Aeneid Summary

Virgil

Aeneid

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Aeneid Summary

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Virgil’s Aeneid is a work of poetry that tells the story of Aeneas and the Trojans. The story begins in Book One, seven years after the Trojan War. After the Greeks sack the city, the Trojans leave and make way to Italy. There, they run afoul of Juno, the Roman goddess queen. She happens to consider the Trojans her enemies, and so she makes Aeolus, god of the wind, steer their ship off-course from Italy with a storm. Aeneas and the Trojans land on the coast of North Africa.

On Mount Olympus, the home of the gods, Aeneas’ mother Venus, goddess of love and fertility, goes begging. She asks Jupiter, god of the sky and king of the gods, to intercept on Aeneas’ behalf. He agrees–and goes a step further, promising the Trojans a golden empire. Venus travels under disguise to meet Aeneas. She sends him to Carthage, where he finds other Trojans who were separated in the storm cooked up by Aeolus. Aeneas and Queen Dido meet, and Juno and Venus each separately scheme to have the pair fall in love.

In Book Two, Virgil begins with a banquet thrown for Aeneas. Dido asks him to tell the story of the Trojan’s last night in Troy, and so he recounts the tale of the Trojan Horse, which carried Greek soldiers into Troy under the disguise of a gift of peace. The Greeks then attacked from within, and won the ten-year Trojan War. Aeneas shares how the ghost of his cousin Hector, who was a prince of Troy and leader of its army, came to him and told him to flee the city, and how his wife, Creusa, died in their flight from the ravaged city.

In Book Three, Aeneas tells Dido and the other guests at the banquet how he and his father, Anchises, led the Trojans away from Troy and toward Italy, following the promise of their future empire. Anchises perishes, and Aeneas and his young child are left to lead the Trojans to their fate. Thus concludes the first quarter of Virgil’s Aeneid.

Book Four begins with the conclusion of Aeneas’ tale. Venus has made Dido fall in love with him, forsaking her city and its needs. Juno and Venus ensure that Dido and Aeneas are together, but Jupiter sends Mercury, the messenger god, to Aeneas to remind him of his destiny to lead the Trojans to Italy. Aeneas tells Dido he must leave. She kills herself as he and the Trojans sail away from Carthage, inciting her people to war with the Trojans.

Book Five finally brings Aeneas and the Trojans to Sicily. They hold games to celebrate, but their fun is short-lived. Juno, upset that the Trojans are getting closer to their goal, disguises herself and leads the Trojan women in burning the group’s ships. Jupiter steps in to extinguish the flames, but not before four of the ships are burnt beyond repair. Aeneas contemplates giving up, until his father’s ghost tells him not to. Some of the Trojans stay behind, and some continue onward with Aeneas in the remaining ships.

Aeneas and the Trojans finally reach Italy in Book Six. Aeneas then goes into the Underworld to meet his father’s spirit, guided by the Sibyl of Cumaea, a priestess of Apollo. He also meets with other ghosts, including Dido, which leaves him feeling sorrowful. While in the Underworld, he learns that most spirits, save the very good and the very wicked, are reincarnated. Aeneas meets the spirits who will be reincarnated into great leaders of the Roman Republic and Empire.

At the start of Book Seven, the Trojans are welcomed by King Latinus to Italy, who promises that Aeneas can marry his daughter, Lavinia. He has heard of the prophesy that the Trojans will intermarry with his people to create an empire. All seem pleased, except for Juno. Despite this book’s peaceful beginning, it launches the second half of the Aeneid, which is all about war.

Juno convinces the Latin Queen that Lavinia should marry someone else – Turnus, who rules another local group called the Rutuli. Aeneas teams up with the Tuscans, led by King Evander of Arcadia. In Book Nine, the Trojans are attacked, but Aeneas arrives with these allies in time to defend the Trojan camp. During the ensuing battle, many die on both sides, including the Queen of Latium, who kills herself. Ultimately, Aeneas and Turnus face off one to one, with Aeneas as the victor. He intends initially to spare Turnus’ life, but when he discovers that Turnus is wearing the belt of Aeneas’ friend who was slain, he claims Turnus’ life, thus ending the war.

Virgil’s full name was Publius Virgilius Maro, and he was born in the year 70 BCE. It was during his life that Rome transitioned from a republic to an empire under the rule of, first, Julius Caesar, and then his nephew, Augustus (Octavian) Caesar.