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Barron's Booknotes-The Aeneid by Virgil-Free Book Summary
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(II. 289-91)

Hector then tells Aeneas to take the household gods of Troy (small figures that symbolized the gods that protected a home), and to build a new city after a long sea voyage. Hector's speech is more than just a warning. This is the first time that Aeneas hears of his destiny to lead his people to a new city. Hector also tells Aeneas that he no longer has a soldier's duty to fight for his king, Priam, or his country. Why is this important? Aeneas might think it was cowardly to run away, but Hector is trying to tell him that it's the only sensible thing to do.

Aeneas jumps out of bed and sees that the Greeks are already swarming all over Troy and that most of the buildings are in flames. But Aeneas doesn't seem to have understood Hector's message very well. Instead of fleeing, he stays and fights, although even he realizes there's no hope. Why does he risk his life? One reason is that he simply gets carried away when he sees his city being destroyed. But there may be more to it. Sometimes it's easier to keep fighting for a lost cause than to admit defeat and start something completely new. As we'll see later on, Aeneas isn't very eager to start a new life somewhere else.

In the second part of Book II, Aeneas and his men struggle in vain to save Troy. The battle is fought at night, so the only light comes from the burning ruins of Troy. In this flickering light no one is sure who anyone is. The Trojans kill some Greeks and take their armor. Disguised like this, they score some victories-until their fellow Trojans, trying to defend the walls, also mistake them for Greeks and start to hurl weapons at their heads.

Finally, Aeneas manages to reach King Priam's castle. The battle for the ramparts rages here, and Aeneas sees the most horrible scene of all. A Greek warrior, Pyrrhus, who is "sleek as a serpent," murders Priam's son right before his father's eyes. Then he kills the old and feeble king on the altar dedicated to the gods. In this sad scene, we see the horror of uncontrolled rage and the total collapse of the old heroic ideals of fair play and respect for one's enemies. The serpents, like Pyrrhus, are winning this war.


Suddenly Aeneas spots Helen hiding. He's about to kill her, in revenge for the war she helped to cause, when Venus bursts upon the scene and stops him. She reminds him to take care of his family instead of seeking pointless revenge. Then she gives Aeneas a moment of divine vision, so that he can see that it's not only the Greeks who are destroying Troy. He sees that the gods, themselves, are smashing the walls. At last Aeneas understands that there's no point in fighting anymore, and he hurries off to find his family. Here we see that with Venus' help, Aeneas helps to save lives, instead of being purely destructive like Pyrrhus.

When Aeneas reaches his father's house, he runs into still another roadblock to leaving. His father, Anchises, won't budge. He's old and tired; he doesn't see the point in leaving. Just then a flame appears over the head of Aeneas' son, Iulus. Before they can recover from their surprise, a comet streaks across the sky. After these signs, even Anchises believes that the gods are with Aeneas and his son and that they have a special mission.

They leave. Aeneas carries his old father on his back and holds his little son by the hand. His wife, Creusa, follows. Aeneas has literally shouldered the burden of saving his family and their future. Somehow, in the dark and confusion, Creusa becomes separated from them. Aeneas is frantic and returns to the burning city trying to find her. Suddenly her ghost appears and tells him to stop looking. She explains that he has a great journey ahead and that he will find a happier land in the west. She also tells him that he will find a new wife of royal blood.

Aeneas is miserable with grief and reaches out for her shadow but it flits away. Why is Creusa left behind and why does she tell Aeneas to go on? Her death symbolizes the end of his old life in Troy. Aeneas must leave her and start a new life. An important theme in the Aeneid is that Aeneas must suffer many deep personal losses in order to fulfil his destiny. He doesn't accept those losses easily. He reaches out for Creusa three times, and three times she fades away, before he accepts the fact that she is dead.

Finally, he rejoins his father and son. They have been joined by a band of other Trojans who have escaped the city. Together they climb into the hills.


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