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Free MonkeyNotes Book Notes-The Aeneid by Virgil-Free Online Summary
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BOOK SIXTH - The vision of the underworld


Weeping for Palinurus, Aeneas takes over control of the fleet and guides it into Cumae (in the Bay of Naples) and seeks out the fortress of Apollo and the Sibylís cavern. On the way as he is admiring the workmanship of Doedalus, who had built the temple to Apollo, as a thanksgiving. Aeneas promises Apollo and the Sibyl places of honor in his new realm. Then the Sibyl warns of war and bloodshed with a foe like another Achilles and the reason for the war a foreign bride, but help would come from a Greek source. Aeneas then begs the Sibyl to let him visit his father in the underworld. She directs him to find the golden bough to enter the nether realm. A pair of doves guide him to the golden bough on an ilex, while he is cutting wood for the horn player Misenusí funeral.

Aeneas makes the sacrifices to the duties of the underworld at Lake Avernus and gains admission. He encounters the ills of the Earth, which cause death, ranged at the entrance. Further in are ranged nightmares and monsters. Then come the rivers of hell and the ferryman Charon, who only ferries across those, who have received a sepulchre and funeral rites. So left out is Palinurus, who explains how he had swum ashore to Italy but was killed by savages at Velia. He begs to be buried but the Sibyl tells him he will receive a tomb and his name will be honored forever by the very people who killed him.

Charon is angered by their arrival but the golden bough reassures him. Aeneas reaches the Wailing Fields of those who died for love, he sees Phoedra, Procris, Evadne, Pasiphaë and among them, Dido. He confesses how unwillingly he departed because of the command of the gods. But she in anger runs to where Sychaeus awaits her while, Aeneas follows her path with tears. Then in the place for heroes the dead Trojans are pleased to see him while, the Greeks flee. He asks Priamís son Deiphobus how he came to be so mutilated and learns of Helenís treachery. But the Sibyl hurries him on towards Elysium showing him the left path where, Tisiphone, the Fury torments those who have not expiated for their crimes. He sees the Titans and others like Ixion and Sisyphus in eternal torment.

The Sibyl then advises Aeneas to act justly and not to slight the gods. Finally he plants the golden bough and enters Elysium, the Fortunate Woodlands. Here are great founders of cities: Teucer, Ilus, Dardanus, pure priestís patriots and good poets. At last he finds Anchises, who takes him to see souls, who are waiting to drink from Lethe and to receive another body. Then Anchises explains the mystery of the soul and its purification. Then he takes Aeneas and the Sibyl to show them the Trojan posterity that will live in Italy. Silvius, the son of Aeneas and the Latium princess, Lavinia is the father of the Kings and his descendants will establish new cities. Rome will be founded by Romulus, the grandson of the Trojan seed from motherís side, and he will make Rome an empire by uniting its seven hill fortresses.

Then Caesar, the descendent of Iülus is pointed out and after him Augustus, who will establish the golden age extend his lands and make the people of the Caspian (Persians and Parthians) tremble. He will push afield much further and perform greater tasks than Hercules (Alcides). Anchises also foretells the coming of the kings of early Rome (Tarquin) and the patriotic senators like Brutus and brave generals. He urges the descendants to avoid consanguinal war and civil wars and begs them to be forgiving so that peace may replace weapons and buildings of marble and academies of knowledge flourish. But Anchises sees more war than peace and stirs the spirit of glory in Aeneas and sees him out through the gates. Then Aeneas proceeds to the harbor of Caieta.


At Cumaë in the Bay of Naples, Aeneas had been recommended a visit to the Sibyl when, he had consulted Helenus. The prophesies of the Sibyls were written on leaves and scattered by the wind. The Romans had collected these leaves and the manuscript known as Sibylline Books were consulted regularly by the Romans. The Sibyl lived in a cavern, which has access to the nether world. Lake Auernus suggests a desolate spot because its name means ďwithout birds.Ē

Since all prophecy is connected with Apollo the groves of Trivia (Diana) had a temple reputed to be built by the ingenious craftsman, Daedalus. Daedalus with his son Icarus had made wings with which they could sail through the skies when they were imprisoned by the Cretan Minos in the labyrinth they themselves had built for him to keep the Minotaur, his wifeís unnatural son (half bull, half man). The minotaur was fed with seven young Athenians every year since the reign of Cecrops, the first King of Athens until Theseus killed it. Daedalus had carved the whole story on the temple walls. But he had not been able to sculpt the fate of Icarus, who had flown too close to the sun, causing the wax of his wings to melt so that he fell into the sea and died.

The Sibylís prophecy first warns Aeneas of the might of Turnus whom, he will have to fight before he can settle in his new city. It is ironic that the cause of the destruction of Troy-a woman should again be the cause of Aeneasí war against the Italians. Though there is no adultery involved, Turnus has been promised Laviniaís hand by her mother, so that Aeneasí arrival means Turnus like Menelaus loses his bride and must stir up the Italians to win her back. Fates this time decree that she is united to the foreigner, so that there is a reversal of the situation and Turnus, not the Trojan is killed. Ironically, the Trojan will be helped by a Greek army to win his bride. In this way the Sibyl anticipates the successful mission Aeneas will undertake in securing the support of Evander and the Arcadians against Turnusí armies.

In the underworld to which Aeneas descends the main rivers are Acheron and Styx over which the ferryman, Charon takes the soul across if their funeral rites have been performed. Cocytus is a tributary of the Acheron, called the river of wailing where the lost souls weep and where Allecto who will appear in book seventh lives. This journey Aeneas undertakes with the golden bough is a reworking of Ulyssesí (Odysseusí) journey. But even Orpheus, the legendary musician had undertaken it while still alive in order to fetch his wife, Eurydice. Virgilís purpose through this journey is to tie up certain threads of lives, which were referred to earlier. For instance the fate of Palinurus and his struggle after his fall into the sea upto the Sibylís assurance of his deification, winds up his story. Similarly Didoís reunion with her husband after death and the irony of Aeneas now confessing his love satisfactorily concludes the episode of Dido and Aeneas. It absolves Aeneas of the charge of being a cold-hearted selfish calculating lover. His love and pain are rekindled on seeing her again in the Underworld. In this way, Virgil has shown the truly admirable aspect of Aeneas who will sacrifice his inclination and passion for duty. It is a subtle reflection on the eastern queen Dido who does not have the public- spirited outlook or stoicism of the Romans. She lets suffering and passion lead her to suicide forgetting the fate of the loyal Tyrians, who had left Phoenicia to follow her to Africa. Effectively she has abandoned them.

Finally the story of Deiphobus mauled by the Greeks reaffirms the curse that Helen was. It also winds up the connection of Helen with the Trojans and justifies Aeneasí anger against her referred to in Book Second, which makes him want to kill her.

The final view of the great figures of Roman history is Virgilís patriotic purpose for taking Aeneas into the nether world. It affirms that The Aeneid is a great national epic and Virgil pays his tribute to the legendary founders of the Roman race as well as to figures of more recent Roman history like the Tarquins and Scipios. The latter prevented Hannibal from reaching Rome. Above all are the figures of Julius and Augustus Caesar, whose exploits are forecast centuries ahead by the Persian and Parthian oracles (ďkingdoms of the CaspianĒ). Finally Virgil through Anchises seems to present an elegy to the recent death of Marcellus, Augustusí son-in-law ,who was named his heir but died before him.

The obvious purpose of this Roman section is to voice Virgilís plea to the responsible Roman citizens to reap the benefits of peaceful co-existence through forgiveness and creative reconstruction of a civilized life that Augustus had commenced since BC 29.

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