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

The dead, both Trojan and Italian, are scattered all over the fields. The women wail over the bodies of their husbands and sons. Everywhere smoke rises from the funeral pyres. In Book X, we saw the violence and sometimes the glory of war. In Book XI, Virgil shows the terrible sorrow and waste war leaves behind.

The Latin people are beginning to doubt that this war is a very good idea after all. They send a delegation to Aeneas to ask for a truce so that they can bury their dead. Aeneas is happy to grant it. He never wanted to fight in the first place, but Turnus insisted. Aeneas proposes a solution-he and Turnus should fight alone. The Trojans will either stay or leave, depending on who wins.

Aeneas is a wise and sensible leader here. He doesn't want more innocent people to suffer. He is trying to restore order, but that won't be easy to accomplish.

Meanwhile a funeral procession returns Pallas' body to Evander, who rushes from his house, wild with grief. He protests that the gods have not granted his wish to die before his son. Now he must live with this terrible sorrow. But he gives the Trojans a message for Aeneas: although Evander will never be happy again, he will be satisfied when he hears that Turnus has been killed for slaying Pallas.


Latinus holds a meeting of his leading citizens to discuss Aeneas' proposal. As they are debating, word comes that one of their last hopes, help from a Greek named Diomede, has fallen through. Diomede says that he no longer has a reason to fight the Trojans and besides, Aeneas is too great to fight. Therefore, Latinus would like to make peace. The kingdom is large enough to give a part to the Trojans. A senator named Drances, also in favor of peace, supports Latinus' plan. But Drances is also terribly jealous of the strong and brave Turnus. So, as he speaks he taunts Turnus, suggesting that he is not brave enough to face Aeneas alone. Knowing Turnus, you can imagine that he won't accept Drances' speech. He starts to rant and rave. Drances is a good talker, he says, but when it comes to fighting, he's hiding out in the senate house. Then he goes on to appeal to the other Latin leaders. Don't give up so easily! The Latins are on the edge of winning! All they need to do is try again!

Turnus gets his wish for more fighting because at that moment the news arrives that the Trojans are approaching the city. The people panic. Turnus jumps into his armor and charges off. Virgil compares him to a stallion who has just broken its tether and dashes from the stable, rushing to the pastures or splashing in the river in sheer joy. The stallion is beautiful and free, full of energy. There is something wonderful about Turnus, his strength, his confidence. But there's another side to this image. The stallion doesn't know what it's doing or why. It just bolts for freedom. It has no judgment. A good leader should have more sense.

NOTE:

Many readers have complained that Aeneas is a rather dull character. He means well, and he's courageous, but he's not very exciting. Remember how he behaved with Dido? He couldn't even argue with her. He just said he had to do what the gods told him to do. Can you see Turnus acting like that?

But Virgil is trying to tell us something about the qualities that make up a good leader. They're not necessarily show-stoppers. In addition to strength and bravery, a good leader must have sound judgment, be moderate and calm, and have respect for the gods and for his fellow man.

You might be interested to know that Augustus had a reputation for being cold and aloof. Perhaps Virgil's description of Aeneas is a defense of Augustus.

The warrior maiden, Camilla, offers to help Turnus. She will lead the cavalry while Turnus hides in a narrow pass, waiting to ambush Aeneas. Camilla performs brilliantly for a while but then makes a mistake we've seen before. While she's craving the gorgeous armor of a Trojan warrior, another Trojan sneaks up behind her and shoots her with his arrow. (Because Camilla is sacred to the goddess Diana, the poor Trojan also has to die.)

Without Camilla, the Italian cavalry is routed by the Trojans, who rush to attack the Latin city. As the Trojans pour through the gates and over the walls, even the women and children try desperately to fight them off. Do you see how the roles have reversed since the fall of Troy? Now the Trojans are doing to the Latins what the Greeks did to Troy.

Turnus, hearing the screaming and seeing the smoke from the burning city, rushes from his hiding spot to return to the city to help. But here he makes a terrible mistake. If he had only waited a few minutes more, Aeneas would have come through the pass and Turnus could have killed him.


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