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CHAPTER SUMMARY WITH NOTES
BOOK NINTH - The Siege of the Trojan Camp
Iris is sent down to incite Turnus to lay siege on the Trojan camp in Aeneas’ absence. Turnus recognizes Iris and takes off. Messapus is in front, Turnus comes next and Mezentius’ troops are in the rear, bearing down on the open plain. The Trojan Caicus seeing them gives warning and they line the walls with weapons remaining within the walls of the camp as Aeneas had ordered. Turnus rushes ahead and throws a javelin, since the Trojans do not emerge from the camp, firebrands are thrown at the fleet of ships moored close by, to make the Trojans come out. At this Jove’s mother, the Berecyntian begs Jove to save the ships which were made out of her sacred grove. Jove claims he will transform the spirits of the ships into Nereids once they have done their task of bringing Aeneas to Italy. So the physical fleet breaks its mooring, dips into the sea and emerges as maidens. All are terrified but Turnus, who reads this as an omen for Trojan destruction, since they will have no way of escape.
Now Messapus’s men are ordered in-groups of seven to alternately blockade the Trojans. Mnestheus and Serestus in charge of the Trojan camp range their men to keep watch along the walls. At a gate Nisus, an expert with bow and spear and fair Euryalus were on guard when Nisus seeing Messapus’s men asleep after their drinking is fired by the idea of breaking through the enemy lines to call Aeneas. Euryalus will not be left behind despite Nisus’ plea that he has a mother who followed him to Italy unlike other matrons who stayed on in Sicily. The call of valor leads them to approach the elders and Ascanius. They are all moved by the valiant spirit of the two and Ascanius promises each, rich rewards. Euryalus only asks that his mother be taken care of.
The two proceed killing several sleeping men on the way out of the enemy lines. Since they have spent the night in dissipation they fall easy prey to Nisus and Euryalus who quit the enemy camp with many spoils. But Euryalus donned a helmet, which caught the moonlight and a band of Volscens’ men seeing this pursued them into the forest. Euryalus is surrounded and Nisus, unseen starts shooting at them. This makes Volseen threaten to kill Euryalus at which Nisus reveals himself and seeing that Volscens has already stabbed him, he avenged the death while he himself is pierced with wounds.
By dawn the body of Volscens is taken to the camp where, more devastation is seen and Turnus now arms for battle and parades the heads of Nisus and Euryalus on spears. While there is grieving among the Trojans, the Volscians storm the city wall and the Trojans defend themselves with stores, firebrands and poles. Finally, the Latins topple a tower and both sides in furious fight lose many heroes. When Serranus Remulus insulted the Trojans and boasted of the power of his people, Ascanius shot his first arrow in battle and killed him. But Apollo came in the shape of Anchises’ armourer Butes and told him to desist from war while, the other continue.
The Pandarus and Bitias open a gate and worse fighting ensues. Turnus rushes in too and spreads great carnage killing many. The Trojans are dismayed and Pandarus shuts the gate again leaving many Trojans out in the field while, Turnus is in the town. Then Pandarus takes up Turnus in single combat and is killed. Instead of opening the gates to let his army in Turnus pursues and kills those around till outnumbered, he defends himself by plunging into the Tiber and reaching his camp.
Turnus reaches the Trojan camp which by this time seems to have become a small fortified town since the Trojan Caïcus sees the troops approaching from the tower. It is in obedience to Aeneas, their absent leader that they restrain themselves from open warfare and remain on the ramparts. This gives rise to a very incisive epic simile to describe Turnus’s frustration at not being able to engage in battle. He is aptly compared to a wolf, an ambivalent symbol for the Romans. In later Christian symbolism, the wolf was linked with envy, an envy at being excluded from the spoils and this overtone besides, that of being ravenously hungry is obvious in this simile.
