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Barron's Booknotes-The Aeneid by Virgil-Free Book Summary
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BOOK VIII

If you were Aeneas what would you do now? You might be tempted to jump in your boat and try somewhere else-some place a little less hostile. Aeneas is worried and paces by the riverbank. The odds are against him. Turnus has many more men than he does. But then Tiber, the god of the river, speaks to him and reassures him that the Trojans do belong in Latium, and that Ascanius will build a city there, in thirty years, and name it Alba Longa. Then the god tells Aeneas that if he follows the river upstream, he will come to a city named Pallanteum, where he will find allies.

The Trojans row all day and all night until they come to the city of Pallanteum. Its king is named Evander and his son, Pallas, is guarding the banks when they arrive because the people of Pallanteum have been warring against the Latins for a long time and fear invasion. But when Pallas discovers that Aeneas is a Trojan, he welcomes him and quickly brings him to meet his father. It turns out that Evander once was a friend of Anchises, so he's delighted to meet Anchises' son.

NOTE:

Evander came from Greece originally, so it seems surprising that he's willing to help the Trojans. Virgil may be saying that in this new alliance the old conflict between Troy and Greece will finally end. Why? One reason might be that the Romans of Virgil's time respected Greek culture and didn't want to think that the Greeks were their enemies. (In fact, they weren't by that time.)


On the day that the Trojans arrive, Pallanteum is the site of an annual festival in honor of Hercules. (Hercules, as you probably know already, was a great Greek hero with terrific strength.) Evander invites the Trojans to join the feast. While they eat, he tells Aeneas how the festival began. Cacus, a terrible creature who was half man and half monster, once terrorized the city. He used to murder men and leave their skins hanging outside his cave on a nearby mountain. Nobody could stop him. Then one day Hercules came by, driving his huge herd of bulls, and Cacus stole some animals and hid them in his cave. Hercules heard them lowing as he went by and became enraged at Cacus. Although Cacus escaped into his cave and sealed it with a huge boulder, Hercules managed to rip off the top of the mountain, exposing Cacus in his lair. Hercules jumped in and strangled him.

You're probably thinking, that's a nice story but what has it to do with Aeneas? Quite a bit. Cacus is another of those creatures that represent rage and disorder. Notice that Hercules gets rid of Cacus and restores peace and order to the city because he's intensely furious. That's part of what gives Hercules so much strength. But Hercules' anger seems justified and we feel no sympathy for horrible Cacus.

Thus, we see that sometimes rage (and war) can be right. If someone attacks you, do you have to keep your temper? Is it ever all right to kill that person? Later on you'll see that Aeneas becomes intensely furious at Turnus for all the bloodshed his anger has caused. You'll have to decide then whether you think Aeneas' anger-and what he does-are as justified as Hercules' was.

After the feast ends, Evander gives Aeneas a short tour of Pallanteum. Pallanteum was built on the very spot where Rome would rise many years later. But what a difference there is between the two cities! Virgil must have amused his fellow Romans by telling them that cows were grazing in the area that became the Roman forum, the "fashionable section" of the city. Then Evander brings Aeneas to a small log cabin where Hercules once slept. (Once again we are told to compare Hercules and Aeneas.) Aeneas settles down contentedly to sleep on a bed of leaves.

NOTE:

The emperor Augustus worried that the Romans would get "soft" and lazy because they were so rich and powerful. Have your parents ever told you that you have it easy compared with the way it was for them when they were young? For example, many Romans disapproved of Cleopatra and her luxurious Eastern court. (Dido's beautiful palace was probably modeled on Cleopatra's.) Virgil is showing us that Aeneas, who refused to stay in the luxurious splendor offered by Dido, knows how to rough it.

Meanwhile Venus, always the concerned mother, is worried about the upcoming war with Turnus. She goes to her husband, Vulcan, and sweetly wrapping her arms around him, asks him for a favor. She wants him to make weapons for Aeneas. (Vulcan has a forge underneath the earth where he and his workmen make weapons for the gods.) Vulcan tells Venus that he'd do anything for her; all she has to do is ask. He tells his workmen to drop whatever they're doing and start making some fantastic weapons for Aeneas.

Aeneas and Evander both awaken early the next morning and talk about the war. Evander promises Aeneas all the help he can give, but that isn't much because Pallanteum is poor and small. However, he does tell Aeneas about some other people who are sure to help him. The Etruscans (one of the first civilizations in Italy) are trying to overthrow a terrible tyrant, Mezentius, who is allied with Turnus. However, the prophets have told the Etruscans that they won't succeed unless they have a foreign leader. This sounds like it might be Aeneas!

The old king gives Aeneas 400 of his best men and horses and even sends along his son Pallas, so that Pallas can learn from Aeneas how to be a soldier. As he watches them ride away, he prays that he may live if Pallas lives but that he would rather die than hear that his son has been killed.

That night while the Trojans are camped near the Etruscans, Venus comes to Aeneas with the weapons Vulcan has made. Aeneas picks them up and turns them over carefully. They're so magnificent that he can't believe his eyes. There is a helmet decorated with plumes and flame, a sword and breast-plate made of bronze, and a strong spear. But the best creation of all is a giant shield. Here Vulcan has carved the story of all the great battles and warriors in Rome's future. In the very center are scenes from the Battle of Actium, where Augustus defeated Antony and Cleopatra and ended the civil wars that had plagued Rome. There is even a picture of Augustus marching triumphantly into Rome.

All this Aeneas Sees on his mother's gift, the shield of Vulcan, And, without understanding, is proud and happy As he lifts to his shoulder all that fortune, The fame and glory of his children's children.


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