aeneas reach the same cave, where the
powers of nature bear witness to their union.
News of this is carried by Rumour to the ears of king Iarbas, the son of Jupiter and a Garamantian nymph, and
a suitor of Dido's. In anger, he abuses his father and questions his authority, since Dido has overlooked the
favours done her and let an effeminate vagrant become her husband and co-ruler. Hearing Iarbas' prayers,
Jupiter instructs Mercury to go down to Aeneas and remind him of his duty, calling upon Ascanius' destiny if
his own is not motivation enough to leave. Mercury does as he is ordered, finding Aeneas busy building the
walls of Carthage.
Aeneas, terrified by the god's appearance and with his duty suitably impressed upon him, frets about how he
will tell Dido but, at the same time, orders his men to prepare secretly for departure. The queen, hearing
rumours that the Trojans are preparing their fleet, rages round the city like a Bacchant and confronts Aeneas
before he can say anything to her. She attacks his duplicity and heartlessness and begs that he stay, partly
because his departure leaves her vulnerable to her enemies. Aeneas, with difficulty, replies, acknowledging
her kindness but denying that he ever entered into any marriage with her. He states that he is controlled by the
Fates and is impelled to seek Italy, justifying this with reference to the commands of Apollo, the ghost of his
father, the destiny of Ascanius and the visit of Mercury. Dido angrily pours scorn on his reply, noting his lack of
emotion, criticising his lack of gratitude and questioning whether his future is really the concern of the gods.
She tells him to go if he wishes but prays that her memory may pursue him. With these words she rushes into
the palace and faints.
The Trojans continue to prepare to depart and Dido, on seeing them, asks her sister, Anna, to beseech
Aeneas to stay until there is a prevailing wind. She no longer requests that he stay permanently but asks him
at least to grant her a short respite that she may learn to grieve. This Anna does, but the Fates forbid Aeneas
to hear and the Gods block his ears.
Dido now determines to die, a decision that is strengthened by the appearance of unpleasant portents as she
sacrifices and the voice of Sychaeus, her deceased husband, at the shrine she has established for him.
Furthermore, she recalls the words of ancient prophets and is visited by unsettling dreams. She tricks Anna
into building her a pyre, replete with the armour that Aeneas left behind, by pretending that she has discovered
a Massylian priestess who has advised that her obsession can be relieved if she destroys everything that
reminds her of him.
That night Dido considers her position and realises that suicide is her only option. Meanwhile, Aeneas is
visited again by Mercury, while he sleeps on the stern of his ship, and is told that he must depart immediately if
he is not to put himself and his comrades in danger from Dido's madness. As a result, the Trojans set off.
When dawn comes, the queen awakes to see the harbour empty and the Trojan fleet sailing away. In distress,
she rages that she did not visit any punishment on Aeneas for his actions and eventually invokes a curse upon
him and his people, which foreshadows the troubles in Italy, the future enmity between the Carthaginians and
the Romans, and the coming of Hannibal as an avenger. Having done this, she instructs Sychaeus' nurse,
Barce, to send Anna to her in preparation for the sacrifice. When the old woman has bustled away. Dido
climbs the pyre and with a final look at Aeneas' possessions and a few words of encouragement, she falls
upon his sword. Rumour rages through the city and Anna, when she hears, rushes to the pyre and lambasts
Dido for not letting her share in her fate, for deceiving her into building the pyre and for destoying not only
herself but also her sister and her people. Climbing the pyre, she holds the dying queen in her arms. Juno,
taking pity on her anguish, sends Iris down from Olympus, who takes a lock of Dido's hair. All life then passes
from Dido's body.
Book 5 - Funeral Games for Anchises
As Aeneas sails away, he and the other Trojans see the flame of Dido's pyre and rightly fear the worst.
Because of a storm, they make for Sicily, where they are met by Acestes, a friend of theirs. The next day,
Aeneas summons his comrades and tells them that it is the anniversary of Anchises' death, and that they will
celebrate with games in his honour in nine days time. He pours a libation to his father. A portent, a large
rainbow-coloured snake, appears and is seen as an encouraging sign of Anchises' presence. The ceremony
and banquet continue.
The first race is a ship-race between Mnestheus, Gyas, Sergestus and Cloanthus - all founders of great
Roman houses. Aeneas establishes a rock as the turning-point. In an exciting race, Gyas takes the lead,
followed by Cloanthus, Mnestheus and Sergestus. Gyas argues with his pilot and throws him overboard for
disobeying him. Cloanthus then overtakes him. Sergestus and Mnestheus also hope to overtake him, and
Mnestheus urges his men not to be last. Sergestus steers too near to a rock, is caught and runs aground.
Mnestheus speeds past him and Gyas, but fails to beat Cloanthus, who makes vows to the gods of the sea
and wins their aid. Aeneas awards prizes to the three crews and captains. Sergestus finally manages to bring
in his disabled ship and is given the fourth prize.
Aeneas and the spectators go inland for the foot race. Nisus is winning until he falls over. He then deliberately
trips Salius in order that Euryalus might win. This Euryalus does, with Diores second, but all four win prizes.
Aeneas proclaims two prizes for the boxing match. Dares claims the first prize unopposed. Acestes urges
Entellus, an old Sicilian champion, to enter. At first, he is reluctant because of his age, but eventually he
agrees and produces a terrible pair of gloves with nails of iron. Dares refuses to fight one so armed, and
Entellus consents to fight on equal terms. Aeneas brings out a matching pair of gauntlets and the fight begins.
After preliminary sparring, Entellus aims a mighty blow which misses and causes him to fall flat on the ground.
He is helped to his feet and furiously drives Dares round the arena. Aeneas intervenes to stop the fight. Dares
is carried away by friends to his ship and Entellus receives an ox as a prize, which he kills with one blow, as a
sacrifice to Eryx.
Aeneas declares an archery contest, the target being a dove tied to a mast. Hippocoon, Mnestheus, Eurytion
and Acestes compete. Hippocoon hits the mast, Mnestheus divides the cord, which lets the bird escape,
Eurytion kills the bird, and Acestes, with no target left, shoots into the air. His arrow catches fire. Aeneas
interprets this as a good omen and awards him first prize.
The final event is an equestrian display by the Trojan boys. Such a ceremony was introduced by lulus to Alba
Longa, and was later handed on to the Romans under the name 'lusus Troiae'. The scene moves to the ships,
where Iris, sent by Juno, has persuaded the Trojan women to set fire to the ships, by disguising herself as one
of them and rousing indignation about their fate. She flings the first torch herself. When she is recognised as a
goddess, the others stand in doubt, but, as she vanishes, they are seized with frenzy and set the ships alight.
News reaches the Trojans at the games. Ascanius gallops up and calms the women, but the flame burns on,
despite efforts to extinguish it. Aeneas invokes Jupiter either to save or destroy them. A tremendous storm
follows immediately, and all but four ships are saved.
