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Free MonkeyNotes Book Notes-The Aeneid by Virgil-Free Online Summary
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BOOK SECOND - The story of the Sack of Troy


Aeneas at Dido’s urging relates the last events, which brought about the downfall of Troy. The Greeks, after futile years of besieging Troy finally build a huge wooden horse, which they claim, is their compensation to Minerva or Athene, whose Palladuim, Ulysses and Diomedes had defiled. Then, they burn their camps and pretend to sail homewards, but, in fact hide at Tenedos, an island off the coast of Anatolia. The Trojans, examine the horse. Some suggest, it should be taken to the shrine of Pallas Athene, others, wiser, suggest, it should be destroyed. Suddenly, the priest Laocoon comes down from the fortress and warns the Trojans, against credulously accepting the Greek departure, as final. He suggests, the horse is a trap and jabs its side with his spear. This may have veered the crowd to destroy it, when a Greek prisoner is brought in by some shepherds. He is the double agent Sinon, purposely planted by the Greeks to deceive the Trojans into admitting the horse, into their citadel.

Sinon, tells a woeful story of Ulysses’ desire, to destroy him because of his kinship with Palamedes, whose death Sinon wishes to avenge. Using the priest Calchas, as the soothsayer, Ulysses gets him to name Sinon as the Greek, who should be sacrificed for favorable winds, to sail home. But Sinon escapes. Moved by Sinon’s story, the king sets him free. Then he is asked, to explain the significance of the horse. Sinon says, it was built to be offered, at the Palladium, which is Athene’s most important shrine and which the Greeks had violated. Sinon warns the Greeks, that any damage to the horse would destroy the Trojans, whereas leading it to the goddess would ensure Trojan security and invincibility.

As if to confirm Sinon’s story, two huge serpents swim across the sea from Tenedos and move towards Neptune’s altar, where Laocoon was officiating. They attack his two children and when he goes with a weapon to rescue them, they coil around him and his children, poisoning them. They then proceed to Athene’s shrine on the hilltop and coil around her shield. The crowd is convinced that the horse is sacred and Laocoon is punished for his sacrilege. They break down the walls of their citadel, to let the wooden horse in, and feasting and celebrations follow till, all are exhausted.

Then from Tenedos, the Greeks sail into Troy and at a signal of their landing, Sinon creeps out and unlocks the belly of the wooden horse, which was filled with Greek warriors. Immediately they attack sleeping Troy. Aeneas is awakened by a dream, of the mauled bleeding Hector, who warns him that Troy is lost. Aeneas alone is its hope, not in fighting, but in fleeing with the ‘holy things and household god’ to seek another city after great wandering. Then waking up and going to the roof, Aeneas sees Troy burning and hears the tumult of agony.

Aeneas arms himself and gathers a group, to plunge into the fighting, when Panthus the priest of Phoebus (Apollo) comes towards him with the sacred vessels and conquered gods. He foretells, doom as thousands of men have poured out of the horse and are burning the city and killing everyone. Aeneas arouses the great warriors to die fighting and there is great slaughter on both sides. In an attempt to disguise themselves in Greek arms, some men cause greater confusion and Trojans kill Trojans. Then, they rush to Priam’s house and Aeneas describes the horrible destruction Priam and his sons face at the hands of Pyrrhus and others of Achilles’ retinue.

Now Aeneas remembers his own family and seeing Helen, hiding at the hearth, he is about to kill her, when Venus stops him. She tells him, Helen and Paris are not to blame for Troy’s destruction. The gods have willed it especially Neptune, Juno and Pallas with Jupiter’s support. So Aeneas must stop fighting and go home, where he is needed.

