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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
BOOK FIRST - The coming of Aeneas to Carthage
The poet’s song is about battles and Aeneas the wanderer from Troy with ten ships seeking to establish a city in Latium (Italy). But Juno, who dearly loved rich and warlike Carthage, had heard, that the race of men of Trojan blood, would one day destroy her fortress on the African coast. So, she plans to prevent Aeneas’ ships, which have set out from Sicily, from reaching Italy. She requests Aeolus, the god of winds and storms to upset the calm sea. Aeolus obliges and Aeneas and his ships are damaged. There is wreckage and confusion till Neptune intervenes, to calm the storm and the brine soaked ships and men thrown off course steer towards Libya.
As soon as, they land there Aeneas surveys the land and provides provision, to the seven ships that have come ashore, bewailing the loss of his companions in the three lost ships. Meanwhile Venus, his divine mother asks Jupiter, whether his decree that the Trojans establish a city on Italy has been reversed. Jupiter assures her of the glorious destiny awaiting Aeneas, as well as, his son Ascanius/Iülus, once they settle in Italy after long battles. He tells her, of the great descendants of the Trojans including Julius Caesar, who will one day subjugate the Greeks and have a boundless empire ruled from the city founded by Aeneas. He sends, his son, Mercury down to Carthage to ensure that Dido, the queen, welcomes the Trojans with kindness.
Venus, then disguised as a Tyrian maiden, approaches Aeneas and informs him, that he is on Punic territory where the Tyrians/Phoenicians have settled taking refuge. Dido, was driven out by her brother, from the kingdom of Tyre after the murder of her beloved husband, Sychaeus. All those, who followed her brought great wealth and Dido had begun building, the citadel of New Carthage. Venus, then encourages him to proceed to meet Dido and tells him, his lost companions have been restored. She directs him and his friend, the trusty Achates, to go forth in a cloud of invisibility. They reach a grove, where a shrine to Juno is built on the spot of the first Phoenician landing in Africa. Here, artists have illustrated scenes from the Trojan war which delights the Trojans and while, they are reveling in the past glories Dido, enters to supervise and encourage the craftsmen, who are building her city. Here she receives the petition of Ilioneus Sergestus, Anthers, Cloanthus and the other supposedly lost Trojans. They ask for refuge while they rebuild their ships, in order to proceed to Italy, which Greeks call Hesperia.
She grants them asylum and even offers them refuge to settle in Carthage and offers to send messengers to seek out Aeneas. At this point, Aeneas appears in great splendour before them. She welcomes him, into her royal house and sends for all his crew. Aeneas, in turn, sends Achates, to bring gifts for Dido. However, at this point Venus wanting to ensure Aeneas’ safety in the house of Juno’s greatest devotee asks Cupid to inspire Dido, with a strong passion, for Aeneas. Dido, in an attempt to keep Aeneas with her as long as possible urges him, to tell them the whole story of the fall of Troy.
In imitating Homer’s heroic style, Virgil starts with the statement of his theme or what is called “the argument.” The startling departure, from Homer, is, that the Latin poet claims to be the original singer and not the mere medium into whom the gods breathe-inspire-the poetry. Moreover, after invoking the muse and putting forth the epic questions, he proceeds to explain why Juno is so furiously against the Trojans reaching Italy. The explanation, is a prophecy that her beloved Carthage, which she would raise above all nations, would be vanquished by a race of Trojan blood settled in Italy.
This is a, historical reference to Hannibal’s rise to power, as a Carthagian general who captured Spain in 221 BC and then marched through the Alps to invade Italy in 217 BC. But, he never could attack Rome. Virgil, has thus, used the history of a former century, to provide the initial justification of Juno’s hatred of the Trojans. Traditionally, in Greek mythology Juno and Hera, the daughter of Saturn and the sister and consort of Jupiter or Zeus, was one of the three goddesses who laid claim to the apple (of discord) inscribed “for the fairest.” Paris, the son of the Trojan King Priam, was asked to judge who was the fairest from among Juno, Venus and Pallas Athena. Paris chose Venus and earned the enmity of the other two. Juno’s offer to Aeolus of fourteen nymphs and Deiopea as his bride is typical of the kind of bribes or compensations of, both the Bronze Age and the Romans. Women, were a part of one’s property to be dealt out in payment. But, the point here is, that Virgil was perhaps thinking of the compensation, Paris received from Venus for voting her, the fairest. His bribe, Helen, the most beautiful woman, in the world, caused his own death and the downfall of Priam’s kingdom. A very minor reference to Ganymede suggests Juno’s jealousy of Jove’s favored selection of the beautiful Trojan youth, as his cupbearer on Olympos.
