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Free MonkeyNotes Book Notes-The Aeneid by Virgil-Free Online Summary
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BOOK TWELFTH - The slaying of Turnus


Confident of winning in single combat against Aeneas, Turnus agrees to the challenge. But Latinus entreats him to patch up the quarrel and Amata too would rather have him alive than dead. Lavinia’s tears and blush make Turnus more ardent to challenge Aeneas. He arms himself as does Aeneas and at dawn the armies are arrayed and the people watch from towers. Then Juno calls Turnus’ sister, Juturna a Latin nymph of streams and lakes and orders her to do what she can to save Turnus. Breaking the treaty agreed upon by Aeneas and Latinus she can stir the assembled troops to battle, which she does when Turnus appears pale and downcast to touch the altar after Latinus and Aeneas have made their oaths. She takes the form of a highborn chief and instigates the troops to fight since they could easily outnumber the Trojans and Tuscans. If they do not fight they will lose their native land to haughty foreigners. To confirm the warning she set up a false omen of an eagle grabbing a swan which is then liberated by the whole flock and the eagle made to take flight. Through this sign and more encouragement she makes the Rutulians close rank and throws a spear at the Tuscans. Since one is killed the others charge forward for revenge and the battle starts.

Aeneas bareheaded coming from the treaty tries to restrain his men from fighting when an arrow wounds him in the knee and he has to retire. Turnus much enthused calls for more arms and horses and leads the carnage of great warriors.

Meanwhile Ascanuis, Achates and Mnesthens lead to the tent, their bleeding chief who pleads for desperate remedies to return to battle. Venus fetches a plant which has healing properties for arrow wounds and Iapis, the healer bathing the wound until the arrows head falls out and the bleeding stops, declares Aeneas is cured by heaven’s hand. Aeneas goes into battle with his best warriors. They strike terror among the Rutulians who flee. Aeneas alone does not strike because he is looking for Turnus.

Juturna in alarm pushes her brothers charioteer off and takes the reins and weaves through the enemy ranks avoiding only Aeneas. Messapus tries to aim at Aeneas and the spear goes through the plume in Aeneas’ helmet. Now Aeneas is roused to fury and attacks all who come by him even humble folk. The slaughter reaches a peak when Venus inspires Aeneas to attack the undefended city since all the troops were in the field. He calls the Trojans aside, declares his intent to destroy the city unless Turnus stops dodging him and they attack the city.

With five attacking the roofs and Aeneas advancing with his troops Amata assumes Turnus is slain. In despair she hangs herself. Turnus far on the outskirts hears the tumult of the attack and despite his sister’s pleadings, veers to save the city. He is ashamed of having caused such destruction and turns to call the Rutulians to order and calls on Aeneas. All drop their arms and a single combat takes place between the champions.

Jupiter holds his scales in even balance and lets the fates decide the issue of this combat. He rebukes Juno for her destructive role. She in turn demands that once Aeneas and Lavinia are united, the old inhabitants should retain a part of their separate identity through their language, customs and their gods. Jove readily concedes this and assures her that she will be the first goddess of Rome. Jove then calls Juturna off the field. Then Turnus attacks with a stone by Aeneas’s spear gets him in the thigh and he falls begging Aeneas for mercy. Aeneas hesitates to kill him till he catches sight of the Pallas’ belt worn as a trophy by Turnus and remembers to avenge the death of Pallas and kills him.


The characteristics of Turnus seen right through the Aeneid are in the last book brought out again to lead to the climax of the single combat with Aeneas. In this last book his love for Lavinia and a glimpse of her own response to him appear very flittingly. It would be a very delicate issue for Virgil and an earlier hint is given when he calls forth Erato, the nurse of erotic love. The poet was duty bound to show that the destiny of a race comes before all personal inclination. However the human or gentler touch escapes from Virgil now and then throughout the Aeneid as it does in Lavinia’s blush and tears as Turnus submits to the challenge. It makes Turnus appear not just a boasting warrior but a hero, overconfident because misled by the forces of Juno.

