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CHAPTER SUMMARY WITH NOTES
BOOK FIFTH - The games of the fleet
From the sea Aeneas and his crew see a great blaze over Carthage. Then driven by storms Palinurus, the master of the fleet declares himself unable to steer to Italy but can bring the fleet into Sicily, the Trojan Acestes’ kingdom where Anchises’ had died. Aeneas now at the mound of Anchises declares he will celebrate Anchises’ death anniversary with games for his warriors.
For the first contest a boat race, four of the best ships enter Mnestheus, the forefather of the Italian Memmian family captains the sea dragon. Two other ancestors of the Roman Sergian and Cluentuis family, Sergestus and Cloanthus vow the Centaur and Scylla respectively. Gyas steers the Chimaera speed. The leaders each encourage their men. Gyas when overtaken by Mnestheus, in shame and anger throws his cautious steersman into the sea and takes charge. Mnestheus aims not at being first, but wishes to avoid the shame of being last. This is averted as Sergestus runs aground on the rocks, but he cannot overtake Cloanthus, who by a fervent prayer to the gods of the sea with promise of choice offerings gets their support. Appropriate rewards are given to all the winners as well as to the loser Sergestus because he manages to return his ship and crew safe.
Then a great boxing match takes place. Initially no one opposes the Trojan champion Dares. But King Acestes urges his old champion Entellus. Entellus has the gloves of Eryx, which horrify even Dares. But then it is to be an equal match with Aeneas providing gloves of matched strength to both. Entellus wins the prize bull and the palm while the much-battered Dares is led away with a full amour as consolation prize. Entellus in acknowledgement of the great King Eryx of Sicily sacrifices the bull with a single blow and offers it as sacrifice to Eryx’s spirit.
In the archery contest, Mnestheus fails to hit the target a pigeon but cuts its cords at which Eurythion, the brother of Pandarus shoots the flying pigeon and Acestes whose turn is still to come has missed his prize. But to show his skill he shoots an arrow into the air which blazes out upto the clouds leaving a trail like a shooting star considered an omen of great significance by all present.
Then the young boys, led by Ascanius are called to display their equestrian skills in a mock battle which in Roman days is still followed and called the Trojan or Game of Troy. While the men are thus occupied Juno sends down Iris amongst the women who are offering their sacrifices to Anchises by the seashore. They are weeping for the seven years of wandering with no destination in sight. Iris taking the shape of Revoë, a respected old matron, who had been unable to come for the sacrifice, instigates the women to make Sicily their permanent home by burning the ships. She even claims to have seen a vision of Cassandra, who was telling the Trojans that this place is to be their home. Despite a warning from Pyrgo, a nurse to Priam’s children that the speaker was not Beroë but a supernatural being, the women are swayed by Iris. Then the appearance of Iris’s rainbow spurs them on to throw firebrands from the sacrificial altars to burn the ships.
The news of the disaster reaches the man and Ascanius on horseback is the first to reach the women to arrest their madness. But the fire rages and Aeneas desperately prays to Jove that the fleet be saved or the Trojans killed by a thunderbolt. A rainstorm floods the land and quenches the fire. Four ships have been destroyed beyond repair.
Aeneas in despair is advised by old Nautes whose gift of prophecy came from Pallas Athene. Nautes’s view is that as four ships are destroyed, Aeneas should consult with Acestes and ask him to allow the old and travel weary to settle in a town built in Sicily and named after Acestes. This advice is confirmed by Anchises whose apparition visits Aeneas. Only selected brave men must accompany Aeneas to Italy in order to battle against the hard and rough natives. Then Anchises invites Aeneas to visit him in the Underworld with the holy Sibyl, in order to learn about the men who will descend from him when he founds his city.
On narrating his vision, Aeneas receives full co-operation from Acestes. They set about laying out the town, appointing senators, providing homesteads and preparing a shrine to Venus. After nine days of feasting, Aeneas leaves with those selected to fulfill his destiny.
Venus appeals to Neptune to give Aeneas’s ships a safe passage. He reassures her by reminding her how he had always saved Aeneas even during the war with the Greeks. Now he claims only one life will be lost.