Aeneas nevertheless is in despair and wonders whether to settle in Sicily after all, but Nautes advises him not
to give up on the mission to make for Italy, but to allow those who do not wish to continue to found their own
city in Sicily. Aeneas is even more perplexed, but Anchises appears to him in a dream and bids him follow
Nautes advice. First, however, he must visit him in the Underworld and learn the future. They all agree to act in
this way. The ships are repaired, the new city begun and honours paid to Venus and Anchises.
After nine days of festivities, the Trojans prepare to embark amid much weeping. Venus appeals to Neptune,
fearing that Juno may again try to raise a storm. Neptune reassures her, reminding her of past instances of his
care for Aeneas, and promising that the Trojans will reach Italy safely, with the loss of just one man.
The Trojans set sail, with Palinurus at the helm. The god of sleep tries to lure him from his post, but, finding
him inflexible, afflicts him with sleep and throws him overboard. Aeneas takes his place, amid great
Book 6 - The Underworld
The Trojans arrive at Cumae and prepare for a meal. Aeneas goes to consult the Sibyl at Apollo's temple, and
gazes in admiration at the picture on the temple doors before being called in by the Sibyl. In her inner
sanctum, she goes into a prophetic trance and calls on Aeneas to pray to Apollo. He asks to be allowed to
enter the kingdom promised by fate and promises a temple to Apollo and Diana, and a special shrine for the
Sibyl. She gives a prophetic reply, showing that many trials still await Aeneas but urging him to press on
nonetheless. Aeneas replies that he is not put off by the prospect of such a dangerous task, and asks to be
allowed to visit Anchises in the Underworld. The Sibyl describes the formidable nature of such a journey,
stating two prerequisites : the Golden Bough and the due burial of one of Aeneas' companions.
Aeneas leaves the cave heavy at heart, only to find that the body is that of Misenus, killed when foolishly
challenging Triton to a trumpet contest, and so he sets about organising funeral rites. As he prays to see the
Golden Bough, two doves guide him to it. He plucks it off and takes it to the Sibyl. All this time, funeral rites for
Misenus have been occurring on the shore. After dutifully raising a great mound as a tomb, Aeneas makes
preparatory sacrifices and, together with the Sibyl, descends into the Underworld.
There is an interlude as Virgil invokes the gods of the dead to allow him to tell of what Aeneas and the Sibyl
saw. At the entrance, they are confronted by various horrible shapes of personified forms of suffering, and a
host of unnatural monsters. At the river Styx, they see Charon and his boat. The ghosts keep crowding
around, but only some are admitted. The Sibyl tells Aeneas that only the buried may be ferried across, while
the rest must wait one hundred years. Aeneas meets the ghost of Palinurus and hears the story of his death.
Palinurus begs for burial or to be taken across the Styx unburied. The Sibyl tells him that this is impossible, but
consoles him by telling him that the cape where he died will always bear his name. Aeneas and the Sibyl are
challenged by Charon, but when she shows him the Golden Bough, he ferries them across.
Having crossed the Styx, they see the barking, three-headed dog Cerberus guarding the far bank. In order to
pass him, the Sibyl throws him a drugged cake, which puts him to sleep. As they continue, they first meet the
souls of infants, then the unjustly condemned and then the suicides. They enter the Mourning Fields, inhabited
by those who have died of love. Here, Aeneas sees Dido, but in spite of his appeal, she turns from him without
a word.
They come to a place for dead heroes, and meet warriors of both sides from the Trojan War. Aeneas meets
the ghost of Deiphobus, cruelly mangled, and asks him the cause of his suffering. Deiphobus tells him how he
was attacked while sleeping, betrayed by his wife Helen to Menelaus and Ulysses. He then asks Aeneas
about himself. The Sibyl interrupts, reminding Aeneas that he has the rest of the Underworld to see, at which
Deiphobus retires.
Next they see Tartarus, surrounded by a fiery river and echoing with the sounds of torture. In reply to Aeneas'
question, the Sibyl tells him that he may not enter, but describes some of the sinners and their punishments.
They hurry from Tartarus towards Elysium and leave the Golden Bough at Pluto's palace. They enter the
Groves of the Blessed in Elysium, and see an idyllic scene of beautiful contentment. Musaeus, the poet, offers
to guide them to Anchises. This he does and Aeneas meets Anchises surveying his Roman descendants.
Anchises welcomes his son with joyful surprise and Aeneas is shown a great gathering of ghosts at the river
Lethe. He asks his father about it and Anchises explains that they are waiting for rebirth. He gives an account
of the soul's relationship with the body and what happens to it after death. Aeneas is then treated to the
Pageant of Heroes: Anchises points out to Aeneas the famous Romans waiting to be born - the Alban kings,
Romulus, Augustus, the Roman kings and many heroes of the Roman Republic. Finally, Anchises mentions
the elderly Marcellus, famed in the 2nd Punic War, who is attended by a younger spirit. This is the young
Marcellus (nephew of Augustus), who is destined to suffer an early death.
Still guided by Anchises, Aeneas and the Sibyl leave by the Gate of Ivory, one of the two gates of the
Underworld. Aeneas rejoins his fleet and sails to Caieta.
Book 7 - Start of the War in Latium
After burying Aeneas' nurse, Caieta, the Trojans pass by the dreaded shores of Circe, and then, in bright
dawn, sail up the mouth of the Tiber. Virgil invokes the Muse Erato to tell of the state of Latium, and of the
wars and fates to come. The main characters and plot of the next six books are now introduced: Lavinia, the
daughter of king Latinus is being courted by Turnus, king of the Rutuli, but portents forbid the marriage - a
swarm of bees settling on a sacred laurel portend a foreign prince, while fire in Lavinia's hair foreshadows
trouble. Latinus seeks the oracles of his father, Faunus, who prophesies that a mighty prince will wed Lavinia.
The Trojans eat the cakes on which their meal is placed, and Ascanius jokes that this is eating their tables, for
Anchises had prophesied that they would settle where they were forced to eat their tables. So they sacrifice to
the gods and Jupiter sends a favourable omen. Aeneas sends an embassy of one hundred men to Latinus to
seek peace. Latinus addresses them and tells them that their ancestor Dardanus had come from there.
Iloneus asks to settle there, offering gifts from Aeneas. Latinus is affected not so much by the speech as by
the memory of Faunus' prophecy. For he now sees Aeneas as his destined son-in-law. As a result, he accepts
the offered alliance, vows Lavinia to Aeneas and sends them away with grand gifts.
Juno, returning from Argos, sees the Trojans settling in Italy, and complains that, in spite of her, they have
managed to succeed. Realising that she cannot stop marriage altogether, she nevertheless determines to
delay it and to ensure that it will only take place after the shedding of much blood. Descending to Earth, she
summons the hateful fury Allecto to help her stir up war and strife. Allecto seeks out Queen Amata and
secretly places a snake in her bosom, with the result that, as the poison begins to work, the queen reproaches
Latinus for betrothing Lavinia to Aeneas and declares that Turnus too is of foreign blood. Latinus remains firm,
but, as the poison grows stronger, Amata rushes through the city madly, like a top. Then, frenzied like a
Bacchanal, she hurries to the wood and rouses the matrons to join her mad orgy.