When he reaches home, his father refuses to join him in exile, until a flame shoots out from little Iülus’s head, which Anchises sees, as an omen and calls on Jupiter for confirmation. Thunder is heard and a star falls on earth and Anchises agrees, to be led away. Aeneas makes him take up the household gods and sacred things and climb on to his shoulder. Iülus must walk beside them and Creusa follows along with others of the household, in order to, assemble at a particular mound of Ceres. Just as they were reaching the gates of the city, Anchises sees troops approaching. So Aeneas has to turn and in the confusion that follows, he loses sight of his wife. When they reach the mound of Ceres, Aeneas sets down Anchises and Iülus, and goes back to the city, to look for Creusa, amidst the ruins. He sees the Greeks, collecting the loot and lining up the slaves and he runs in the streets, calling for Creusa when her apparition appears and tells him she is dead and he must wander far away to Hesperia, where the Tiber flows and he will win a kingdom and a new wife. After this he returns to the shrine of Ceres, where more people have gathered and they leave for the mountains.


Troy fell in the tenth year of the siege, by the Greeks. Many of its warriors, Hector, Sarpedon, Paris were killed in battles, spread over these years. However, it was not through superiority of arms that the Greeks won. It was through, a ruse attributed to the cunning Ulysses. It is symbolically significant, that Minerva or Pallas, the goddess of intelligence and wisdom, stolen by the Greeks from her highest shrine in Troy, led to the downfall of Troy. Minerva implanted the scheme in Ulysses’ head, which led the Greeks to device the wooden horse, and to send Sinon, as the double agent to infiltrate enemy lines. Laocoon, one of Priam’s fifty children, warns the Trojans of treachery. He, is the priest of Apollo. When he builds an altar to Neptune the master of deceit, it is inevitable, that Laocoon should have an intuition of Greek deceit. But, Minerva or wisdom having deserted the Trojans, Laocoon is attacked by snakes, his intuition discredited and Sinon the agent planted by the Greeks is considered trustworthy. Sinon refers to Palemides, who was a Greek warrior and hero in the Trojan war. But, he incurred the enmity of Ulysses, who by a trick had him condemned and killed, as a traitor. The irony of the whole situation is subtly unfolded and underlines the traditional belief that the Trojans lost the war, due to their loss of wisdom (Pallas).

Of the three supernatural guiding forces reaching Aeneas in his last few hours in Troy, Hector appearing first has special meaning. Hector was the greatest and most respected Trojan warrior, his approaching Aeneas means, that now the mantle to lead Troy falls on Aeneas. In Homer’s Iliad, Hector emerges as courteous, well balanced, thoughtful and above all, the preserver of traditional formalities-a man of principles and religious observance (see Iliad Book VI). Hector accepts, that his fate is to fight the Greeks rather than to save himself. Aeneas as the true leader also shows all these qualities. Hector is the first to ask Aeneas, not to fight, but to salvage whatever he can of Trojan religion and civilization. That is why, Hector comes with the chaplets and holy fire of Vesta. Aeneas’ first duty then, is to find a sanctuary for his household gods and the Trojan way of life. Panthus, priest of Phoebus confirms this, when he hands over the sacred vessels to Aeneas.

While Venus’s guidance is for immediate purposes, Creusa, is the first to point to the place he must go to-Hesperia the Greek name for Italy, where the Tiber flows (west coast). She also predicts his marriage. In a few strokes, Virgil has presented an insight into Aeneas’ marital life. They love each other dearly and he tries hard to find her despite great danger. She has been proud to be married into the family of Anchises and Venus and she is herself Priam’s daughter. So, it is inevitable that, she is anxious to die, rather than become a concubine or servant to a Greek. This last fear, was that Hector never wanted to live to see as he tells Andromache in their farewell in the Iliad scene. Aeneas had also expressed this view of preferring death, when Anchises had refused exile. Creusa’s generosity and maternal instinct, are both revealed in her last words. She wants Aeneas, to succeed in getting a kingdom through another wife, but she enjoins him to love Iülus. Aeneas has this latter thought uppermost throughout his life: paternal duty.