At the same time the simile does not degrade Turnus, because Roemulus was licked into his warlike shape by a wolf as the design on the shield has indicated in Book Eighth. The bloodthirstiness also points ahead to the grand scale of slaughter Turnus indulges in once he gets through the gates opened by Pandarus and Bitias. Then again it is this wolfish quality rather than one of strategy which should have made him reopen the gates to let his army in after killing Pandanus, that prevents his victory. So the simile in fact becomes a prophecy in brief and the Trojans are aptly compared to lambs. But at this point the implications of the simile are shelved to show his frustrated vengeance by burning the ships.
This break in the action to tell the story of the ships and their fate serves to pacify the high frustration of Turnus an impatient man of action who gets a sense of satisfaction and can retire for the night to enable the poet to bring in the episode of Nisus and Euryalus which, is a fine piece of narrative art.
Such narratives form the basis of what makes up an epic saga. A touch of the supernatural and legendary narration in the story of the ships is off set by the heroic story of the realistic daring and slaughter in the Nisus-Euryalus tale which soon follows it making the epic the original model for the genre of magical realism of the late twentieth century novel.
Cybele is the mother of gods and the goddess of Phrygia and as Aeneas’s story to Dido mentions in Book Third the Trojans had taken refuge at the foot of the Trojan mount Ida to build their ships. So Cybele feels concerned for them as they were made from wood from a grove “sacred to my rites.” Jove promises to change them when their task is done into sea-nymphs. So the voice forbids the Trojans from defending these ships. In a way this serves as a further omen for those who have not been witness to the milk white sow, that they have reached their destination. They need sail no further. Turnus on the other hand sees the call to the Trojans not to destroy their ships as a sign of their doom. They are now cornered and will be finally destroyed as a race without any means of escape since the gods want their ships to be lost. This ambivalent reading of the same event occurs from time to time. The irony is a common classical device and occurs even when the matrons in Sicily see Iris’s rainbow and take it as an affirmation to destroy their ships. Perhaps Virgil was anxious that the Romans, who gave great credence to signs and omens, should ensure the true meaning of these signs as well as of the words of oracles. Even Anchises had been misled through misinterpretation (Book Third) and led the Trojans to Crete instead of Hesperia. Turnus’ self confidence almost hints at the Roman consuls like Julius Caesar who had misread and disregarded oracular warnings of dreams and the Ides of March. Turnus, whose ancestry Amata point out is Greek, naturally considers himself wronged like the Greeks in being deprived of his bride. His boastfulness reaches greater heights when he scoffs at the Greek strategies (line 15off) to sack Troy and promises that he will destroy this camp soon with fire in broad daylight.
The episode of Nisus and Euryalus is admired for its heroism, its touching sentiments of affection between friends as well as between mother and son. In this war torn nation the Trojans still retain their human emotion and sense of appreciation for valor, it is not taken for granted that each one take any risk he can to further the cause. The gifts and praise piled on the two soldiers by Ascanius and the guardians of the camp obviously reflect the attitude of the Roman Elders towards the soldiers. Honor and wealth were the two motivating forces for the Roman legions, so Nisus is also promised slaves and land in the Roman fashion by Ascanius. In turn Euryalus reveals the Roman virtue of “pietas” filial devotion and shows his care for his mother’s well being if he should be killed.
The end of the two friends his pathetic, little lessons in not overdoing the slaughter or in coveting too many spoils are implied in their ruin. But the glory of being celebrated in song is still theirs and this is what the Homeric heroes had been willing to die for instead of avoiding dangers and living to a great old age in obscurity. The greatest pathos of this episode is the hysterical wailing of the old mother, which moves young, and old.
The final section of this book shows the siege in action. The Trojans successfully repel the besiegers till growing confidant of their strength they venture out and the enemy forces itself in. These are common descriptions of the practise of Roman warfare and many more will be presented in the following books till the single combat. Here the mighty strength of Turnus and the thirsts for blood hinted at in the epic simile above is shown in action. He will be impetuous right through and seems to have little wisdom and too much valor and wrath. This leads to his ultimate escape, which by heroic standards is quite shameful.