Allecto goes to Turnus disguised as the priestess of Juno and goads him to attack the Trojans. Turnus replies
scornfully that war is men's affair, but Allecto appears in real form and maddens him with a torch so that he
wakes up with a passion for war and summons his men. Allecto next impels Iulus' dogs to hunt the pet stag of
the children of Tyrrheus, the king's forester. Iulus shoots it and it flees home wounded. As a result, the rustics
gather in a rage. Allecto urges them on from the top of a stable, and in the ensuing fight Almo and Galaesus
are killed. Allecto reports her success to Juno, and offers to do more. However, she is dismissed and
disappears down a cavern back to hell.
The Latins now demand war and are urged on by Turnus and the madness created by Amata. Latinus
attempts to resist, but when this proves impossible, he abandons control of the government and shuts himself
up in the palace. Juno opens up the Gates of War and the whole land is ablaze with warlike preparation. We
are then treated to a list of the leaders, heroes and arms.
Book 8 - Aeneas on the Future Site of Rome
War begins and Latium is in uproar. An embassy is sent to Diomede to ask his help. Meanwhile, as Aeneas
sleeps, Father Tiber appears to him, telling him that he has reached his destined home and that proof of this
will be a great white sow with her litter of thirty piglets that Aeneas will see beneath ilex trees on a shore. This
will be a sign that in thirty years Ascanius will found Alba Longa. He goes on to say that Evander, king of the
Arcadians at Pallanteum, is at war with the Latins and that he should seek an alliance with him.
Aeneas wakes and prays to Father Tiber, promising him everlasting worship. Having picked our two biremes
from the fleet and manned them with rowers and comrades, he finds the white sow and sacrifices it to Juno.
The Tiber then checks its current, and the Trojans gently float upstream towards the city of Evander on the
future site of Rome.
Evander is sacrificing to Hercules with his people, when he becomes alarmed by the appearance of the Trojan
ships. His son Pallas goes to ask who they are and then welcomes them and escorts Aeneas to Evander's
palace. Aeneas pleads that he and Evander are descended from a common ancestor, Atlas, and should make
common cause against a common enemy. Evander replies that he remembers Anchises once coming in the
train of Priam and he consents to make an alliance and invites them to a banquet. They sit down and begin to
feast. Evander explains the origin of the worship of Hercules, telling the story of Hercules and Cacus. As
evening falls, the festival is renewed and two bards sing the praises of Hercules.
Evander then escorts Aeneas, telling him of the former state of Latium, the golden age of Saturn, the following
decay and his own arrival. He shows him the Asylum, the Lupercal, the Argiletum, the Capitol, the Janiculum,
the hill of Saturn, and leads him into his own humble palace.
Venus, alarmed on Aeneas' behalf about the savagery of the fighting in Latium, appeals to Vulcan for help,
and, stirred by her embrace, he agrees to make him armour. He goes to the forge of the Cyclopes, where they
are making thunderbolts for Jupiter, a chariot for Mars, and an aegis for Pallas Athene. He stops everything
and organises the making of Aeneas' armour.
Evander goes to Aeneas and tells him that he and his people are weak, but that the Etrurians who have just
expelled their tyrant Mezentius are seeking a foreign leader. He himself is too old, so Aeneas should become
their leader and Pallas will go with him to fight in Latium. Aeneas is pondering these words gloomily, when
sudden thunder and lightning accompany a vision of arms in the sky. He sacrifices and sends a fleet back to
Ascanius, selecting warriors of outstanding courage for his own entrance into battle. Evander bids a touching
farewell to Pallas, recalling the exploits of his own youth and praying for life, if he is to see his son again, and
for instant death, if he is not.
The Trojans and Arcadians go out towards Caere, halting in the grove of Silvanus, and from the nearby hills
they see the camp of Tarchon. Venus then brings to Aeneas the armour made by Vulcan. On it, he sees: (1)
Romulus and Remus; (2) The Sabine Women; (3) Mettus Fufetius; (4) Tarquin and Porsenna; (5) Horatius; (6)
Cloelia; (7) Manlius and the Gauls; (8) The Salii; (9) The Luperci; (10) The Underworld; (11) The Battle of
Actium; (12) The Triumphant Return of Octavian to Rome.
Book 9 - Nisus and Euryalus
Juno tells Iris to inform Turnus that Aeneas is away gathering help from Evander and that it is now a good time
to attack the Trojan camp. Turnus heeds this advice and his army advances like a stream. The Trojans see
them coming and in obedience to Aeneas' command, they shut themselves within the camp. Turnus vainly
challenges them to come out and fight, and after riding round the camp, decides to set fire to their fleet. Virgil
invokes the Muses to tell how the ships were saved from the fire and then relates how Cybele had prayed to
Jupiter that these ships, built from her sacred wood, be indestructible. As a result, a voice is heard from Mount
Ida, bidding the ships go free, and, dipping beneath the sea, they emerge as nymphs. Turnus, however, is
unperturbed by this and encourages his men to rest and wait for battle. They then spend the night in merry
carousal, while the Trojans watch them anxiously and prepare their defences.
Nisus tells Euryalus of his desire for deeds of great valour and of his plans to escape in order to tell Aeneas of
the latest developments. Euryalus begs to accompany him and, in spite of entreaties, will take no refusal. The
two friends go out and seek the leaders in the camp, and Nisus explains their plan. Ascanius promises all
manner of gifts. Euryalus asks Ascanius to protect his mother, which he promises to do.
They enter the Rutulian camp and kill many of the enemy, whom they find in drunken sleep. As dawn appears,
they hastily seize spoils and leave the camp. Troops from Laurentum catch sight of Euryalus and give chase.
Nisus escapes pursuit, but returns to find Euryalus surrounded. He kills two of the attackers, but fails to save
Euryalus, who is slain by Voscens, who is in turn slain by Nisus. Finally, Nisus is himself killed and sinks
lifeless on his friend's body. The Rutuli discover what has happened and at dawn advance to the Trojan camp,
carrying the heads of the two Trojan warriors on spears. Rumour brings news of Euryalus' death to his mother,
who is overcome by grief and prays for death until she is carried inside.
Meanwhile, the Vosci advance under a dome of shields. Their shield-shelter is destroyed by the Trojans and a
battle of missiles follows. The Italians attack and set fire to a high tower, which crashes down on the Trojan
defenders. Remulus, Turnus' brother-in-law, taunts the Trojans for their womanish cowardice, but is then slain
by Ascanius after his prayer to Jupiter. As a result, Apollo praises him but forbids him to fight further. The other
Trojans, though, fiercely renew the battle. The gates of the camp are burst open and the Rutuli rush in, but
they are driven back, as the Trojans sally out in pursuit. Turnus rushes forward and slays Bitias, one of the
gate guards, and other Trojans. Mars gives courage to the Latins, but terror to the Trojans. Turnus misses the
chance to throw open the gate to his comrades, but kills many Trojans within the camp. Mnestheus and
Sergestus rebuke the broken Trojan line and rally them to drive Turnus back to the river, where he jumps in
and returns safely to his comrades.