Aeneas, himself is revealed here, as a man of ordinary passions, rather than a man burdened by destiny, which he is to be, as he sets out on his journey. The excitement of battle, the heroic ideal of fighting to the last in a hopeless cause, shows him as a typical young warrior. It is his last spark of youth, which goes out with the destruction of Troy and his first marriage. His pleas and the edgy impatience he reveals at Anchises’ stubbornness never appears again, in the course of their relationship. In typical Roman fashion Virgil seems to show how a carefree boy or soldier, must become sober and stoic, once the responsibility of the destiny of his people falls on him. This perhaps is also Virgil’s way of alluding, to the character of Augustus Caesar, while he was Octavian, the soldier.

The three epic similes in Book Second, need comment for their very diversity. Aeneas on the sloping roof of his house, hears the noises and clash of armors and becomes aware of the attack on Troy. Here, the comparison is of Aeneas, with a shepherd, hearing the cackling of the burning of a cornfield. This unexpectedly pastoral simile invokes first the plentiful life of Troy, (“smiling crops”) built through hard work (“labors of oxen”) being brutally consumed by a flame in complicity with furious south winds or a flash flood, from a mountain stream. Ironically, both fire and water, can be destructive in the same way. The reference to the shepherd points ahead symbolically to the fact that, Aeneas will literally have to shepherd the remnants of Trojans and settle among rural folk. So this simile functions, both as an image of Troy in prosperity, then being destroyed and looks ahead, to Aeneas’ anticipated role.

The simile, of the little band of Trojan warriors sure of defeat, seeking malicious revenge, is a revelation of human passions carrying the best off without thought or wisdom. Aeneas compares their attempt at attack/defence to that of wolves. In the pagan Roman context unlike the Christian one, the twins who founded Rome, Romulus and Remus, were reared by a she-wolf. However, “mad malice”, “driven blindly forth”, “black fog” are suggestive of pejorative associations. Here, subtly Virgil reveals Aeneas’ power of self-criticism. He is the humblest of epic heroes and here is proof of another kind of strength, acknowledging his thoughtlessness, when it could easily be passed off as heroism. But, the neglect of the cubs is crucial. This is Virgil’s plea to the rulers, to desist from supporting lost causes, which had ruined Rome and Roman life because of futile military campaigns. The image of the wolf, will recur later in connection with Turnus (Book IX). The confusion of the battle lines due to the Trojans disguised as Greeks uses, a more conventional epic simile of the winds coming in from all directions, causing havoc. However, even here Virgil’s ingenuity cannot be overlooked. Cassandra is being rescued by her suitor Coroebus along with Aeneas’s group. Now Priam’s daughter Cassandra, is the prophetess who did not allow Apollo’s advances, so that the thwarted god decreed that her prophecies would be ignored. She had actively warned the Trojans against the Greeks, but the result was always confusion in their interpretation of her prophecies. So, at this juncture the simile is very appropriate.

Book second, then is a recapitulation of why Aeneas has left Troy and what was at stake, in preserving the Trojan race. In Book one, Jove had already consoled Venus, that the Trojans would found a race of rulers, who would be masters to the world. Hector in Book second, indicates the first step in that direction, as revealed to Aeneas: “Troy entrusts thee with her holy things and household gods’ speaks Hector and carries forth in his hands, from their inner shrine the chaplets and might of Vesta, and the everlasting fire.” Hector through religious symbols and the allusion to Vesta, the Roman god, who guards the hearth and the household is, in fact handing down to Aeneas, the Trojan civilization and way of life. The Romans, wherever they spread their empire did just that and most effectively especially from the time of Julius Caesar. The Romans seemed to conquer with a mission of civilizing the conquered, as Aeneas will civilize the conquered rustic Rutulians. Moreover, Aeneas takes with him, the living symbol of the old world Trojan tradition, as he takes his father on his shoulders. Anchise was believed to have been crippled by Jove’s bolt, for the boast that Venus loved him.

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