As they set sail with Palinurus leading the fleet, the sky is calm and the breezes lull the sailors to sleep. All except Palinurus who is alert and steadfast. Even when a god in the form of one of his men offers to take over his duty, Palinurus refuses. He does not want to risk Aeneas’s life to the fickle breezes because the calm can be quite treacherous. But the god drugs him and as his grip relaxes he is cast down by the god, tearing the rudder and half the stern with the impact. Pallinurus calls for help, but to no avail. Neptune guides the fleet until the cliffs of the Sirens awaken Aeneas to the loss of his helmsman and he takes over unaware of how Pallinurus was killed when approaching the cliffs of the Sirens.
Observing death rites and anniversaries had a significant part in Greek and Roman pagan life. However Virgil has used the epic games as a device for tracing the ancestry of important Roman families as being original Trojan warriors. At the same time, Virgil succeeds in an exuberant and dramatic presentation of the games so that Book fifth reflects an unusual atmosphere of vitality and the joy of living until the disaster caused by Juno’s malice at the end. The resilience of the Trojan spirit, the competitiveness and the sportsmanship or lack of it are all very realistically presented here. But above all this book anticipates the fairness, the leadership qualities and the good sense of Aeneas, which will be revealed when he becomes the ruler of his city. This insight into Aeneas as a public figure in times of peace may be outside the scope of The Aeneid but Virgil assures his readers, that he is presenting not just a heroic warrior but also a good governor, important for peace times. His sense of justice and encouragement of participation in the games is best observed in the way he deals with the losers of the first two contests. There is even a touch of humor, so rare in the high seriousness of this epic and its hero as Salius and Nisus both clamor for rewards the latter with the mud and blood still on his face to prove his accident.
The comparative value of the prizes may surprise modern readers. Animals are prized above armors and this shows how important horses and bulls were to a non-industrialized age. Human slaves were also given as indicated by the consolation prize of a slave woman skilled in weaving to Sergestus.
Epic similes are used in sections where there is action. So in each contest except the fleet-foot race very apt similes of action have been displayed. The boat race, which is the most exciting, is appropriately embellished with two epic similes. The flight of the pigeon compared with Mnestheus’s progress suggests the gentler nature of this leader. Compared to Gyas, who has just thrown out his helmsman Mnestheus is a truly encouraging leader, making the men give off their best without pressurizing them. He has praised them for their past efforts and begs them to avert the shame of being last. His resigned attitude to success or failure marks him out as a Stoic of the future, a detached philosopher. The other simile in the boat race is more well-etched and consistently suggests, the situation of Sergestus trying to wriggle his ship out of the rocks which is compared to a wounded serpents struggling to escape, undaunted. Besides similes, the imagery describing the weaving on the scarf given to the winner of the race is a master stroke of “ekphrasis” a miniature narrative woven into the description of a material object.
The appearance of Iris in Book Fourth was on a mission of mercy to take Dido’s lock and release her from life. From now on, her role will be that of causing harm and mischief. As the messenger of the gods and the deity of the rainbow she shoots the firebrand to destroy the ships, then she displays a rainbow in the sky to encourage the Trojan women to destroy the ships by assuming that the rainbow is an omen to go ahead with the destruction. Ironically their deed had been foretold in an omen when Acestes’ arrow turned into a blazing comet. So Virgil shows how omens and tokens are warnings of dangers to come.
Book fifth ends even more sadly with the drowning of Palinurus. This can be interpreted in various ways . First of all it is Neptune who tells Venus “one life will be lost for many.” So Palinurus becomes the figure sacrificed to ensure favorable winds. This sacrifice would remind Virgil’s readers of Iphigenia’s death at Aulis before the Greek fleet sailed for Troy. Palinurus’ reliability as a helmsman and his knowledge of the stars and the winds have been focused on from time to time. For a specific, Neptune must select the best. Moreover as his last words reveal, Palinurus trusts neither “fickle breezes” nor “the treachery of the calm” the implication is that he has insulted the gods unlike Cloanthus, who begs Neptune and the sea gods to help him win the race. The supreme irony of his drowning is that Aeneas, for whose benefit Palinurus refuses to relax his alertness, thinks that the helmsman died due to his complacence at the calmness of the sea.