Book 10 - Deaths of Pallas, Lausus and Mezentius
Jupiter calls a council of the gods and asks why such discord is occurring when he had forbidden war between
Italians and Trojans. For, he says, the time for war will come when Carthage threatens Rome. Venus
complains of Juno's schemes and asks that she may be allowed to take Ascanius from the battle and keep him
safe, even if that means that Aeneas must be tossed by storms on unknown waters and must follow the road
that Fortune gives him. Juno replies that she did not cause the Trojan War, and justifies her help for the Rutuli
by pointing to the aid that Venus is giving to Aeneas. Tumult follows, which Jupiter silences, shaking Olympus
by nodding.
The Rutuli renew their attack, and a thin line of Trojan heroes (including an unarmed Ascanius) tries to repel
them with missiles. Meanwhile, in the night that follows, Aeneas sails back from visiting Tarchon, whose aid he
has secured. A list of the Tuscan leaders and their men follows.
The nymphs (that previously were ships) come and bid Aeneas wake up and prepare, and then they speed his
ship to the shore. He prays to Cybele and, as day dawns, he makes for the shore. The Trojans take heart,
while the Rutulians are frightened by the approaching fleet and threatening gleam of Aeneas' armour. Turnus,
undismayed, urges his men to attack Aeneas during the confusion of landing. As the Trojans land, Tarchon
runs his ship onto a reef and it is wrecked.
Battle begins and Aeneas kills many warriors. On both sides combat is waged desperately. The Arcadian
cavalry begin to yield, but are rallied by Pallas, whom the Trojans make a charge to help. Pallas kills Halaesus
and at last meets Lausus. However, they are destined not to fight it out to the end, but to meet their deaths
elsewhere. Accordingly, there is a showdown between Pallas and Turnus. Pallas calls upon Hercules for aid,
but Jupiter prevents him, since Pallas is now fated to die. Turnus receives a graze from Pallas' spear but in
return deals him a fatal thrust. Turnus spoils him of his belt, little knowing in his pride that it will be the cause of
his doom. Aeneas, roused by the sad news of Pallas' death, hacks his way through the enemy to bring help to
his men.
Jupiter points out the Trojans' success to Juno, who wheedles her way into gaining protection for Turnus.
Jupiter allows her to delay, but not alter, his fate. As a result, she descends and fashions a cloud in the image
of Aeneas which lures Turnus onto a boat and out to sea. The cloud then vanishes, leaving Turnus angry with
the gods for causing him to abandon his men. Juno, though, checks him and guides the boat to Ardea.
Mezentius joins the fray and maintains his ground in the face of a Trojan attack. The slaughter becomes
widespread and, as the gods observe, they pity both sides. Meanwhile, Aeneas prepares to meet Mezentius,
who hurls a spear at him, which misses but kills Antores. Aeneas wounds Mezentius with a spear and is about
to kill him with his sword, when Lausus, Mezentius' son, intervenes. The fighting continues and Aeneas kills
Lausus, but pities the youth's pale dead face. Mezentius, resting by the Tiber, bursts into a passionate show of
grief, when he sees the body of his dead son borne along on a shield. He calls for his favourite horse and
appeals to him to help avenge his son or die with him. He then challenges Aeneas and showers him with
darts, but Aeneas spears his horse and Mezentius is flung to the ground. He begs for no mercy, but asks only
that he might share Lausus' tomb.
Book 11 - The Truce, Drances and Camilla
Day dawns, and Aeneas sets up a trophy with Mezentius' arms. He exhorts his men to bury the dead and
prepare to march on Latium. He himself returns to his tent and joins in grieving over Pallas. He organises
Pallas' funeral procession and he and his army accompany it as it starts. After a final farewell, they return to
the camp.
Envoys from the Latins come, asking to be able to bury their dead. Aeneas agrees and a truce for twelve days
is arranged for this purpose. He also laments that Turnus did not simply challenge him to a single combat,
which would have averted the needless deaths of so many innocent men.
Meanwhile, Rumour brings news of Pallas' death to Evander. He hurries to meet the procession and makes a
pathetic speech to his dead son, praying that he might live to see Aeneas avenge him.
The Trojans spend the next day burning their dead with due rites and sacrifices. The Latins also bury their
dead and many are angry with Turnus. Drances says that it is only Turnus who is being called on to fight.
Messengers then arrive from Argyripa to announce the failure of their mission: Diomede is tired of war and
wants peace. They are succeeded by Latinus, who speaks in favour of peace. Then Drances speaks with
bitter hatred and jealousy of Turnus, and challenges him to accept Aeneas' offer of single combat, at which
Turnus angrily bursts out and proclaims warlike intentions. When news arrives of Aeneas' advance, amid
general tumult, he scornfully quits the council and issues orders to his troops, while Latinus regrets his earlier
rejection of the Trojans.
Turnus arms for battle, and is joined by Camilla, whom he bids engage the Trojans, while he prepares an
ambush in a mountain-pass. Diana summons the nymph Opis and tells her the story of Camilla. She laments
her taking part in the war, and sends Opis to avenge her death.
Meanwhile, the Trojan cavalry advance, meet the Latins, join battle and universal carnage ensues. Camilla
fights on in the thickest of the fray, slaying to right and to left. Jupiter urges Tarchon to fight, who consequently
rides about encouraging the Tuscans. Arruns prays to Apollo and, with his help, succeeds in killing Camilla.
Opis sees her death and duly avenges her by killing Arruns, whose body is left uncared for.
Terror and confusion reign everywhere. The Latins shut the gates, excluding many friends, and in the fierce
struggle to enter, ally slays ally. Women, in emulation of Camilla, throw missiles from the walls. Turnus,
hearing what is happening, abandons his ambush in order to hurry to the conflict. Aeneas also
comes in from the wood to the city, and as they see each other, they are about to fight, but the approach of
night prevents it.
Book 12 - Truce and Duel
Disheartened, the Latins look to Turnus for aid. Realizing the desperate nature of their situation, he accepts
Aeneas' challenge of single combat. Latinus reminds him of the sufferings since he betrothed Lavinia to him
and pleads with him to forbear combat, but Turnus scorns him and the danger. Amata and Lavinia both try to
dissuade him, but he is all the more inflamed and sends Idmon to carry his challenge to Aeneas. Both Turnus
and Aeneas then prepare for battle.
The next day, the ground is measured, altars are built, the warriors, in full armour, take their place, and old
men and women crowd the walls and towers. Juno summons Juturna, Turnus' sister, to save him by hindering
the proposed combat, as she herself can do no more. Aeneas and Latinus advance to the altar. Aeneas prays
that he will retire to Evander's city and make no more war, if Turnus wins, but that, if he wins, the races shall
unite on equal terms. Latinus makes a similar oath and swears that nothing shall impair this treaty. The
Rutulians then object that the fight is unfair, and Juturna in disguise urges on their discontent. An omen of an
eagle and a swan persuade them further that they should renew battle. Therefore, the fighting and killing begin
once more.