Juturna’s role rivals that of Allecto and Iris who had fulfilled Juno’s command. In this case however, sisterly love is also involved so that the role played by this Nymph is justified emotionally. In this book Jove and Juno are the ones who do not conduct themselves with dignity. Juno’s final attempt, breaking the treaty is ironic since as the goddess, who is to witness and seal all treaties, she tries her best to disrupt this out of petty personal motives. Moreover, she reveals her very egotistic nature when she bargains with Jove that she continue to be worshipped in Latium. This almost turns the wheel back to the original rivalry with Venus leading to the destruction of Troy. On the whole Juno’s role in the Aeneid is to cause confusion among men by false omens, sent through her messengers. Iris drawing a rainbow misleads the Trojan matrons and even Turnus (Book Ninth). Now here Juturna shows Jove’s bird attacking the swan, which is saved by the others who frighten away the eagle, turns out a false omen. The snow white horses on which Turnus arrives is the superficial connection between Turnus and the swans. The unthinking Ausonians do not realize that in fact the swan is Venus’ bird and it is Aeneas who may be indicated by this omen. So Virgil very cleverly makes his earlier point that omens are subject to human misinterpretation, they are not to be dismissed as mere superstition.

The poem ends abruptly with Turnus’ soul fleeing to the underworld. This could be because Virgil had left the poem incomplete when he died. From an artistic point of view it is an effective yet problematic end. All that was to happen once Lavinia and Aeneas marry has been repeated in various prophecies throughout the poem, so there was no need to end it happily ever after. However this ending with the ambivalent status of Turnus as heroic, leads to certain romantic misreading of Turnus as the tragic hero. A Roman audience would have had no problem. Their whole history has been artistically presented to them with suitable advice on how to proceed on their path of peace and civilization. In fact Aeneas’ momentary thought of being merciful and sparing Turnus would have surprised them. Augustus was almost ruthless in his pursuit of revenge. Yet it is an insight into Virgil’s genuinely cultured and civilized outlook that he should have presented this pause. This certainly anticipates the Roman attitude softening to receive Christianity within a century or so. Moreover for any reader who looks for internal logic in the text, Turnus’ death is an absolutely necessity and Virgil has effectively utilized Aristotle’s rule of causality to justify this action. Aeneas is not killing Turnus for self-glorification or selfish reasons of ensuring a kingdom without rivals. He is motivated by a sense of pagan pledge and justice: Evander had called for the avenging of his son’s death and Turnus wearing the belt to boast of his prowess was material cause enough to make Aeneas kill him. The Romans believed in and prided themselves on honoring their word. Besides it is a debt Aeneas must owe an ally who supported him almost unconditionally. On the whole it is a most satisfying ending.

The use of epic similes show the very high order of artistry Virgil has reached as his work draws to a close. The inevitable end of Turnus and his last ditch effort to maintain his position are all evident in the simile of the wounded lion which occurs in line 5ff. The reference to Punic woods is ominous and gives Turnus almost the status of Hannibal. Besides the Carthaginians who are also referred to, as the Punic people were considered faithless and treacherous by the Romans and so Turnus’ behaviour during this final battle is forecast by this simile. He is already wounded by the severe loss and defeat in the two battles in the earlier book now through his bravery he hopes to establish his right to be king. The lion is a symbol of royalty and fearlessness both qualities emphasized throughout in the characterization of Turnus.

The delicate beauty of the next simile ll80-81 is not meant to be epic but recalls Virgil’s ability to happily pick on the right image as in that of the hyacinth and violet for the dead Pallas. Here Lavinia’s blush is compared first to ivory stained with deep red purple suggesting her shame and embarrassment at being the cause of bloodshed followed by the floral comparison of lilies growing among rose clusters, a very unusual occurrence.

The war similes which follow are mainly comparisons of Turnus and remarkably desist from animal comparisons except for the early one of Turnus prepared for war (ll120ff) which presents him as a bull testing its horns against a tree, bellowing and tossing up sand. Again this simile is ominous. The bull is a special sacrificial animal, it was the first prize in the boxing competition (Book Fifth) so Turnus himself is symbolically the sacrificial bull given to raise the walls of Rome and he is a prize bull indeed. This image then recurs at the start of the single combat ll784ff. Both Aeneas and Turnus are compared to rival bulls fighting before their herds and shepherds. Here the imagery tends to be sexual symbolizing that the ferocity of the fight is for a bride and land (earth is also feminine) which is referred to within the simile. Other war similes have natural or elemental phenomenon, which are such a common source of imagery in Virgil.

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