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

Everything you've been reading and thinking about comes together in Book XII, which contains the climax of the Aeneid. All the major themes are found here: fate and the gods, the effect of uncontrolled anger, the kind of person Aeneas is, the kind of nation Rome will be.

Do you think it's ever right to kill someone? If you're a pacifist, you don't think it's ever right and you've probably been rather disturbed by all the violence needed to found Rome. On the other hand, you may think that there are some situations where it is right to kill someone. How do you feel about capital punishment? If someone murders innocent people, should that person be put to death? What if the murderer is insane? Does that make any difference?

And what about war? When is a war justified? Most people feel that there is something basically different between killing someone for your own private reasons, and fighting for your country. But what makes it different? What is the relationship between a person's responsibility to his country and his responsibility to his fellow man?

These are the difficult questions that Virgil raised in Book XII for his Roman audience-and for you-to think about. Your personal reaction to the final terrible struggle between Aeneas and Turnus will help you decide what you think is right.


When Turnus realizes that his troops are beaten, he finally accepts the fact that he must battle Aeneas directly. He tells Latinus to go ahead with the plan for a truce between the two armies so that the two leaders can battle it out alone.

Both Latinus and his wife, Amata, beg Turnus to give up the fight. Amata becomes hysterical, saying that she'll kill herself if Turnus dies and her daughter must marry Aeneas. (Allecto's poison is still at work in Amata.) But their pleas only make Turnus more furious. As you can see, Turnus is now completely alone in his rage for battle. Virgil compares Turnus to a raging lion who has been wounded but who fights all the harder because it's a lost cause. There's no point to the battle, but Turnus has never known when to stop.

The truce is arranged, and the Italians gather on one side of a huge field and the Trojans on the other to watch the final battle between their great leaders. An altar is built, and sacrifices to the gods are made ready to honor the winner. Aeneas prays to the gods (including Juno) and swears that if he loses, the Trojans will leave Italy forever. He also promises that if he wins, he will treat the Italians as equals of the Trojans. He does not want to conquer the Italians, he wants peace on equal terms.

We see here what a good and just leader Aeneas has become. Even after all this bloodshed, he is not angry and does not want revenge. (You might think back to Anchises' prediction in Book VI that the Romans' great skill will be the art of ruling.)

But Juno still has a hard time accepting fate. Although Jupiter has forbidden the gods to interfere anymore, Juno invents a way to get around his rule. Turnus' sister is a nymph named Juturna. Juno goes to her and asks her to help Turnus.

Juturna, disguising herself as one of the Italians, goes among the crowd, whispering that it isn't fair that Turnus should have to fight this one out all by himself. The Italians are already uneasy; it looks like Aeneas might win. One of them hurls his spear into the Trojan ranks. The Trojans go wild and bedlam breaks out. Spears and arrows fly from all sides. Aeneas tries to stop the fighting, crying out that the battle is for him alone, but no one listens. Then a flying arrow wounds him in the leg.

Turnus, seeing Aeneas being carried off the field, is delighted. Now the Italians have another chance to fight for victory. He jumps into his chariot and races across the field, spearing Trojans wherever he sees them and hanging their heads from his chariot as trophies.

Do you see the difference between Turnus and Aeneas? Aeneas tries to control the crowd. He wants an orderly battle between Turnus and himself. This will cost the least loss of life. But Turnus is always eager for war, and instead of trying to calm his troops and honor the truce, he leads them into a new battle. His actions create more disorder.


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