Aeneas tries to prevent it but is wounded by an arrow from an unknown hand and retreats. Flushed with
sudden hope, Turnus jumps into a chariot and starts fighting again. More blood and carnage ensue. Aeneas is
helped from the field, but is eager to return. Venus, concealed in a cloud, brings a healing herb, which cures
the wound. He hastily re-arms and returns to the fray. His companions are killing many of the Rutulians, but
Aeneas seeks Turnus alone. When Juturna sees that this is the case, she is struck with fear and, seizing the
reins of her brother's chariot, she drives it in so many different directions that Aeneas is baffled. Eventually,
Messapus hurls a spear at him, which grazes the crest of his helmet and causes him to call upon Jupiter. With
that, Aeneas and Turnus set off on individual missions in which they each slaughter many of their foes. Finally,
at Venus' suggestion, Aeneas decides to attack the city itself. The assault begins with an attempt to destroy it
by fire, which causes divisions within the city as to whether they should resist or surrender. Amata, unable to
see Turnus, thinks him dead and hangs herself. Latinus and Lavinia are overcome with grief.
Turnus hears the din from the city and wishes to help, but Juturna tries to divert his attention. However, he
declares that he does not wish to die disgraced, at which point Saces comes riding up to him, imploring that he
help the Latins in the city. Dazed at first, he then sees a tower in flames and rushes to the city walls, declaring
that he will settle the issue by single combat.
Aeneas hurries to meet the challenge, while Jupiter weighs their destinies on the scales. Turnus' borrowed
sword snaps when it comes into contact with Aeneas' divine armour and he flees. Aeneas pursues him.
Turnus calls for his own sword, but Aeneas threatens death to anyone who helps him. Aeneas' spear then
sticks in a tree sacred to Faunus, to whom Turnus prays that it may remain stuck. Aeneas struggles in vain,
but when Juturna gives Turnus his sword, Venus angrily wrenches the spear out for him.
Meanwhile, Jupiter begs Juno to put aside her hostility to the Trojans. She agrees to yield but on condition
that, when the two nations are united, the hateful name of Troy be forgotten, to which Jupiter accedes. Jupiter
then sends a Fury to Juturna, who, realising that she can do no more, and bemoaning her immortality, takes
refuge in her river.
The final scene sees the final combat. In reply to Aeneas' taunts, Turnus seizes a huge boulder, but the Fury
removes his strength and aim. As a result, he falls and, as he does so, Aeneas hurls a spear and deeply
wounds him. He begs for mercy, and Aeneas is on the point of giving way when he sees the belt of Pallas,
which inflames him and causes him to strike his final blow, killing Turnus.
1. Rome's Greatness vs. Suffering of the Individual
The Aeneid is a patriotic poem; a poem that seeks to justify the Roman race and its achievements, particularly
its expansive empire. It is a poem that details what it is to be Roman, forging a collective history and predicting
and encouraging a glorious future, written at a time when everything in the present was uncertain. It defines
Romanness. Yet at the same time it does not present a blithely romanticised vision. In order to be a
representative of fundamental Roman values in the Aeneid, you cannot be or do other things: Aeneas cannot
be a Homeric hero - he is told as much by Hector (a prototype Homeric hero) in Book 2; he cannot indulge in a
life of Catullan love trysts; he cannot think solely for himself, for he must always consider the continuation of
his race, and the founding of a city for that race to inhabit, to be of paramount importance. This is what his
'pietas' demands, namely a subjugation of his own personal desires to the need to follow the mission charged
to him. At the same time, those around him suffer so that the Roman race might be founded. Dido and Turnus
are destroyed, when they become obstacles to this eventuality. Their nobility of character demonstrates the
poet's sympathy for their predicament - they, like Aeneas, see their own individual designs made subject to the
needs of the future Roman race. Personal concerns are considered of less importance than collective
success. As result, we find a tension in the Aeneid between what has been termed Virgil's public and private
The public voice glorifies the virtues of Rome and Roman character, while the private voice represents the
individual caught in the middle of these grander schemes. The private voice is suffused with a melancholy that
represents the inability of the two voices to be reconciled. For the Aeneid seems unable to provide an answer,
a fact that seems clear from the final combat between Aeneas and Turnus. The death of Turnus has often
been thought to be at odds with the rest of the poem, for it presents Aeneas in an unfavourable light just when
we expect to see him in a fully exalted position. And yet, it actually demonstrates perfectly the tension between
the two voices that runs throughout the poem. Aeneas has been told by Anchises in Book 6 what qualities the
Roman will bring to the world. He will govern the people of the empire, bring a settled peace and 'parcere
subiectis et debellare superbos' ("spare the vanquished and war down the proud", 6.853). This then is what it
will mean to be Roman. However, when, in the final combat, Aeneas, the father of the Roman race, is placed
in a situation where his enemy Turnus is beseeching him as a suppliant not to kill him, and is thus certainly
'subiectus', Aeneas is motivated by personal concerns to slay him. For he sees Pallas' belt and is reminded of
his death and of his own responsibility to avenge that death. Thus we see the conflict between public and
private interests and, in the end, the need to be a good Roman is overridden in the heat of battle by the need
to be a good friend. The two cannot easily be reconciled and the poem offers no solution. The founding of
Rome is not an easy undertaking and the poet displays a certain ambivalence to the events he describes. As
he states at the start of the poem 'tantae molis erat Romanam condere gentem' ("So onerous it was to found
the Roman race", 1.33).
2. The Greatness of Rome
Despite the conflict that arises between Virgil's public and private voices, we still cannot fail to read the Aeneid
as primarily a poem that glorifies the Roman race and its achievements. Certainly the pathos of individual
suffering shows that all that Rome and her empire bring with them is not rosy, but there is no suggestion that it
is a reason to see the poem as anti-Roman or anti-imperialist. Suffering occurs in spite of Rome's greatness,
not as a detriment to it. In addition the conflict between civic and personal duty is not one that is exclusive to
Rome, but one that affects any member of any community. Virgil's skill is in making us aware of the conflict,
while glorifying the race and at the same time respecting the individual.
From the beginning of the poem, we are made aware of the poet's commitment to providing an epic that will
emphasise Rome's greatness, past, present and, through the glorification of Augustus, future. Jupiter's
prophecy to Venus in Book 1 (257-296) explicitly establishes the link between Aeneas and the founding of
Rome by Romulus. Furthermore, it gives divine consent to Rome's empire, for Jupiter states that he is
imposing on it no limitation in time or space ('his ego nec metas rerum nec tempora pono: /
imperium sine fine dedi', 278-9). And yet, it is an empire ruled not by bloody conflict, but by peace and justice.
Through Jupiter's prophecy, Virgil accomplishes several things. It introduces Aeneas' mission early in the
poem, while at the same time presenting its accomplishment as an event that is fated to occur. Thus, despite
the setbacks, particularly the opposition of Juno, we are never in any doubt that, on a cosmic level, matters are
in Aeneas' and the Roman race's favour - they are destined to succeed. Furthermore, the prophecy is a veiled
plea to Augustus to re-establish peace within the Roman empire, since this is how Jupiter has ordained that it
should be. Indeed the prophecy is simply the first example of a theme that runs throughout the poem, namely
that as well as glorifying Augustus through the deeds of his ancestors, Virgil is encouraging him to be like them
in certain respects.