Aeneas’ lament, that he ought to have perished in the war against Troy, than at sea is doubly significant. For the heroic age it was necessary to die in action killed by a great hero like Diomedes (‘son of Tydeus’) or Achilles who had even killed Jove’s own son Sarpedon. Moreover, the pagan attachment to the land is evident when Aeneas refers to Simois, one of the important rivers of Troy and above all it was important to die receiving full funeral rites or ‘sepulcher’, as later references also reveal. Aeneas’ helmsman, who perishes at sea in Book fifth, begs Aeneas when he encounters him in the underworld, to perform his last rites, so that he can cross the river Styx and reach the fields of Elysium.
Neptune’s role in The Aeneid, is friendly towards the Trojans. Their ships stuck, in the rock by the storm, he makes his sons push off, and helps push them on their course with his trident, making way for them on the sea, calming the storm. The epic simile used for the tranquilizing control, effected by Neptune on the stormy elements, has quite a different setting. He, compares the thunder of the ocean, to a strife in a throng of people, a typical scene among the rabble in Rome, especially in the turbulent days of Julius Caesar and the civil war, which followed his death. Here Neptune’s influence, is compared to, that of a good and worthy leader, whose presence is very important to control wild rampaging mobs. Such an epic simile serves, to help Virgil’s contemporaries to link their own experiences with that of the narrative of long ago. It reflects, the longing of the Roman’s for worthy leaders, to calm their lives.
The qualities of Aeneas, as a great leader are already etched out in this very first book. He goes up, to survey the strange land on which they have come ashore, alone with his companion “trusty Achates” and he provides enough food for all his men. Moreover, the human touch is added when, he tries to boost the spirits of the shipwrecked Trojans, while he is “sick with deep distress”, which he must never reveal before his men.
An epic moves along its course of action through, prophecies and omens. Jove’s decree, that a great empire will be founded by Aeneas and his son eliminates the suspense from the epic regarding, the outcome of the action. The reader, gets caught up in anticipation of the kind of obstacle Juno will hurl next and how it will be overcome. This also permits the reader, to look out for dramatic irony and other literary aspects of the work. This early prophecy also has Venus alluding to Antenor, another Trojan reputedly the wisest, who proceeded to settle in Italy and founded the town of Padua, which prompts Jove to assure her, that a higher destiny awaits her son.
Venus has two other roles to play before the end of the first book. From a supplicant to Jove she now becomes, a guide to Aeneas filling him on details about Dido’s background and past. Dido is referred to as a Phoenician, an enterprising trading race of “red faced” people. They controlled the ports of Sidon and Tyre (in modern Lebanon) but founded colonies in Africa specially in Libya. Venus’s other role to ensure the safety of her son is a trick to make Dido fall in love with Aeneas. Here, she uses Cupid her son the god of love. However, since Aeneas appears so divinely beautiful and Dido herself is most charming, intelligent and attractive, an instant physical attraction between the two, would not be incredible. But Virgil’s aim is, to ultimately hold the gods responsible for human action, supernatural elements and magic blend with realism, as Ascanius is put to sleep and Cupid takes his place on Dido’s lap to fire her, with a passion.
Dido, herself is the epitome of a successful woman, who would be the envy of any present day feminist. Virgil, acknowledges her entrepreneurship and leadership qualities, as she goes around the city supervising the building work. She has stirred the workmen into a hive of activity, the envy of a modern foreman. Virgil has most appropriately utilized an epic simile of the beehive here and honey making, an activity linked to sweetness and plenty suggests, the quality of life in Carthage. There is an appreciation of art and heroic history revealed in the wall paintings telling the story of Troy. This representation of what Aeneas has lived through serves as a general recapitulation of the Trojan war and anticipates, Aeneas’ own part in it, to be told in the next book. Besides, a Roman audience/reader would at once recognize that Dido was doing at Carthage what Augustus had set about to do for Rome, once peace was established.
An interesting parallel is established throughout the first book between the situation of Dido and Aeneas. Both have been driven out of their native lands and both are guided by divine powers, to establish cities in foreign parts. There is special mention of the ghost of Dido’s husband Sychoeus, which will find its repetitive echo in the ghost of Aeneas’ greatly beloved wife Creüsa in Book second and both the ghosts advise departure from the country. Then Dido buys the ground but not without ascertaining the guiding goddess Juno’s omen: a ‘token’ which is the head of a war-horse. Similarly Aeneas will be guided by the sign of a milk white sow with piglings to ascertain the place where his kingdom is to be built.
Virgil uses various other names for Dido’s nationality and race: Phoenician, Tyrian, Sidonian. For the Trojans he uses Teucrians, Phcygians, Dardanians. The Greeks are referred to as Grecians, Achaeans. Italy is also Hesperia and Italians may be Latiniaus Laurentine, Rutulian, Ausonians.