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Barron's Booknotes-The Aeneid by Virgil-Free Book Summary
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(XII. 930-37)

Aeneas pauses for a moment, almost moved to spare Turnus. But then he sees that Turnus is wearing the belt he stole from Pallas and he plunges his sword through Turnus.

How do you feel about Aeneas now? The last thing you see him do is kill a defenseless man. It's hard not to feel terribly sorry for Turnus. It takes courage to admit you were wrong. And it's not so clear that Turnus was entirely to blame for everything that happened. Has Aeneas just been infected with the uncontrollable rage that has caused him so much trouble all through the Aeneid? Some readers think so, and they think that Virgil's final judgment on the Roman Empire was a very dark one: that its success was rooted in this kind of violence.


But we can look at this another way. Aeneas does pity Turnus in that last moment before he strikes. But when he sees Pallas' belt, he remembers all the needless bloodshed that Turnus' madness has caused. How does he know that if he lets Turnus live that Turnus will really change his ways? Maybe Turnus only says what he does in the hope that Aeneas will spare his life. In the end, Aeneas chooses order and the safety of his country over his feeling for another, and in many ways great, man.

Virgil wrote the Aeneid at the end of the Roman civil wars. Augustus killed many of his rivals in order to restore order. Was Augustus right? Was Aeneas right? Virgil's sad and troubling ending leaves the decision up to you.


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