Providing a similar function to the prophecy is the pageant of Roman heroes that Aeneas is treated to in the
Underworld, in Book 6 (756-886). Virgil is able again to emphasise the connection between Aeneas and his
descendants; to show that Roman glory is fated; to celebrate that glory, particularly that of Augustus; and to
advise the emperor. Indeed, Anchises explicitly states the qualities that a good Roman possesses in
comparison to those of other races (847-53), in a passage that can clearly be seen as affirmation of what the
poet seeks from Augustus as a ruler.
In Book 8, the description of Aeneas' divine shield (626-728) is a further reminder of the future glory of the
Roman race. As with the pageant of heroes, it places Augustus and his triumphs firmly at the centre of this
glory (literally in the centre, in the case of the shield) and serves to provide a teleological view of Roman
history/future, implying that the reign of Augustus is the culmination of a historical process that started with
Aeneas. The present empire, ruled over peacefully after the Battle of Actium, is the logical conclusion to
Rome's glorious past. Again, we find exhortations to rule and act justly through the representation of acts and
individuals who failed to do this and were duly punished, for example Mettus and Catiline.
Jupiter's promise to Juno at the end of Book 12 (834-840) is further evidence of Virgil's commitment to
presenting the Roman race in a glorious light. He states that the new race that will arise from the Trojans and
the Latins will surpass all men, and all gods, in demonstrating 'pietas', the essential devotion to the gods, the
fatherland and one's family that is so clearly emphasised in the character of Aeneas and is so positively
recommended as a particularly Roman virtue. Glorification and exhortation are once more dually present.
Concept of Herosim
The Aeneid sees a move from the traditional heroism of the Homeric epics to a contemporary heroism, more
applicable to the Roman situation. In the Iliad and the Odyssey, there is a sharply defined heroic code. One
must harm one's enemies and help one's friends; avoid personal shame at all costs; choose selfaggrandizement over more social concerns. This is the concept of heroism that drives men like Achilles,
Hector and Ajax, and is represented in the Aeneid by the character of Turnus. It is a relatively simple, selfcentred philosophy which does produce larger-than-life heroes. And yet, it cannot and does not fit with the
concerns of the Aeneid. Just as the poem deals with the progression of the Trojans from survivors of the most
famous war of the ancient heroic world to progenitors of the most powerful race of the modern world, it also
deals with the progression from traditional heroism to a new heroism, most clearly through the character of
The necessity for a new type of heroism is clear. Contemporary Rome was not part of the ancient heroic world,
but a complex society in which the values of that ancient world were no longer workable, and had not been for
a long time. Any even relatively complex society must consider socially advantageous qualities to be
preferable to self-promotion and self- regard. The ancient hero was too concerned with himself to care too
much about his comrades, unless, by helping them, he created glory for himself. Odysseus is undoubtedly a
charismatic and awe-inspiring figure, but when he finally manages to return to Ithaca, it is alone, for all his
companions have been killed; Achilles' pride, damaged by the slight he feels that Agamemnon has paid him,
prevents him from helping his comrades even when they are being roundly slaughtered by the Trojans. Such
attitudes were not to be promoted within Rome of the first century BC. Therefore, we see Aeneas leaving
behind the traditional heroic role, when he leaves Troy. His desire to die gloriously at Troy is questioned first
by the ghost of Hector, secondly by himself when he sees the death of Priam and finally by Venus when she
prevents him from killing Helen. Hector raises Aeneas' responsibility to his city and her household gods,
Aeneas himself raises his responsibility to his family, while Venus raises his responsibility to heed the wishes
of the gods. Therefore, once he has determined to leave, he has stepped beyond the narrow confines of
traditional, self-interested heroism and taken up a more communal heroism that recognises the individual's
responsibility to people and things other than himself, most explicitly the cornerstones of Roman 'pietas' one's race, one's family and one's gods.
3. The Character of Aeneas
A discussion of the character of Aeneas follows directly from a discussion of the Aeneid's new concept of
heroism. Aeneas has often been criticised for being feeble and uninspiring. Many people have preferred the
rugged, self-confident Turnus to the diffident and taciturn Aeneas. Yet such criticism fails to see that Aeneas is
not a traditional epic hero badly drawn, but a more rounded, proto-Augustan figure, who provides the template
for the 'pius Romanus'. It is pointless to compare him disparagingly with the Homeric heroes, since, if not
chronologically then ethically at least, he lives in a different world to them. It is not simply himself that he must
lead to the land promised by fate, but his people, his family and the gods of his former city. If he appears much
of the time to be reluctantly following the wishes of fate and the gods, then we must appreciate how he does
consistently subjugate his own feelings and how unclear is the mission with which he has been charged. He
has not been informed of the future in depth, as we have by Jupiter's prophecy in Book 1. He is simply told
initially by the ghosts of Hector and Creusa that he must leave Troy and found a new city. Then, as his travels
lead him to various sites on which he attempts to establish this city, he is told through prophecies that it must
be in Italy. Therefore, for the first half of the poem, Aeneas is wandering the seas with little idea of what it is
that he is looking for. In stark contrast to Odysseus, who leaves the ruins of Troy a victor and with a certain
and familiar endpoint to his travels, Aeneas leaves defeated, his city and people decimated, with no clear
concept of where he is aiming for or what he will find when he arrives there. He is not fired by the desire to get
home; he is not following his own deepest-held wishes; and there is no foreseeable conclusion to his
struggles. This is why his 'pietas' is so emphasised. For in spite of all this, he still carries out his mission. He
may not be visibly enthused by it - it is notable that he offers no comment after seeing the pageant of heroes but, particularly after his visit to the Underworld, he shows a grim determination that enables him to succeed,
with the gods' help, in triumphing in Latium and putting the destruction of Troy behind him.
And yet, Aeneas also demonstrates how difficult it is to be a hero in the new mould; how it is difficult to reject
some aspects of the old Homeric heroism. This ties in with the discussion of Virgil's public and private voices.
For Aeneas' heroism is generally related to the poet's public voice, since his 'pietas' is civic and altruistic,
whereas Homeric heroism is more self-related. When Aeneas hears of Pallas' death and embarks upon a
killing spree, he is acting in a manner reminiscent of the heroes of the Iliad. Indeed his sacrifice of eight young
men to Pallas (10.517-20) directly parallels the sacrifice that Achilles makes to the spirit of Patroclus. Most
crucially, the slaughter of Turnus at the end of the poem shows that the Homeric axiom of helping your friends
and harming your enemies cannot easily be disregarded in favour of Anchises' injunction to spare the
vanquished. The desire for vengeance and fulfilment of personal obligations cannot simply be neglected. Just
as with the poet's public and private voices there is the irresolvable, or at least unanswered, problem of
conflict, so there is a conflict between the old and new types of heroism.
4. Dido and Aeneas
Ever since antiquity, the story of Dido and Aeneas has been the most popular episode in the Aeneid. It is not
difficult to see why. The suffering of Dido and the resolution of Aeneas in the face of many attempts
at persuasion and slurs upon his character are brilliantly captured by the poet. In addition, the fact that it is told
from her, rather than his, point of view means that we are not explicitly aware of what Aeneas is feeling, with
the result that, at the same time as sympathising with Dido, we do not know where to lay the blame for her
suffering. Is it due to Aeneas' hard-heartedness, the decree of fate or the gods, or her own misreading of the
situation? As is usual with Virgil, there is no clear answer. We are left to decide for ourselves, and thus the
episode has provided much substance for debate and disagreement. One cannot read it without forming an
This lack of clarity over blame was familiar to the ancients, as it is a fundamental component of Greek tragedy
and it is Greek tragedy that the episode most closely resembles. Time and again, we are prompted by Virgil to
think in these terms. When she sees the Trojans preparing to depart, Dido is described as raging around the
city like a Bacchant (4.300-303), recalling Euripides' play the Bacchae. She sees herself in her dreams as
being like Pentheus, the tragic hero from the same play, or like Orestes escaping from the ghost of his mother
Clytemnestra and from the Furies, as in Aeschylus' Eumenides (4.469- 473). Interestingly, the latter
comparisons are explicitly to these characters on the stage, and not simply to the characters in the legends
and thus Virgil emphasises the comparison to tragedy as a literary form, rather than simply to its mythical
content. Finally, at the end of the book, just prior to her death, Dido asks herself why she did not tear Aeneas
limb from limb and scatter the pieces into the sea or else kill Ascanius and serve his flesh as food at his
father's table (4.600-602). Both proposed acts are lifted from Greek mythology (Medea's murder of her brother,
and Atreus' punishment of his brother Thyestes, respectively). The latter was the subject of no extant Greek
tragedy, but of three Roman tragedies - Ennius' Thyestes, Accius' Atreus and Varius' Thyestes. The former
points up the similarity between Dido and Medea, the great mythological and tragic paradigm for a woman
sent mad by the betrayal of her love. Indeed, the links between Dido and Medea are apparent throughout
Book 4, for example in her description and use of magic (4.474-499).
The structure of Book 4 also causes us to recall Greek tragedy. We find the verbal contests between two
characters ('agones'), as well as the reversal of fortune ('peripeteia') and recognition ('anagnorisis') that
Aristotle demanded in all good tragedy. The latter two are represented by the departure of Aeneas and Dido's
realisation of the position that she has sunk to as a result of her obsession. Her suicide is caused not so much
by (in her eyes) Aeneas' betrayal as by her own awareness of how easily she neglected the oath she had
made to Sychaeus, of how she has made herself look foolish in front of her people and her enemies, and of
how untenable her position as leader of the Carthaginians now is. When we first meet her she is a proud,
powerful, glorious queen, likened to Diana (1.498-504). By the time of her death, she has been humbled, a
victim of both cosmic and human forces, a broken women, yet still proud and noble enough to see that she
can no longer continue living without her former honour intact. In truth, a genuine tragic heroine.
If we pity Dido, what then are we to make of Aeneas' actions? We cannot fault him for leaving, since he is
ordered to do so by Jupiter and any refusal on his part would undercut his specifically Roman heroic quality his 'pietas' - and present him as little more than a self- interested charlatan. However, we must ask whether his
treatment of Dido after his visit from Mercury is that of a man struggling with his own emotions and deciding
that explaining exactly how he feels is counter-productive both to himself and the queen, or whether he makes
a cowardly decision to avoid an awkward encounter. It is a question that has divided critics for centuries. The
fact that Book 4 is written from Dido's point of view means that there is no clear insight into Aeneas' state of
mind. Virgil does not make it evident whether Aeneas felt any love for her. Yet there are some signs to suggest
that he did, a conclusion which would present him in a more heroic light since he would be subjugating
feelings similar to those of Dido to the necessity to follow the will of fate and the gods. His love for her seems
to be demonstrated in several places. Firstly, at 4.281, his desire to escape Carthage is expressed, but the
lands are described as 'dulcis'("pleasant"). Given the highly subjective style of Book 4, which tends, even in
the narrative, to take one into the mind of the person described, the 'terras' can only be 'dulcis' to Aeneas
because of Dido. Secondly, at 4.331- 2, Aeneas' reaction to Dido's first attack and appeal is described as
follows, 'obnixus curam sub corde premebat' (he struggled to hold down the pain in his heart). The use of the
word 'curam' is notable because it is used throughout the book to refer to the pain caused by love and
especially to Dido's pain. In addition, the use of the imperfect 'premebat' signifies continued action and,
together with 'obnixus', emphasises the ongoing struggle that Aeneas is enduring. Thirdly, at 4.447-9, having
been compared to an oak tree, buffeted on all sides by the winds, it is stated that 'magno persentit pectore
curas' (in his great heart, he felt the pain of love). Once more, therefore, we find Aeneas' feelings referred to as
'curas' and once more the struggle he is undergoing is stressed. Given this, and the fact that the rest of the
sentence refers to him, the ambiguous and controversial phrase 'lacrimae volvuntur inanes' (tears rolled down
but in vain, 4.449) can, in my view, also be assigned to him, another sign that he does feel some love towards
Dido. Finally, when he meets Dido in the Underworld, he sheds tears once more and 'dulcique adfatus amore
est' (addressed her with the voice of sweet love, 6.455). This would seem to provide more proof of his feelings.
If we read Book 4 in this way, we can see that, although Dido elicits more sympathy than Aeneas, we are not
to see him in a bad light. He may not explain himself to Dido fully, but he can see from her initial responses
that she will not accept any reason that he might give. He cannot express his true feelings, as that leaves
himself at their mercy and, furthermore, gives Dido false hope that he might be persuaded to stay. The most
important thing is his mission, rather than his own or Dido's feelings. This may make him appear cold or hardhearted, but it is in fact harder for him to fulfil it than to bow to his own or Dido's wishes. By writing Book 4 from
Dido's point of view, Virgil invites us to sympathise with her, but he does not suggest that this should denigrate
Aeneas in any way. Both are simply unfortunate to be caught in a grand cosmic design that precludes their
happiness (for what little we see of Lavinia suggests that she is far less of an ideal match for Aeneas than
Dido). We are left with Aeneas' plaintive cry ringing in our ears - 'Italiam non sponte sequor' ("I go to Italy not of
my own free will", 4.361).
5. The Gods
Virgil inherited the system of anthropomorphic gods that we find in the Aeneid from Homer. Yet, as with
everything that he inherited from Homer, he adapted it to suit his own purpose. As with the Iliad and the
Odyssey, the gods in the Aeneid provide divine causation to add to human causation on the mortal plane.
They can be used to explain what otherwise is inexplicable, to hurry the action along and generally to effect
what cannot be achieved on a human level. In addition, they provide a colourful and fantastic alternative to the
mortal world and an opportunity for the poet to utilise all his powers of imagery. At the same time, they offer a
constant reminder of the ultimate futility of much human action, since, even on a whim, they can destroy lives.
For example, the opposition of Juno to the Trojans, despite her knowledge that it is fated for Aeneas to found
the Roman race, results in the deaths of Dido, Turnus, Pallas, Amata, Lausus, Mezentius and many other
Trojans, Latins and Rutulians.
This example demonstrates another key aspect of both the Virgilian and Homeric gods, namely that they are
ruled by Fate in the same way that the mortals are. Juno may be able to postpone it, but she cannot alter it.
Even Jupiter, who proclaims to know the Fates when he prophesies to Venus in Book 1 (227-96), seems
confused by the events in Latium at the start of Book 10 (8) and eventually says that he will withdraw and let
the Fates find their own way (10.104-13).
Where the divine machinery of the Aeneid differs from its counterpart in Homer is in its essential idea that man,
gods and Fate are all working towards a common end, which is ultimately for the benefit of mankind. This
common end is the founding of the Roman race and the establishment of the process that will culminate in
Augustus' reign over the Roman Empire. The Fates have decreed as much, as Jupiter knows and expresses
in his prophecy and as all the other gods also learn. Aeneas having accepted, or having been forced to accept,
his divine mission attempts as best he can to bring it about, and when human frailty causes him to doubt, he is
aided by the gods, with the exception of Juno, such that he might continue and complete it. Such a view of the
interaction of the divine and mortal worlds is profoundly influenced by Roman Stoicism. Man endures all
adversity in order to bring about the will of Fate and the gods, while the latter reciprocate by guiding the
attempts of those capable of understanding the divine wishes. The eventual result is the increased civilisation
of the human race. This is an idea that underpins the Aeneid and it is no surprise that Aeneas, and, to an
extent, Augustus also, are continually compared to Hercules, the great Stoic civiliser.
6. Structure
The essential structure of the Aeneid can be seen in two ways. Firstly, it can be seen as distilling the
structures of the two Homeric epics into one poem. Thus we have the first six books which imitate the
Odyssey, in that they relate the tales of Aeneas' wanderings after the fall of Troy, replete with characters from
the Odyssey, such as the Cyclops and Scylla and Charybdis. The second six books then imitate the Iliad, in
that they relate the war in Latium, which echoes the Trojan War. Secondly, the Aeneid can be seen as divided
into three parts, the first of which (Books 1-4) details the tragedy of Dido, the second of which (Books 5-8)
relates to the final search for the promised land and Aeneas' time at the future site of Rome, and the third of
which (Books 9-12) describes the tragedy of Turnus.
There are also internal parallels between the two halves. Juno's anger is emphasised at the start of both Book
1 and Book 7; Book 2 sees Aeneas' final departure from Troy, while Book 8 sees his arrival at the future site of
Rome; the pathos of the death of Dido in Book 4 is echoed by the pathos of the death Pallas in Book 10; and
the disquieting end to the first half of the poem, where the death of Marcellus is foretold, is reprised by the
disquieting end to the whole Aeneid with the death of Turnus.
7. Language
The quality of Virgil's language has been praised since antiquity, even at times when the ethical, political and
aesthetic aspects of his work have been heavily criticised, for example during the Victorian period. Apart from
the beauty of the sound created by recitation of his hexameters, he was innovative in two areas.
Firstly, he used the difference between ictus and accent to aesthetic advantage more than any other Latin
poet. The ictus is the first metrical beat of each of the six feet of a hexameter line. The accent is the natural
stress that one puts on particular syllables when one recites or reads a line. Evidently, the ictus and accent
can occur on the same syllables in a line, or on different ones. If they are in harmony, then the line flows
naturally and peacefully; if they clash, then the effect can be unpleasant, awkward or simply difficult to say.
Virgil harnessed this fact to his advantage, such that the accord or clash of ictus and accent is often
representative of the sense of the line.
Secondly, he utilised the difference between line endings and sentence or sense endings more than any of his
predecessors. By not necessarily completing a sentence at the end of a line, he was able to produce greater
aesthetic variation in his poetry. Sentences could be as long or short as he wished, depending on what sense
they were intended to convey, while he was free to use devices such as enjambement to much greater effect
than anyone previously. Thus, we find that in Virgil the language used, its sound and its application, is
extremely important to the understanding of the meaning it carries.
Sample and Questions
1. Is Dido the only convincing female character in the Aeneid?
- Always question the question first:
What does 'convincing character' mean? that she is believably portrayed?
- Then consider whether Dido actually is a convincing character:
Does Virgil's decision to relate Book 4 from her point of view make her actions more understandable to us than
they would have been had he chosen not to? Do you believe that she is a 'real' person or just a literary
creation to explain Carthage's historical antipathy towards Rome and to show Aeneas' dedication to his
mission? Does the fact that she is so clearly representative of a Greek tragic heroine make her any less
- Then consider whether, if she is a convincing female character, she is the only one:
Can a division be made between the mortal and immortal female characters? Are the other mortal female
characters (Anna, Creusa, Lavinia, Amata, Camilla, Andromache etc.) only of use functionally within the poem
or do they have defined characters in their own right? If they do have defined characters, are they convincing?
What about the immortal female characters? Are Juno and Venus, specifically, convincing?
- You should by now have given a thorough answer to the question, touching on all the major female
characters, mortal and immortal, in the poem, but focussing particularly on Dido and making sure that you
have answered the question asked.
2. Is the Aeneid adequately described as 'the epic of Rome's imperial destiny'?
- What does 'the epic of Rome's imperial destiny' mean? Is it suggestive of propaganda on Virgil's part? What
was Virgil's aim in writing the Aeneid?
- Is it fair to describe the Aeneid as such?
Do Jupiter's prophecy in Book 1, the Pageant of Roman Heroes in Book 6 and the description of Aeneas'
shield in Book 8 constitute strong reasons for calling the poem 'the epic of Rome's imperial destiny'? Is Aeneas
a proto-Augustan character? Is the view we are presented of the future Roman race unequivocally optimistic?
Consider whether the harm done to individuals in the process of Aeneas fulfilling his mission could be said to
denigrate the future race before its city has even been founded, or whether their personal suffering is shown to
be an unfortunate corollary in the pursuit of Rome's greatness.
- Can the Aeneid be adequately described as such?
Even if the poem could be described as 'the epic of Rome's imperial destiny', does this description do it
justice? Are there are aspects to it that are overlooked by such a narrow statement? Could we ever hope to
sum up such a vast work with one phrase, or is the question simply asking us to say whether that is the best
phrase to attempt to do so, since it locates the fundamental truth of the poem?
Further Reading
Anderson, W.S., The Art of the Aeneid (New Jersey, 1969)
Brooks, O., Virgil: A Study in Civilized Poetry (Oxford, 1963)
Camps, W.A, An Introduction to Virgil's Aeneid (Cambridge, 1969)
Jackson Knight, W.F., Roman Virgil (London, 1944; second ed.1966)
Griffin, J., Virgil (Oxford, Past Masters series, 1986)
Putnam, M.C.J. The Poetry of the Aeneid (Harvard, 1965)
Quinn, K., Virgil's Aeneid; a Critical Description (London, 1968)
Sellar, W.Y., The Roman Poets of the Augustan Age: Virgil (Oxford, 1877)
Williams, R.D., Aeneas and the Roman Hero (Macmillan, 1973)